How Newspapers Reported the Civil War- page 3 | History | Smithsonian
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Special Report
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How Newspapers Reported the Civil War

A collection of historic front pages shows how civilians experienced and read about the war

Illustrated News

Illustrated News
(Newseum Archives)

Soon artists and correspondents were covering far more dangerous assignments. Calling themselves the “Bohemian Brigade,” they traveled with armies as witnesses to war. “There were battlefield sketch artists who were essentially embedded,” says Christoffersen. These men were dubbed “specials.” When Confederate shots erupted in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861, a special positioned himself near U.S. Army Maj. Robert Anderson on the rampart of Fort Sumter. The scene he drew graced page 1 of the New York Illustrated News on April 20. (War scenes usually took about two weeks to appear in print.) The accompanying article described a “gallant Major as he vainly scanned the horizon for the expected supplies and reinforcements, upon which depended the continued occupation of the fortress, but which, alas, he was never destined to receive.” Union forces surrendered after 34 hours.

Although newspapers weren’t yet able to reproduce photographs, says Christoffersen, they could use information documented in photographs to make engravings. The Illustrated News points out that its portrait of Anderson was sketched from a photo taken at the fort.

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