The primary way for the public to get news of campaigns, battles and
other events during the Civil War was through newspapers. Newspaper
companies printed stories sent to them from reporters who accompanied
the armies or from letters sent to them by soldiers. A reporter with
the army was called a correspondent
and it was his job to stay close to headquarters and get reports from
the officers in command or one of their staff. Correspondents wrote
their stories based on a number of sources and sometimes added opinions
on how they thought things were going, opinions that were not always
favorable to the commanding generals. Once the story was written, it
was transmitted to the newspaper office or a central news agency by telegraph.
If the telegraph was not available, then it had to be transported by
courier. Most of the correspondents with the Army of the Potomac worked
for newspapers in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other major northern
cities, or for a news "bureau" or agency that employed many different
reporters and sold their stories to newspaper companies. The stories
they submitted were the first news the public received of a battle.
Southern correspondents did not have the luxuries that Northern
correspondents did and only a few ever accompanied the Confederate
armies in the field. Many Southern reporters remained in Richmond where
they got information from the Confederate War Department offices and
then wrote their stories.
There were thousands of newspapers in business throughout the
country, and some of the smaller newspapers relied on the larger papers
to get the story to its readers. Newspaper companies that had a large
circulation could afford to employ artists to illustrate the battles
and draw portraits of officers for the paper. One of the more famous
battlefield artists was Alfred R. Waud, the man seated on the
boulder in the photo above. This photograph of Mr. Waud at work was
taken near Devil's Den at Gettysburg soon after the battle.
This scene of the fighting at Devil's Den was drawn by an Waud who was a special artist for Harper's Weekly,
a New York-based newspaper. Mr. Waud followed the Union Army during its
most crucial campaigns, including Gettysburg. He sketched this scene
after visiting Devil's Den on July 5 or 6, 1863 and interviews with
several veterans of the battle. The name Devil's Den was given
to this area long before the battle. The large rocks and smooth
boulders were pushed into this location thousands of years ago by
massive glaciers in North America. Local legend had it that a small
cave or den within the rocky area was the "devil's home", thus
giving it the name which is now famous. Devil's Den is adjacent to Plum
Run and is just west of Big Round Top. The fighting which swept around
the den on July 2nd was very bloody and so many men were killed in this
area that the soldiers renamed it "The Slaughter Pen".
Devil's Den by Alfred R. Waud
Battles and Leaders
Alfred Waud was one of several correspondents and artists who
traveled with the army and made true to life sketches to document
battles and campaigns. Edwin Forbes, James E. Taylor, and Theodore
Davis were some of the other artists. Each man was sponsored by a
newspaper or news service, eager to supply the American public with the
latest illustrated news from the front.
Illustrating the War
After the close of the Civil War, many war veterans
were eager to write about their experiences, stories that were
submitted to newspapers and journals. These became so popular that
almost every large newspaper in the country was soon featuring articles
and stories of the war written by former officers and even the soldiers
in the ranks. In the 1880's, a number of magazines and journals sprung
up, dedicated solely for the purpose of printing soldier memoirs and
accounts. Some of these magazines, such as the Century Magazine
in New York, added fine illustrations and drawings to enhance the drama
and help the reader understand what the writer was describing. The
drawing at left is by Walton Taber, an artist who drew illustrations
for Century Magazine and a handful of newspapers. The magazine later
published a four volume set containing some of the better articles
written by former Civil War officers, entitled Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Mr. Taber's drawings appear throughout the set and help illustrate the fascinating stories. Tabor used his imagination and pen and ink
to make drawings like this one to illustrate a battle scene, but he
also made drawings based on battlefield photographs taken during the
war. Taber was one of over forty artists and illustrators who worked
for Century Magazine during its existence.
Battles and Leaders
Charles Reed, who had served as a member of the 9th
Massachusetts Battery, was also an illustrator. Reed drew for fun
during the war, highlighting his experiences as a bugler with the
battery, drawing the battles he was in, and sketching the places he had
been. Reed was employed as an artist after the war and provided
illustrations for one of the best books ever written about soldier life
called Hardtack and Coffee, or the Unwritten Story of Army Life, written by John Billings and published in 1887. Reed's southern counterpart was Allen C. Redwood,
who served in the 55th Virginia Infantry. Trained as an artist before
the war broke out, Redwood sketched scenes of camp life that he sent
home to illustrate his life as a soldier. A serious wound to his elbow
at Gettysburg nearly cost him his artistic career, but he recovered.
After the war, Redwood settled in Baltimore and then moved to New York
where he drew and painted realistic portraits of Confederate soldier
life based on his experiences in the 55th Virginia. Many of Redwood's
paintings are on display in the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.
It's hard to imagine today, but in the 1860's, newspapers and book
publishers used artists and their drawings to illustrate publications.
Photography was still in its infancy at that time and the process to
transfer photographs to newsprint had not yet been developed. These old
sketches and illustrations are as much relics of the Civil War period
as are the old bullets and rusting canteens of that era.
Many of America's finest illustrators and artists worked for 19th
Century newspapers before they became well known for their art.