Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Category: Primary Sources Page 1 of 3

Newspapers and the Civil War

I wonder how dreadful it must have been for Sam Wilkerson to write his story while sitting next to his dead son. Here was a journalist communicating with the most powerful medium available at the time. He illustrated courage and conviction by doing his job. Journalism was an endearing profession and during the Civil War. Citizens waited for the delivery of newspapers in apprehension.

While teaching the students about the Civil War, I believe we must remind them that newspapers were the medium of communication. Our students live in a world that has always had the internet. Society has changed from newspapers to social networking. Call me old fashioned, but I still get home delivery of newspapers. How long will printed news continue to survive? The number of newspapers and periodicals going out of business alarms me.

The following links share my concern:




I struggle with the social network!  I made my first blog a few days ago, as a requirement for this course. My blog was only three paragraphs long and I was hoping that was’t too much. I thought blogs were supposed to be short, until I found out blogs can be long but “tweets” must be short. Who knew? And what is a “tweet” anyway? I miss the days of going to the library and searching the periodical index! There was nothing better than searching on microfilm and micro fiche!

What has happened to society? Too much. Too fast. I recently bought a “smart” phone that I don’t know how to use. I just learned how to “attach” an email five years ago. I guess you can say I am a little behind the curve.

I’ll give you my newspaper when you take it from my cold, dead hands.

A necessary journey south

Yesterday, I had to take a necessary journey from Michigan to my 95 year old Mom’s home in Richmond , Virginia. I lamented that I was unable to hear yesterday’s lecture and attend yesterday’s on line class. To my great surprise, this a.m., as I picked up the Richmond Times Newspaper, I discovered a daily column – entitled ” From the page of the Daily Dispatch on today’s date in 1862″ . The paper is running a column detailing an article to the corresponding day in 1862 .Content can be gleaned simply by logging on to TimesDispatch.com( search Civil War). Interesting reading

Abraham Galloway; Slave, Bricklayer, Fugitive, Abolitionist, Spy,…

…(aka BMI-ster), Guide, Recruiter, Organizer, Political Activist, Firebrand, Military Leader, Crusader for Women’s Rights, Senator… and dead before the age of 34.

Now that is a life!

Abraham Galloway

Abraham Galloway

Abraham Galloway, born enslaved, freed himself and was an important figure in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was an important figure in freed and enslaved African American communities throughout his adult life. And rather than saying he worked for the Union army, it might be more accurate to say he worked with the Union army when and if it suited his needs as a leader of the African American community. (When the community was aggrieved by the actions and behaviors of the Union troops, for example, Galloway took names and kicked… but I digress.)

Illiterate, his story and his voice are hard to trace, but historian David Cecelski of North Carolina got lucky and found a trove of letters written by Mary Ann Starkey of New Bern, NC. Starkey was a close confident and fellow activist who worked with Galloway during the Civil War years.Together with his other sources, Starkey’s letters made possible Cecelski’s forthcoming book on Galloway.

I have used the information from Cecelski’s essay on Galloway in The Waterman’s Song,  to make a google map of Galloway’s life. He lived large. Zoom way out right away, so that you can see the whole enchilada – North Carolina to Ontario, Ohio to Massachusetts.

I am only up to the year 1863 tonight. More tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a preview:

In the next few years after 1963, he:

  • Met with Abraham Lincoln as part of a five man delegation agitating for suffrage immediately, if not sooner
  • Was elected to the North Carolina legislature as a Senator in 1868
  • Worked always for the advancement of freedmen and freedwomen
  •  Died unexpectedly in 1870; it was estimated that 6,000 to 8,000 people attended his funeral in New Bern.*

*The population of the New Bern NC at that time was 5,000.

Galloway was the man. And then he faded from view.

Cecelski’s book on the life of Abraham Galloway, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War will be released on September 29th, 2012. ( Or you can pre-order it from Amazon, like I did, and save a few bucks.) I strongly recommend you do, too, because Galloway is a guy we are enriched by meeting.

