New York Times Book of the Civil War 1861-1865

650 Eyewitness Accounts and Articles


Edited by Harold Holzer

Edited by Craig Symonds

Foreword by President Bill Clinton

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The Civil War as you’ve never experienced it before, through original, first-hand reportage of The New York Times, the country’s newspaper of record.  Available for the first time in a unique book/DVD package

The New York Times, established in 1851, was one of the few newspapers with correspondents on the front lines throughout the Civil War. The Complete Civil War collects every article written about the war from 1861 to 1865, plus select pieces before and after the war and is filled with the action, politics, and personal stories of this monumental event. From the first shot fired at Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox, and from the Battle of Antietam to the Battle of Atlanta, as well as articles on slavery, states rights, the role of women, and profiles of noted heroes such as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, the era comes alive through these daily first-hand accounts.

More than 600 of the most crucial and interesting articles in the book? Typeset and designed for easy reading
Commentary by Editors and Civil War scholars Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds
More than 104,000 additional articles on the DVD-ROM? every article the Times published during the war.
A detailed chronology highlights articles and events of interest that can be found on the disk.

Strikingly designed and illustrated with hundreds of maps, historical photographs, and engravings, this book is a treasure for Civil War and history buffs everywhere.

“This is a fascinating and riveting look at the most important event in American history as seen through the eyes of an institution that was emerging as the most important newspaper in American history.   In these pages, the Civil War seems new and fresh, unfolding day after anxious day, as the fate of the republic hangs in the balance.” –  Ken Burns

“Serious historians and casual readers alike will find this extraordinary collection of 600 articles and editorials about the Civil War published in The New York Times before and during the war of great value and interest . . . enough to keep the most assiduous student busy for the next four years of the war’s sesquicentennial observations.” –  James McPherson

“This fascinating work catapults readers back in time, allowing us to live through the Civil War as daily readers of The New York Times, worrying about the outcome of battles, wondering about our generals, debating what to do about slavery, hearing the words that Lincoln spoke, feeling passionate about our politics.  Symonds and Holzer have found an ingenious new way to experience the most dramatic event in our nation’s history.” — Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds have included not only every pertinent article from the pages of The Times, but enhanced and illuminated them with editorial commentary that adds context and perspective, making the articles more informative and useful here than they were in the original issues.  Nowhere else can readers of today get such an understanding of how readers of 1861-1865 learned of and understood their war.”
— William C Davis

The DVD runs on Windows 2000/XP or Mac OS X 10.3 or later.



Civilians eagerly reading the latest war news on Broadway in New York City.

THIRTY MILLION AMERICANS lived in the United States during the Civil War. Nearly four million of them began the war as slaves and, by war’s end, were free. More than 3.5 million men, black as well as white, served in uniform and fought on the battlefields of that war from Texas to Pennsylvania. For the remaining millions who did not serve, the war ultimately touched nearly every one of them in countless ways. Many had sons, fathers, brothers, cousins, husbands, or sweethearts fighting in the ranks who sent them occasional letters home; some witnessed battles that raged, in a few cases, in their own backyards; Northerners as well as Southerners lost homes and property as cities and towns became military targets. But the vast majority of Northerners experienced the war day to day by reading the country’s great newspapers. New York, then as now the publishing center of the nation, boasted more than half a dozen dailies (among some 174 newspapers nationwide), among which three morning papers exerted enormous influence and attracted readers beyond the city’s boundaries: James Gordon Bennett’s Herald, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, and Henry J. Raymond’s New York Times.1 Though newspapers offered the country its principal source of news — the only source for most — editors and reporters in mid-19th century America did not aspire to objective journalism as they do (most of the time) in the 21st century. Papers were expected to maintain a clear and decisive political point of view and reflect it consistently in editorials and news coverage alike. Democrats read Democratic papers, and Republicans read Republican papers, and their respective readers expected no diversity of views in either.

