Special Report

How Newspapers Reported the Civil War

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

(Newseum Archives)

Chester County Times

Chester County Times
(Newseum Archives)

The Chester County Times in Pennsylvania made no attempt to disguise how it felt about the election of Abraham Lincoln as the nation’s 16th president. “A Clean Sweep!” it exclaimed. “Corruption Ended!! The Country Redeemed! Secession is Rebuked!!! Let the Traitors Rave!”

This was a time when newspapers were rigidly aligned with political parties. In Chester County, Lincoln’s win signaled a chance to lay on the exclamation marks. It was also a time when news-hungry citizens relied on newspapers as the primary means of mass communication. Advances in technology—especially the development of the telegraph—made rapid dissemination of the news possible. The Twitter of the era, the telegraph cut days or weeks off the time it took dispatches to reach the public.

The Chester County Times is one of more than 30 newspapers spotlighted in “Blood and Ink: Front Pages From the Civil War” at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The show, which coincides with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and runs through 2012, covers key events of the war, including major battles and the lead-up to and resolution of the conflict, says curator Carrie Christoffersen.

Published November 7, 1860, the Times’ election extra reported Lincoln had won Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Rhode Island. (In the end, Lincoln carried every Northern state except New Jersey.) Virginia went for candidate John Bell, and North Carolina for John C. Breckinridge. The front page uses the abbreviation “Breck’ge, credits the telegraph operator by name and fills the final column with the cryptic, boldface words “Wide Awake.”


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