AbrahamGallowayJaneThis is the drawing of Abraham Galloway as I imagined him while I listened to David Cecelski introduce him to me, my NEH buddy Kelly Price-Steffen, (Shout out to ya, Kelly!) and the New Bedford Historical Society last summer.

Now I know it is not a good drawing; he defies gravity and looks like he is related to Burt Reynolds, and yet I feel it conveys the swashbuckling element I intended.

Men in Black

No, not Tommy Lee Jones and Johnny Cash. The Bureau of Military Information, the BMI! I am intrigued by them. Did not know anything about these  sharp (no pun intended) men who were gathering intel long before the CIA made it popular.

Figured I would find out about the BMI. First search yielded intel on how to measure my body fat. Nope. Not that BMI. I already knew from Matt’s lecture that George H. Sharpe was the lawyer/man running this stealth organization. But, then I read an excerpt on the 70 operatives employed by the BMI. I saw someone’s name, a familiar one, a person well known in Omaha, Nebraska. Grenville Dodge.

Usually known in the history textbooks as the engineer who masterminded the Transcontinental Railroad, Dodge also designed the siege of Vicksburg. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. Dodge created spy networks. Heck, he even employed two women spies, Jane Featherstone and Mary Malone. Dodge protected his well paid sleuths by always refusing to devulge their names. Well, almost always. He once yielded to U.S. Grant. It did not turn out well for the apprehended spies. Not Grant’s fault. But that’s another story.

After the Civil War, Dodge became an Iowa congressional politician and then went on to textbook railroad fame. So, why was I diverted to Dodge? Iowa borders Nebraska (where I reside) and Dodge’s house still exists for tourists (me included) to visit. Today, the main street through Omaha is Dodge Street. Nope. Not for Grenville Dodge, but for one of his relatives, Augustus Dodge.

I started looking for Men in Black and I am far from done. But, I found a Dodge instead. Not bad for an evening’s historical hunting.

Another Father and Son, July 6th, 1863 or; 19 year-old sons

Charles Douglass 1864, Massachusetts 54th F Company

Charles Douglass 1864 – F Company, 54th Massachusetts – recruited by his father

So sad listening again to the Gettysburg story of Sam Wilkeson writing beside the body of his 19 year-old son. Another 19 year-old son wrote to his father that day. Charles Douglass’s letter to his father, Frederick Douglass, reports his encounter with some Irish fellows and their differences of opinion about Meade and McClelland. (I especially like this letter because I can actually read it, unlike many letters where I have to retreat to the transcription almost at once.) Despite the racism reported and his angry, blustering reaction, I smiled reading it. He is so young… and so alive.

(His health, it turns out however, prevents him from ever serving in battle.)

Both images link to the loc page where you can view the entire letter – it is 3 pages long – or read the transcription here. (N.b. in the transcript they make  mistakes, for example he is talking about Gettysburg with soldiers from Newbern  N.C.  – not N.Y. Why can’t I find a sound transcript? Annoying!)

Charles Douglass to Frederick Douglass

Charles Douglass to Frederick Douglass

My 19 year-old son is out skateboarding right now. He is not worrying about his future, or anything else.  I don’t 100% appreciate his lifestyle normally – I think he should be worrying… at least a little –  but today I will just go with it.

Gnardog aka my boy Pete

Gnardog aka my boy Pete

Valley of the Shadow

The archives on this sight are unbelievable. My favorite part is the animated battlefield. I was amazed at the number of battles some of these units were involved with like the First Virginia Cavalry they must have been in 20 battles. I liked the assignment ideas Will came up with. The first one was selecting a family and follow them throughout the war. The election of 1860 through newspapers and finally what were women’s lives like. I could see anyone of these being short term or long term projects and being able to set a difficulty level for each of them for example seventh graders could talk about one battle or one person whereas 8th graders could go more in depth.

“A strange little document…”

Transcription: This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln [signed on the reverse: William H Seward, W. P. Fessenden, Edwin M Stanton, Gideon Welles, Edwd. Bates, M Blair, and J. P. Usher]

I am smitten with the document.

I like the covert aspect: written, folded, blindly signed on the reverse. I can see recreating the signing for my students–I wonder if they will sign blindly like the cabinet or blanch at the uncertainty of it.