Bennett’s Herald was unabashedly Democratic. Bennett himself, who was 61 years old when the war began, was an old Jacksonian who had flirted with the anti-foreigner Know-Nothing movement in the 1850s but returned to “the Democracy” before the war. His p a p e r, with a circulation of 84,000, promoted itself at the time as the most widely read daily in America, a claim The Times once disputed with a rare and savage caricature of Bennett as a horned devil “inflating his well-known, first-class, A-No. 1 Wind-bag Herald.” Bennett used his paper to assail Republicans generally, and the administration of President Abraham Lincoln in particular, at nearly every opportunity, though he might dispatch a correspondent to write friendlier stories if they promised to boost readership.

James Gordon Bennett, founder, editor, and publisher of The New York Herald.

Northern Democrats like Bennett were generally supportive of a war to maintain the Union, but suspicious of any attempt to use the conflict to forward a social agenda, especially if it embraced emancipation, or worse, equal rights for blacks. War for the Union was one thing; war for the black race quite another. As Bennett wrote in 1862: “That the negro should be as free as white men, either at the North or at the South, is out of the question.” Bennett was suspicious of Lincoln’s emancipationist tendencies, and he was occasionally as vituperative toward the president as the Richmond Enquirer or other Confederate dailies.2

On the other side of the political spectrum, Horace Greeley’s Tribune had become a liberal Republican paper. That meant that it generally championed the antislavery position, and was often well in advance of Lincoln on the question of emancipation. It was not quite an abolitionist paper like, for example, William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator or Frederick Douglass’s Monthly, but when Greeley took Lincoln to task for not being aggressive enough in prosecuting the war or ending slavery, he reached a far larger audience. If Bennett’s Herald was the most widely read daily in America, Greeley’s Tribune (which reached 200,000 readers nationwide with its weekly edition) may have been the most influential.

The 50-year-old Greeley himself was something of an eccentric who went about New York in every season garbed in a full-length duster and carrying an umbrella. His cheeks were clean-shaven, but he let the white whiskers on his throat grow long and frizzy, giving him the appearance of an old gobbler. A strong supporter of manifest destiny, Greeley had famously urged young Americans to “go west” in 1835. Politically, he generally supported Lincoln and the Republicans, but he also challenged the president on occasion, and aware of Greeley’s influence, Lincoln paid attention to what he had to say.

Greeley’s politics were somewhat idiosyncratic, however, and occasionally unpredictable. He supported the conservative Edward Bates over the antislavery New York Senator William H. Seward for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, then tried without success to win Seward’s vacant Senate seat for himself after Lincoln made his onetime rival his secretary of state.

It would not be Greeley’s only political failure. During the war, he persuaded Lincoln to authorize him to undertake a mission to Niagara Falls to negotiate peace with Confederate emissaries. The adventure proved a debacle. Finally, in 1872, Greeley accepted the Democratic nomination for president to run against the enormously popular President Ulysses S. Grant. Greeley not only lost overwhelmingly, but also became the only candidate in presidential history to die before the electoral votes were officially counted.3

In contrast to The Herald and The Tribune (which merged into one paper decades later), The New York Times reflected a centrist position. Its co-owner and editor was Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820–1869), a staunch Republican, who was neither as conservative as Bennett nor as liberal as Greeley. Born on a farm in the upstate town of Lima, New York (a “poor boy from the country,” his obituary stressed), he had graduated from the University of Vermont with high honors at the age of 20 and went to work at once writing for newspapers, including, for a time, Greeley’s Tribune. At the tender age of 31, Raymond and a partner, George Jones, raised $100,000 in pledged capital and formed a new company to establish a third major morning daily in New York. Jones, the largest stockholder, took on the role of publisher and business manager. Raymond, who owned 20 of 89 shares of the paper, became its editor.

Henry Jarvis Raymond, founder and editor of The New York Times.

Horace Greeley, founder and editor of The New York Tribune.

