The Guerilla: A Confederate Occupation Newspaper

The Guerilla: A Confederate Occupation Newspaper

In September, 1862, the Confederacy invaded the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia. The Confederate army of some 5,000—including many Virginians who hailed from the western region of their state—fought a series of engagements with their Union foes, culminating in the capture of Charleston.

The fall of Charleston provided an opportunity for pro-Confederate sentiments to reemerge in the public sphere. Within two weeks of the Rebel army’s appearance, the pro-Confederate newspaper The Guerilla began circulating the streets of the town. Published daily by “Associate Printers” for the duration of the short-lived Confederate occupation, the two extant copies of the Guerilla shed light on the nature of the Civil War in West Virginia and the short-lived Confederate occupation of the Kanawha River Valley…

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"The Printing Press Cannot Remain Idle": The Ohio Twenty-Second, A Civil War Soldier Newspaper

"The Printing Press Cannot Remain Idle": The Ohio Twenty-Second, A Civil War Soldier Newspaper

In their inaugural and only issue, dated July 12, 1861, the erstwhile printers of The Ohio Twenty-Second made their purpose and politics clear. “Our motto is: ‘Death to traitors and protection to all loyal citizens.’ It has been well said that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ While we find the latter indispensable in these perilous times, we will unite with it the power of the former, and go forth to battle for ‘the Constitution, the Union, and the Enforcement of the Laws.”

For the men of the Twenty-Second Ohio Infantry, and indeed for many Union soldiers throughout the Civil War, the war could be waged by musket and pen alike, and soldier newspapers offered an avenue for Union soldiers to keep abreast with the wider war effort, opine on national politics, interact with the local civilian population, document their war deeds, and foster a sense of community and esprit among their ranks. The Ohio Twenty-Second offers a brief window into the patriotism, politics, and daily life of Union soldier in the opening months of the Civil War.

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Civil War Censorship: The Arrest & Imprisonment of Wheeling's Democratic Editors

Civil War Censorship: The Arrest & Imprisonment of Wheeling's Democratic Editors

On Saturday, July 9th, 1864, Captain Ewald Over of the 6th West Virginia Infantry received an order originating from Major General David Hunter. The order directed Capt. Ewald—the military commander of Wheeling, West Virginia—to arrest the editors of the Wheeling Daily Register and shut the newspaper’s offices down. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Captain Ewald and a small cadre of soldiers entered the offices of the Wheeling Daily Register and placed editors Lewis Baker and O.S. Long under arrest. A soldier was posted outside the Register’s office, and the two prisoners were escorted to Athenaeum on the corner of 16th and Market Streets. A small military prison that housed upwards of one hundred Confederate prisoners, the Athenaeum (christened “Lincoln’s Bastille” by the locals) now confined two United States citizens as well…

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"A Very Spicy Little Sheet": The Knapsack, A Soldiers' Newspaper and the Politics of War

"A Very Spicy Little Sheet": <i>The Knapsack</i>, A Soldiers' Newspaper and the Politics of War

A Union officer once remarked, “Does not a newspaper follow a Yankee march everywhere?” In the fall of 1863, the soldiers of the Fifth West Virginia Infantry found themselves stationed at Gauley Bridge in their newly-minted home state. It proved to be a relatively peaceful posting and, apparently true to Yankee form, the men promptly set about establishing a regimental newspaper. Forming the rather grandly named Fifth Virginia Publishing Association, the Association soon began issuing copies of the four-page Knapsack every Thursday morning at five cents a copy. Although only published for a few months, the paper illuminates much about soldier life and the politics of war.

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"In Their Own Country:" The Curious Case of the 8th Virginia, Antietam, and Home

"In Their Own Country:" The Curious Case of the 8th Virginia, Antietam, and Home

September 17th, 1862 would captivate the nation; indeed, the fighting along Antietam Creek in rural Maryland may have been the most important day of the American Civil War. Yet one regiment of the Union Army was instead focused on what was happening on a small river in western Virginia.