I like the emotion of it: Lincoln is agonizingly honest and you can sense the distress.

I like the dissonance it will create for my students. On this side of history, we know Lincoln wins in 1864 handily and Lincoln’s worries will be unfounded.  It is helpful, however, to help our young women and men see that history is lived ‘in the moment’ and Lincoln’s moment in August 1864 looks bleak.

That “in the moment” aspect can help make history come alive for my students. When you don’t know how it will turn out, it makes the action more honest, makes the action more profound, more brave.

Teaching the Underground Railroad

When I first started teaching US history six years ago, the questions I always got when I started teaching the Underground railroad were the following:

So is the Underground Railroad really a railroad?

Why was it all underground?

My biggest goal in teaching the underground railroad is trying to dispel the misconceptions that students have.  Over the years, I have refined my teaching of the Underground Railroad, but one of the challenges has been time.  Usually my teaching of the Underground Railroad comes at the end of the year, when I am pressed for time and have so much to get through.  Last year, I found an amazing website that is both educational and fun for students examining the underground railroad.  It allows the students to get out of the classroom and use technology.  The website is is from Scholastic: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/underground_railroad/index.htm 

I like this website because it is geared towards students, but also provided great worksheets that you can print out for the students to use.  The students follow the path of the slave from slavery to reaching freedom and the challenges they face.

The first year I used this website it took about 3 days to complete all the worksheets.  This past year, I modified it so it took a period and a half and offered the Harriet Tubman webquest as extra credit.  I highly recommend using this website and the worksheets.

In the end, the students understand that the Underground Railroad is not a railroad nor is it completely underground.  The best part about this though is that it is student centered.


Soldier’s Letters

Every time I listen to a lecture, attend a conference, find new material and new ways of thinking about the Civil War I have to rethink how I teach it.  I only have two weeks, maybe three at the most if I stretch it, to teach the Civil War from start to finish including what led up to it.  How to choose the most important parts to teach and then how to effectively teach them is a real struggle for me.  I find that students tend to remember things much better when emotion is attached to whatever they are learning.  I have been moved to tears a few times when reading soldiers’ letters home over the last few days and I think this is a valuable tool.

Soldier's_LetterI decided to do my Wordle experiment with the words of a very sweet love letter from a soldier to his wife.  I thought this might be a good introduction to both Wordle and the real experiences of war as seen from the primary sources of letters written by soldiers of both sides of the war.

This is something I intend to use.  I think the emotion from the voices of the soldiers tell the story of the war very well.  As I have read in more than one place, how great it is that during the Civil War there was no censorship of the soldiers’ letters so we can see the honest feelings of the men.  My sudents will connect with this.

Scarlett O’Hara in scrubs…

Confederate Circular asking Southern women to grow poppies for morphine (National Archives)

The Faust book is a godsend for my students-they just don’t know it yet.

Every year each students pick a Civil War topic to research and every year several students choose women-related topic. Spies. Nurses. Homefront. It ends up that most all of it is from a Northern perspective. Alot of them get stymied by the lack of Confederate information. There are a few online sources but most are at an academic level that my 13 year olds struggle with. This book is a goldmine. I’ve already sent an email to my librarian asking for two copies.

I started reading it from page one but have found myself going to the index over and over again as I remember topics students wanted to search out but our library on online source didn’t have. Many of them are covered by Dr. Faust.

One area my students wrestle with is the sensibility of the day. Chivalry states that women were too delicate physically and emotionally. Seeing men at their worst would change a women. They would get in the way of the doctor and might even start bossing the doctor around. Nursing is such a female dominated occupation today that concerns over “The Florence Nightingale Business” (p. 92) seem trivial.

One gift in this book is the explanation of how the Confederate nursing corp developed. We have so much information about the Union and Dorthea Dix and The Sanitation Commission that I almost automatically send students that direction. To have an accessible explanation on how nurses came to care for Southern soldiers is exciting.

BTW-the document up top is a Confederate Circular asking women to grow poppies to be ground into morphine (source-National Archives).

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