Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Journalism in Washington: The Value of Hospital Newspapers

By Elizabeth Lorang and Kenneth M. Price

Newspapers published in the District of Columbia during the Civil War provide essential information about the war and life in the city during a time of crisis. In Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria, nearly 30 daily and weekly newspapers chronicled the war.(1) These papers included English-language dailies and weeklies and several German-language weeklies. The papers were published out of standard newspaper offices as well as out of impromptu and makeshift offices in hospitals and military camps. Three issues of the Camp Kettle, for example, were published by the field and staff of the Roundhead Regiment of Pennsylvania while members were stationed at Camp Kalorama in DC. (Later issues of the Kettle were published aboard a steamer, as the regiment moved South.) Given the wealth of material in these diverse newspapers, we would like to include all of them within Civil War Washington, offering users both full-text transcriptions and high-quality page images. Yet, a number of factors, including both resources and technology, require that we temper this ambitious goal. (See the Methodology section below for more information.) Therefore, since the most prominent newspapers—the Daily National Intelligencer, Evening Star, National Republican and Daily National Republican, and Washington Chronicle among them—are available as microfilm copies and through online collections, we have prioritized the work of presenting digital images of rare hospital newspapers. We expect our collection of freely available newspapers to grow over time and for our focus to expand beyond the hospital newspapers.

During the war, at least nineteen different newspapers were published in military hospitals throughout the U.S., with five such newspapers published in the District. The DC-area hospital newspapers include the Armory Square Hospital Gazette, the Cripple (U.S. General Hospitals in Alexandria, Virginia), the Finley Hospital Weekly, the Soldiers' Journal (Convalescent Camp/Augur General Hospital at Rendezvous of Distribution, Alexandria, Virginia), and Reveille (Carver General Hospital). Issues of all of these newspapers are rare. In some cases, as with the Reveille, only a few issues are extant. It appears that no complete run of any of the papers now exists. In the best of cases, nearly complete runs are available from a single institution, as with the Wisconsin Historical Society's holdings of the Soldiers' Journal. In the remainder of the cases, all that can be done is to put together the most substantive runs of the newspapers possible by working with multiple individuals and institutions (our work on this front is ongoing). Currently, we provide access to 150 issues of the Armory Square Hospital Gazette, the Soldiers' Journal, and the Cripple.

In its first issue, published January 6, 1864, the Armory Square Hospital Gazette declared that “The hospital is an episode in a soldier’s life—sometimes a painful termination of it, which has many an event worthy of a chronicle.” Writing in Specimen Days, Walt Whitman remarked that “During the [Civil] war, the hospitals at Washington, among other means of amusement, printed a little sheet among themselves, surrounded by wounds and death, the ‘Armory Square Gazette,’ to which I contributed.”(2) Whitman’s succinct description captures the role played by hospital papers in offering diversion in the midst of pain, illness, mutilation, and death. Yet, Whitman also was convinced that the real war would never get into the books, and he made it abundantly clear that the tragedy of the Civil War could only be understood by experiencing the hospitals from within. Given Whitman’s insight, it is surprising that hospital newspapers such as the Armory Square Hospital Gazette and other like it have been so little studied. Oriented away from military accomplishments, each of these papers offers a valuable perspective on Washington and the war, and they all present remarkable opportunities for research and scholarship.

From: civilwardc.org


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