“The distant cannon”

—Walt Whitman, Specimen days, 1882

Reporting the war


The Connecticut Fifth. Winchester, Va., 18 March 1862.
(Newspaper Virginia Winchester)

Newspapers came and went as quickly as did occupation forces throughout the war. The Connecticut Fifth provides a glimpse of Winchester just six days into its first Union occupation, when this inaugural issue was printed by members of the 5th Connecticut Infantry Regiment on the press of the local newspaper. This example notably appeals as much to local citizens as to Union solders: heroic poems about Stonewall Jackson’s troops share the page with strong statements about “secesh” claims of Union cruelties.



Evening bul'etin, Charleston, Va. ... the very latest news by telegraph. Charleston, Va., 1862.
Elizabeth Cocke Coles Fund (Broadside 1862 .E83)

This group of newspaper extras from July 1862 reveals the deep divide between eastern and western Virginia. The Evening bul’etin reported “breaking news,” often five or six news notes to a sheet, with a decided pro-Union point of view. Headlines such as “Rebels are Repulsed” and the erroneous “Stonewall Jackson Dead” leave little doubt as to the political views of the newspaper’s readership.






The lady lieutenant: a wonderful, startling and thrilling narrative of the adventures of Miss Madeline Moore, who, in order to be near her lover, joined the Army, was elected lieutenant, and fought in western Virginia under the renowned General McClellan; and afterwards at the great Battle of Bull’s Run. Philadelphia: Barclay & Co., 1862.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (PS646 .F53 .L347 1862)

Paul Pritchard, The refugees: or, the Union boys of '61. New York: T. W. Strong, 1862.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (PS646 .F53 .P778 R4 1862)

Northern and Southern publishers alike cranked out sensational fiction and non-fiction throughout the war, sating audiences’ appetites for thrilling tales of heroism and romance, often set in Virginia. These Northern examples reveal two ideals of 1860s womanhood. The lady lieutenant features a valiant lady who masquerades as a man and experiences “perilous adventures and hair-breadth escapes” to remain close to her sweetheart while defending the Union. In The refugees a western Virginia belle turns fugitive to escape a rapacious secessionist; she, her Unionist beloved, her father, and his slave Cupid find their way behind Union lines and join the forces that split West Virginia from the Confederacy.

George F. Root, Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! The prisoner's hope. [New York]: Charles Magnus, [ca. 1861-1865]
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (E647 .S63 no. 17)

Battle hymn of the Virginia soldier! [Virginia?, ca. 1862]
(Broadside 1862 .B377)

Cheaply printed poetry broadsides abounded during the war. Heroic, inspirational poetry of mixed quality served to monumentalize specific events and stir patriotic sentiment. Examples such as Battle hymn of the Virginia soldier! reveal the scarcity of skilled printers. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!—printed on letter paper headed with an image of Belle Isle, the famous Confederate prison camp in Richmond—demonstrates the limited supply of paper.


William G. Shepperson, War songs of the South. Richmond, Va.: West & Johnston, 1862.
Elizabeth Cocke Coles Fund (E647 .S54 1862)

“Southern Independence has struck the lyre as well as unsheathed the sword” are the opening words of the preface to this compilation of patriotic songs and poetry “written co[n]temporaneously with the achievements which they celebrate.” Many of the works in the volume first appeared in newspapers; the examples shown were originally published in the Richmond dispatch.

Waitman T. Willey, Speech … delivered in the United States Senate, May 29, 1862, … requesting the consent of Congress to the erection of a new state … to be called “West Virginia.” Washington, D. C.: Scammell & Co., 1862.
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History ( A 1862 .W55)

Willey was a pivotal figure in the creation of West Virginia. As a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1851, he lobbied for a more equitable distribution of political power between east and west. Willey also attended the 1861 Virginia secession convention as a staunch Unionist. He played a key role in establishing the “restored” government of Virginia in Wheeling and declaring the Richmond government illegitimate. As a senator from restored Virginia, Willey introduced the West Virginia statehood bill in Congress.

William W. Loring, To the people of western Virginia. Charleston, Va., 14 September 1862.
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History (Broadside 1862 .C555)

This Confederate broadside urges the residents of western Virginia to rise up and defend their land against the Union invaders: “Those who persist in adhering to the cause of the public enemy, and the pretended State Government he has erected at Wheeling, will be dealt with as their obstinate treachery deserves.”