Initially the new venture was called The New-York Daily Times, and afterward simply The New-York Times. (“Daily” vanished from the logo in 1857; the hyphen in “New-York” disappeared in 1896.) Founded in 1851 as a pro-Whig paper, but with aspirations to avoid “the advancement of any party, sect, or person,” the broadsheet, priced at a penny per issue, or $4 annually by subscription, promised to feature “tales, poetry, biography, the news of the day, editorials upon all subjects of interest, and a variety of interesting and valuable matter.” It would be “a family newspaper” committed to “needful reform,” yet “conservative.” It would try to “allay, rather than excite, agitation,” but it would also “inculcate devotion to the Union and the Constitution” and “obedience to law.”

The first edition of The New York Times was printed on September 18, 1851.

The Times’s success, however, was by no means automatic. Immediately after Raymond announced its publication, The Tribune threatened local newsdealers that it would cease doing business with them if they dared to carry the new daily. (They defied him.) During the ensuing circulation war, both Greeley and Bennett dispensed rumors that their younger new rival was a dangerous radical.4

These harsh responses stemmed not only from the threat of business competition, but of political rivalry as well. Along with many of his fellow editors of the period, Raymond was also an active politician with ambitions not only for his party, but also for himself. Originally an “old Whig of the Seward School,” Raymond had served as a New York State Assemblyman — in 1851, the same year he opened The Times, he served as Assembly speaker — and later, from 1855 to 1857, he was New York’s “Anti-Nebraska” lieutenant governor (opposed to the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave those territories autonomy and the right to decide whether slavery was allowed). For the last-named post he had defeated Greeley himself, ensuring his competitor’s lifelong enmity.

Like Lincoln, Raymond abandoned the fading Whig organization to become one of the founding members of his state’s new Republican party in the mid-1850s. At the first Republican National Convention in 1856, Raymond was instrumental in writing the new party’s founding principles and offered a widely praised speech from the floor. Within only five years, he had thus earned a reputation as both a “great orator” and a “great journalist” who “never absolutely abdicated his real and invisible authority as a writer when he assumed the insignia of a more palpable but a less genuine influence as a politician.”5

By the dawn of the Civil War, The Times had carved out its own niche in the furiously competitive marketplace for loyal New York readers. Though it still described itself in early 1860 as “the youngest of the daily newspapers of the City,” The Times could credibly boast that it had already “become one of the most widely known and most firmly established daily journals of the United States.” To be sure, some Republican critics assailed the conservative Raymond for his “thundering orthodoxy”; but others preferred his cautious nature to that of his counterpart at The Tribune. Horace Greeley was perhaps the better natural writer, but he was an inferior editor, for as one admirer wrote, Raymond “did not force, but coaxed, public opinion.... He had the soft answer that turned away wrath.” As his associate editor John Swinton recalled, Raymond “was a man of many talents rather than of special genius.” Yet this made him “a model editor, a man of mental equipoise, clear-headed, reasonable, ingenious, and genial.”6

Raymond’s Times proved capable of political independence, too — at least at the beginning of the Civil War. Although Raymond had supported Lincoln for president in 1860, he lost patience with the new administration when it failed to act swiftly against secession or to suppress rebellion at once. Less than two weeks after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter (which The Times, along with most Northerners, including Lincoln, spelled “Sumpter”), The Times published a scathing editorial that began with the words: “Wanted — a Leader!” Lincoln clipped it along with several similar editorial critiques from the same unsettling period and filed them under the heading “Villainous articles.” The president was not pleased.7

But relations with the White House improved once Raymond better understood the unprecedented challenges facing the new president (and after he experienced some personal time with the commander-in-chief). After one White House meeting, the editor accepted the president’s explanation that he “wished he could get time to attend to the southern question,” as Lincoln put it, but for the fact that “the office-seekers demanded all his time.” Lincoln, Raymond said, was “like a man so busy in letting rooms in one end of the house, that he can’t stop to put out the fire that is burning the other.”8

