Newspapers that reveal something new to popular memory of the Civil War… perhaps…

Posted on February 6, 2011 by


Once again (as can be seen in my post from Friday), I’ve been perusing the Valley of the Shadow site. My focus in that post on Friday was on the two papers in Staunton, Virginia, at this particular time (the first week of February), 150 years ago. One of those papers happened to support secession, while the other was more in favor of Union. In fact, I started posting tidbits from the Spectator yesterday, on Twitter, and will follow-up later this week, with tidbits from the Vindicator. I’m hoping I can continue the pace for the next few months (at least through April), and post tweets from the respective papers, on the days that they appeared in 1861. I think you’ll find the opposing views of the papers of interest. *(I can be found on Twitter at “Cenantua”).

But… while I usually focus my attention on the Shenandoah Valley, I thought it would also be worthwhile to shine some light on sentiments in Franklin County, Pennsylvania (the other half of the Valley of the Shadow story). The dual focus provided through the VotS project is important, especially during the period between December 1860 and April 1861. Regretfully, Franklin County only had one newspaper at this point in time. While the two newspapers in Staunton can provide us with two opposing views of Virginians in the Shenandoah Valley, the lone paper in Franklin County provides us with the perspective of Democrats in south central Pennsylvania.

What’s so important about the Spirit, then? Like the Spectator, I find that the Spirit challenges popular memory of the war.

But, what do I mean about popular memory of the war? Here are some questions to consider…

How has memory of the war drifted so far from the reality?

In the broad-brush coverage over a century and a half, have we forgotten our own history and the details that happen to be contrary to how we understand that history?

Have we re-invented, or rather, re-manufactured memory of the war?

Has our memory reshuffled and re-purposed the history so much that we have become more ignorant of the history?

In fact, I can add a few more questions, but, for now, that will do.

Now, it’s not my intent to answer these questions, but rather, to focus on delivering information that I believe challenges popular memory of the war, as expressed by others in various ways. As you read, I hope that you find something new… something that you may have not been aware of prior to reading the pieces. I encourage readers, here and in Twitter, to also think about these “new-to-you” items under the light of the questions above.

I know, as I read through the papers, I find it, not so much new to me, but refreshing to read how 1) the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was not falling head over heals in love with the idea of secession, and 2) how south central Pennsylvania was not chomping at the bit to hold the Union together by force.  It seems to me that the sensible folks were seeking a way to a peaceful compromise, and disunion was not among the solutions, especially when considering a possible war that, because of geography, seemed certain to visit the respective doorsteps. What I’ve read so far, the folks at the Staunton Spectator and the Valley Spirit were the types who were closest in sentiment… those who were more interested in compromise. Of course, I also understand that to maintain the status quo would prove costly in its own way. Specifically… just how long would slavery continue, if a compromise could have been reached?

I’ll be posting these items of interest (with commentary), here and there, in different posts on this blog (keeping in mind that other posts focused on other items of interests will also appear here), and on Twitter. I hope you will find some items of interest, and value.