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The Reconstruction of Billy Mahone

The Reconstruction of Billy Mahone

The descriptions of him are priceless.  “He looked the image of a bantam rooster or a gamecock,” recalled a veteran.  Perhaps it was his odd dress:  “He wore a large sombrero hat, without plume, cocked on one side, and decorated with a division badge; he had a hunting-shirt of gray…while he wore boots, his trousers cover them; those boots were as small as a woman’s.”  Or perhaps he was just plain odd, “the sauciest-looking manikin imaginable” and “the oddest and daintiest little specimen.”  His five-foot stature and frail 125 pound frame didn’t help.

William "Billy" Mahone was a genuine character, and his life was as unique as his stature.  Although a rising star in the Army of Northern Virginia by the end of the war, his post-war political career in the darkness of Reconstruction and Redemption is perhaps his true shining moment.  “Bantam” Billy Mahone revealed his character not only as a fighter on the battlefield, but as a progressive on the political stage. 

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Seceeding from the Secessionists: Creating West Virginia

Seceeding from the Secessionists: Creating West Virginia

From the very beginning, there was division between eastern and western Virginia.  Families in western Virginia did not usually own the land on which they lived which excluded those white men from voting, and they generally did not own slaves.  This was very different than eastern Virginia where there was a larger degree of land and slave ownership.  Western Virginia was largely tied to white wage labor in a rapidly industrializing economy and many of the area’s residents supported abolition because they felt slaves were taking jobs that white laborers should be paid to do.  The start of the Civil War brought those tensions to a head.  On April 17, 1861, right after the firing on Fort Sumter, a convention of Virginians voted to submit a bill of secession for a vote of the people.  Many western delegates marched out of the Secession Convention and vowed to create a state government loyal to the Union. 

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Patriotism in Print: The American Union, A Soldier's Wartime Paper

Patriotism in Print:  The American Union, A Soldier's Wartime Paper

On the evening of July 3, 1861, a dozen Union soldiers (self -described “disciples of Faust”) broke into the offices of the of the Virginia Republican—a decidedly secessionist organ—and appropriated the newspaper’s office for their own use.  The next morning—on the Fourth of July—the first issues of the American Union hit the streets of Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia).  The newspaper—composed and printed entirely by Union soldiers—enjoyed a brief existence in Martinsburg, lasting only as long as the Union troops occupied the town.  Despite its brief existence, however, the paper sheds light onto the patriotism and zeal of Union soldiers during the war's opening months.

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The First Battle of the Civil War? The Battle of Philippi

The First Battle of the Civil War?  The Battle of Philippi

When asking about the first battle of the Civil War, the expected answer is First Manassas/Bull Run on July 21, 1861. Thus I was stumped by a student last year whose answer was instead the Battle of Philippi.  Because it was a smaller engagement, it does not usually hold any real standing in the eyes of historians, but it technically was the first land engagement of the Civil War, occuring on June 3, 1861.  Philippi was not of great military importance, but the juncture of the Parkersburg-Grafton Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio lay 25 miles north at Grafton, connecting the eastern states and the midwest. Robert E. Lee, then in command of all military forces in Virginia, ordered Colonel George Porterfield to recruit a Confederate force in the western countes to hold the rail lines at Grafton.  With Virginia's definitive vote for secession and Porterfields destruction of roadways, George McClellan received the green light to move troops and supplies into western Virginia to occupy the area and protect Unionist civilians.

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Not Who, But How: Civil War Loyalty

Not Who, But How: Civil War Loyalty

At the root of any civil war lays loyalty. Internal conflicts, fought over everything from politics to religion, produce deep divisions amongst a nation’s populace. America’s Civil War was no exception, as it witnessed divisions along geographic, social, political, and racial lines. Not only did the war divide former countrymen, but these divisions were something that Americans talked extensively about throughout the war. As historian William Blair recently noted, in the Civil War North it is almost impossible to find a newspaper that did not discuss treason or loyalty in nearly every issue. Along with extensive discussion about loyalty and treason in local newspapers, these conversations carried over into the personal correspondences of contemporary men and women. I, like many other historians, have studied the issue of wartime loyalty, yet my research takes that subject in a different direction.

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