Not that Raymond himself did anything to reduce such pressures — quite the opposite. From the beginning of the Lincoln administration, the editor sought to use his political influence to gain jobs for friends and allies. One job-seeker was granted an audience by the State Department simply because, as Lincoln put it, “He has a note from Raymond.” Indeed, Raymond asked Lincoln’s intervention to secure appointments large and small, both “on public grounds,” as he put it in one such plea, and “as a personal favor.” Once, when a New York congressman-elect asked Lincoln’s help on “a matter of political importance,” the president perhaps only half-jokingly urged him to see the editor of The New York Times instead. “Raymond,” he said, “is my Lieutenant-General in politics. Whatever he says is right in the premises, shall be done.” Those “premises,” after all, embraced the largest and wealthiest city in the nation, and Raymond grew in stature, in the words of another newspaper, by sitting “in that editorial chair which has so long swayed the minds of so vast a portion of the mighty multitudes of men that belong to, or are tributary to the heart of the Continent — New York City.”9

This Times editorial was printed on April 25, 1861.

Notwithstanding their common purpose, disputes between Lincoln and Raymond occasionally flared up. When, for example, The Times criticized Lincoln’s 1862 proposal for compensated emancipation as too costly, a vexed Lincoln shot off a famous letter to Raymond defending his initiative. “Have you noticed the facts,” asked Lincoln, “that less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware, at four hundred dollars per head? — that eighty-seven days’ cost of this war would pay for all in Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Kentucky, and Missouri at the same price… Please look at these things, and consider whether there should not be another article in the Times.”

Raymond, who had not written the offending editorial himself, quickly saw to the publication of several corrective pieces in the paper. In a personal letter to Lincoln, moreover, he called the compensated emancipation proposal “a master-piece of practical wisdom and sound policy” typical of what he called Lincoln’s “plain, self-vindicating, common-sense” approach.” Not only did Raymond praise the idea in print as the president requested, he also introduced a resolution in the State Legislature endorsing the idea. For Raymond had returned to the Assembly — and would soon again become Speaker.10

Raymond offered further wartime advice after the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots, during which Times shareholder Leonard Walter Jerome (future grandfather of Winston Churchill) took to the roof of the newspaper’s headquarters to hold off a mob with a Gatling gun. After order had been restored, and the draft peaceably resumed, Raymond proposed that Lincoln submit the controversial federal conscription law to immediate review by the courts to counter the prevailing impression “that the act is unconstitutional.” The editor may well have influenced the prompt — and favorable — judicial review of the nation’s new draft laws.11

For the most part, Raymond’s newspaper remained a consistent champion of the administration and the war. Republican electoral successes and Union battlefield triumphs were invariably headlined as “Glorious News!” Democratic dissent was usually likened to high treason. The editor reliably defended the president from attacks by Bennett on the right and Greeley on the left. Though Greeley regarded Raymond as a “little villain,” the Tribune editor later conceded — once Raymond’s premature death, just four years after the war, softened the memories of their rivalry — “Abler and stronger men I may have met; a cleverer, readier, more generally efficient journalist, I never saw.”12

Raymond also grew into a peripatetic personal advocate for the Union and the party. As one example, just two weeks before Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in November 1863, Raymond delivered a pro-war speech of his own in Wilmington, Delaware. In early 1864, a presidential election year, Raymond chaired the New York delegation to the national convention of the newly renamed National Union party, and led the Committee on Resolutions that wrote the party platform calling for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. He may have played a role in securing the nomination of conservative Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson as Abraham Lincoln’s vice presidential running mate. Certainly he praised the selection in his editorials. The choice would come back to haunt both the editor and the nation.

