Upon the Best Authority

A Compendium of American Civil War Newspaper Articles 

April 8, 1861-April 16, 1865  


by Chuck Veit


(Click the above links to go to the each volume's page at Lulu's Marketplace)

Download a searchable Word index or a PDF of topics so you can see what is included!

“A window on the past, a mirror of the present.”

This is the Civil War as Americans on the home front read about it: through the newspapers. No academic analysis long after the dust has settled, no interpretation from 150 years later–just the raw stories that defined and described American society in the turbulent years 1861-1865. It is a period not unlike our own . . . 

April 8, 1861-April 7, 1862
(413 pp)

April 8, 1862-April 7, 1863
(415 pp)
April 8, 1863-April 7, 1864
(402 pp)
April 8, 1864-April 16, 1865
(422 pp)

From the Author's Introduction

The four volumes of Upon the Best Authority represent a slice of American history, a window into one of our darkest chapters. What makes this work unique is the fact that the subjects (the American people) are themselves the authors. Beyond this introduction and some explanations in the footnotes, there is no academic analysis or attempt to weave together the many threads of the story into overarching themes. While the war itself is obviously the focus, my goal in selecting articles was to present as wide an image of period society as possible. Many recognized significant events are included; much else is mundane, and some is simply downright quirky. Do these stories capture everything that Americans thought or knew about? Certainly not. But you will find an incredible variety of ideas and surprises around themes both familiar and unsuspected. The intent is to provide a glimpse of American society during the war, North and South, civilian, military and naval, and to include a span of news (domestic and international) that illustrates the world as people of the time experienced it.

It should be remembered that these are the topics of the day as presented by the newspapers. Many of these journals had a serious axe to grind–and I do not mean simply Northern as opposed to Southern papers. The 1860s version of our modern “red state/blue state” dichotomy was nastier and much more local; think “red house/blue house.” The sheer vehemence of attacks against the administration, rival papers, generals and political candidates (again, on either side) is shocking. Perhaps the most astounding revelation is the realization of how deeply divided was the North, not only when the war began, but well into the fighting. “Received wisdom” makes much of pro-Union Southerners, but never mentions the equally large number of pro-Southern Northerners who flew the Confederate banner as a “peace flag,” symbolizing a desire to simply allow the South to secede and avoid a war. So keep always in mind the fact that you are reading the news through the lense of a period reporter–just as people of the time did. How accurate is the information? Well, it is as accurate as our own internet!

This project was begun as part of a larger effort to promote the sesquicentennial in southeastern Massachusetts. As such, the bulk of the reports come from New England newspapers; I included one Southern paper each week just to get the perspective from the “other” side. However, as you will quickly learn, this lopsidedness doesn’t really matter. Because Americans on both sides shared a language, and exchanged newspapers on a regular basis, many stories appearing in a Northern paper are reprinted from Southern sheets, and vice versa. Thus there are ample “outrages” and “barbarities” on both sides, sometimes imagined and too-often real, and any topic that piqued an editor’s interest could be circulated far and wide, independent of location or allegiance. Yes, there are incredibly scathing and slanderous pieces penned about an event or a character on that “other” side (blue or gray), but overall I consider this a balanced selection. What you make of what was written is for you to decide.

The period of the Civil War, and the decades of political and moral argument that preceded it, were frustrating to the people who lived through them–and are, to be honest, a real turn-off for subsequent generations of school children forced to endure explanations of the endless wrangling that proved so frustrating as to result in a shooting war. For millennia, humans have “known” that their own lifetimes are the worst of times, that things were better in the past, and it is dispiriting to find that, in reality, there have been problems forever. Change the names, the dates and allow for the speed of events, and the issues we face today are eerily similar to those that challenged our ancestors in the mid-nineteenth century. Recognize this, and you will see that, rather than a window on the past, these volumes are a mirror of the present.

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