$10 bid nets ex-mayor 17 Civil War-era papers
Posted: November 16, 2012
The Winchester Star
MIDDLETOWN — It’s hard to imagine a newspaper of today describing an Army general as “modest and unassuming as a girl.”
But that’s how the Southern Illustrated News portrayed Gen. E.L. Thomas on its front page on Jan. 23, 1864.
The 148-year-old Richmond newspaper was one of 17 editions found by Marshall J. “Mark” Brown at a Northern Virginia auction recently, appropriately during the 150th anniversary of the conflict that pitted brother against brother.
The former Middletown mayor, who owns Why Not Antiques, noticed a box and took a look.
“I thought they were reprints,” Brown said, possibly from the 1960s, when the United States marked the centennial of the Civil War.
The papers were rolled up and sealed in a dull cellophane wrapper, Brown said. The top issue was torn and the way they were rolled up together made the issues look thicker than 150-year-old paper would be. Most early newspapers usually consisted of only four pages of print, the front and back of two sheets of paper.
The box also held a copy of the Washington Post, the issue announcing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Brown walked away from the box, but returned to it later for another look.
Turning the cellophaned packet over, he noticed a lithograph of a dark-haired Civil War general. Under it was the name Robert Edmund Lee (Lee’s correct name was Robert Edward Lee, but the publication had in wrong).
Suddenly, Brown knew he was looking at an original Civil War newspaper.
The wait for the box to come up was nail-biting.
The auctioneer looked at the box and pulled out the Kennedy paper, holding it up for all to see.
Brown bid $10 for the box and, a few moments later, walked off with it for that amount. No one else bid.
He thought, “I got me a Confederate newspaper,” but it wasn’t until he was able to unwrap his find that he realized there were 17 issues rolled together.
Brown can tell you the Southern Illustrated News was published weekly in Richmond from September 1862 to March 1865. Subscriptions were $20 per year.
“It’s amazing,” Brown said, that any of the copies managed to last out the war, given the shortages of supplies like paper then, “much less the past 150 years.”
On many of its issues, the publishers, book printers Ayers and Wade, printed a picture of one of the officers of the Confederate Army, along with a short biography. Among those spotlighted were generals James Longstreet and Joseph Johnston. It was the article about Lee that caught Brown’s attention, along with lower-ranking officers like Capt. William Farley and Capt. Martin Luther Smith.
Inside, the editors used some space to comment on war maneuvers and battles. A report on the Battle of Cedar Creek was in the Oct. 25, 1864, issue.
The March 5, 1864, edition had news of Gen. William T. Sherman’s campaign in Mississippi, a victory by Confederate Gen. Joseph Finnegan in Florida and the fact that, in West Virginia units, Union soldiers were refusing to re-enlist.
Sometimes, there wasn’t any war news.
In one issue, the editors pointed out that, with winter upon the land, the roads were too bad for a land war and the seas too stormy for naval battles.
And, even in war, fashion had to be served. Gen. Thomas shared the front page of that issue with a story on an improvement in the crinoline, the stiff underskirt of women’s gowns.
Even late in the war, a reading of the News showed Richmond was still trying to keep up its culture and society. The News noted that the Wilmington Theater was still open and the performance of the moment was a play called “All That Glitters is Not Gold.”
And florist John Morton was still advertising his flowers for sale in a late issue.
Ayers and Wade also used the periodical to advertise the books they printed for sale.
They offered “The Life of Stonewall Jackson” for $5 and an intriguing novelette, “The Step Sister.”
The newspapers offer not only the Southern perspective on the war, but also an interesting peek at life in the Confederate capital during the conflict.
Brown also has a printed peephole into life in Leesburg in 1822.
The thin, brittle four pages of the Genius of Liberty paper from Aug. 27 of that year show how residents of the 19th century kept up with world affairs through their hometown newspaper.
B.W. Sowers probably read a lot of newspapers himself, as the editor included snippets from far-flung papers to fill up his own weekly.
Also, the arrival of ships in the ports of Baltimore and Pennsylvania brought news of the world that he shared with his readers, crediting the ship captains for the information.
Ads tell other tales.
The Leesburg Academy promoted education for Loudoun County youths, while ads for runaway slaves showed up throughout the paper.
A Fauquier County resident offered to sell a grant of land in Ohio. After the Revolutionary War in the 1780s, veterans who served their country were offered grants of land on its “frontier” in the Midwest and this might have been one of them.
Brown will be selling his Civil War finds, but until he does, he’ll enjoy reading the news of the day — 150 years ago.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com