By now Raymond had also taken on yet another key political role, the most important of his career: that of chairman of the National Union Executive Committee (the equivalent of today’s Republican National Committee). For the 1864 campaign, he also wrote a highly flattering campaign biography titled History of the Administration of President Lincoln; including His Speeches, Addresses, Letters, Messages and Proclamations; with a Preliminary Sketch of His Life. Its publisher openly described it as “written with a view to aid President Lincoln’s re-nomination,” privately confiding: “It cannot fail to have an excellent influence upon everyone who reads it.” That publisher, interestingly, referred to his author as “Gov. Raymond,” indicating that during the war the editor continued to use the traditional honorific he had earned as the state’s antebellum lieutenant governor.13

Once the convention chose Lincoln as its nominee in June, Raymond devoted himself, and his paper, to providing “the American people the material for forming an intelligent judgment as to the wisdom of continuing Mr. Lincoln, for four years more, in the Presidential Office.” That meant frequent editorials, along with political advice to both his readers and his candidate. When Horace Greeley’s Niagara Falls peace initiative collapsed, for instance, Raymond urged the publication of Greeley’s correspondence with Lincoln to expose Greeley as a liar for blaming Lincoln for the undertaking’s failure. Of course he also no doubt wanted The Times to seize the high ground over The Tribune. Lincoln, however, wanted the letters published only if he could first delete some of Greeley’s more incendiary charges about dwindling Northern morale; Greeley refused to authorize the cuts, so Raymond’s idea was dropped. “I have concluded that it is better for me to submit, for the time, to the consequences of the false position in which I consider he has placed me,” the president explained to Raymond, “than to subject the country to the consequences of publishing these discouraging and injurious parts.” Raymond had lost a battle but won a war: he, not Greeley, emerged with the administration’s entire confidence.14

If Raymond was eager to expose Greeley’s willingness to negotiate with the Southern traitors, by the late summer of 1864, he worried that Northern public opinion was turning against the war, and that a clear-cut Union victory was slipping away. In A ugust 1864, he sent the president a brutally frank and politically ominous assessment lamenting Republican prospects in the fast-approaching presidential election, and proposing a peace initiative of his own. Wrote Raymond:

I am in active correspondence with your staunchest friends in every state and from then all I hear but one report. The tide is turning strongly against us.... Nothing but the most resolute and decided action on the part of the government and its friends, can save the country from falling into hostile hands.... Why would it not be wise, under these circumstances, to appoint a Commissioner, in due form, to make distinct proffers of peace to [Jefferson] Davis, as the head of the rebel armies, on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the constitution — all other questions to be settled in a convention of the people of all the States?15

What Raymond implied, of course, was that in order to get reelected, Lincoln might have to back away from the promise of emancipation. That Lincoln was unwilling to do. He did draft a reply that would have authorized Raymond to seek an armistice under the terms he proposed, but he did so in the conviction that Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy would reject such an overture, and thereby bolster Northern determination. It never came to that. Instead, the cabinet (led by Raymond’s particular ally, Secretary of State Seward) urged Lincoln not to make the offer — to Davis or to Raymond. Instead, the president met with the entire National Committee at the White House. Arriving “in obvious depression and panic,” the party leaders were treated to a briefing and something of a dressing down. Lincoln bluntly told them that “sending a Commission to Richmond would be worse than losing the Presidential contest — it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance.” Though Lincoln had adroitly neutralized Raymond in this instance, the editor and party boss apparently left Washington satisfied, and resumed his active campaigning for the administration in print — unleashing a stream of pro-Lincoln editorials that masked Raymond’s apparent personal yearning for a speedy peace.16

The Times’s advantages and influence expanded exponentially during the Civil War — and, arguably, because of it. First of all, the paper maintained the strongest connections with the Lincoln administration, which meant its political coverage was authoritative. But it also nurtured a sober style of reporting by a stable of talented and relentless correspondents, plus enviable contacts throughout the country and the world (The Times far outshone its rivals in foreign news). Adding temperate editorializing to its recipe for success, The Times established a major reputation as a source of news and opinion that only grew as the war continued. To some readers, the writing style in this collection will no doubt seem florid and ornamental; but to Civil War–era patrons, it was perhaps the most measured in the field of journalism.

The Times relied on a vast and growing network of sources, including news services it helped create, staff, and manage. During the war, all three New York newspapers also printed official notices provided by the government and public addresses by government officials, but each paper also boasted its own reporters who filed stories from the front — by telegraph if one were available, or by post if necessary. When reporters had access to the military telegraph, they often filed updates on battles as they were in progress. Here, for example, are the reports filed with The New York Times during the Battle of Bull Run, the first engagement of the war, on July 21, 1861, and which appeared in the paper the next day:

11:40. — The fighting is very heavy, and apparently more on our left wing.

11:50. — There is evidently a battle toward our left in the direction of Bull’s Run, and a little north. The firing is very rapid and heavy.

1:45. — Heavy guns are heard again, and apparently nearer. The musketry is heavy and nearer.

2 P.M. — The musketry is very heavy and drawing much nearer. There is evidently a movement more to our left.

2:45 P.M — The firing is a little farther off, and apparently in the direction of the Junction. Less heavy guns and more light artillery, as near as I can judge.

3 P.M. — The firing has ceased ten minutes since.17

More often, the stories of the fighting at the front reached New York readers in the form of narrative accounts filed by field reporters. Though occasionally it was possible to read these narratives the day after the events took place, a two-day delay often occurred between events at the front in Virginia and the stories that appeared in New York. The delay was greater in the case of events that occurred in the Western Theater — between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The war on the Mississippi was especially remote from New York readers. News about the siege of Vicksburg, for example, had to travel upriver by steamboat to Cairo, Illinois, for several days before it could be sent to New York by telegraph. On one occasion it was further delayed, and rendered almost obsolete, when an assistant of The Times correspondent Franc Wilkie got drunk and allegedly left the reports the correspondent had entrusted to him in a hotel room. Even in the best of circumstances, however, events in “the West” might not be reported in the New York papers for a full week.18

Every paper sent reporters into the field. Early in the war, the eager and dedicated Raymond acted as his own correspondent. He accompanied the Union army to Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861 and reported on the battle from there, filing his first dispatch on the pre-battle skirmish that took place along the banks of Bull Run Creek on July 18, 1861. Like most reporters at the time, Raymond described what he observed personally as an eyewitness. He did not interview sources. Generals who tolerated reporters at all were disinclined to grant them interviews. As a result, Raymond’s reports were written in the first person, and he often attached himself to a New York regiment, since his readers would want to know what their husbands and sons had done in the battle. The following is representative:

I went out with the centre column. At ten minutes before six we halted about a mile this side of the position of the rebels. The Sixty-ninth and Seventy-ninth Regiments of New-York were thrown to the right, in the woods, and the First and Second Ohio and the Second New-York to the left in advance....”19

Like journalists in every era, Raymond and his fellow correspondents worked on tight deadlines. They had to get their stories to the telegraph office in Washington in time to transmit them to the papers in New York for publication early the next morning. As a result, Raymond filed his story on Bull Run early at about 2:15 p.m. on the day of the battle. His dispatch that afternoon read: “I write this at 2 ¼ o’clock, and am compelled to close in order to avail myself of a special messenger to Washington. The fight is still going on with great energy.” At that time, the Union was winning the battle, and that was the news that Raymond wired. Alas, 45 minutes after the courier departed, fresh reinforcements from the Confederate army led by Joseph E. Johnston arrived on the field to turn the tide and force a Union retreat, a retreat that soon tuned into an embarrassing rout. Raymond tried to submit an amended report, but it had to wait until he arrived back in the capital. He showed up at the military telegraph office that night “sun-burned, dusty, and hardly recognizable” to file a new story. But the army telegrapher decided that it was not in the national interest to transmit news of a defeat, and would not let him use the army telegraph. Consequently, it was not until July 26, four days later, that The Times carried a full account of the humiliating loss.20


On Sale
Oct 3, 2010
Page Count
512 pages