Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Prisoners of War: Handwritten Newspaper By Confederates Held in Delaware

Confederate prisoners of war confined at Fort Delaware produced this newspaper by hand in 1865. The  New York Historical Society holds one of four surviving copies, each of which was likely passed around and read by multiple prisoners. The paper numbers four pages in total.

Like camps holding Union prisoners in the South, Fort Delaware, located on the Delaware River, was not a pleasant place. More than 40,000 Confederate prisoners of war cycled through the brick-walled prison between 1862 and 1865. Overcrowding, poor handling of sanitation, and short rations resulted in the deaths of many prisoners. Astonishingly, 56,000 men fighting on both sides died while imprisoned during the conflict. The paper numbers four pages in total.

Despite these conditions, the men at Fort Delaware evolved an informal economy, staged entertainments, and formed clubs. This newspaper was mostly concerned with covering these aspects of the prison experience. In their introductory column, the editors of the paper warn the reader that “nothing political will be indulged in” and promise instead to promote “public improvements, the Fine Arts, and Advancement of Literature.”

The “ancient toast” printed in the central column refers to “the old chivalric time.” Southerners before and after the Civil War were particularly intrigued by chivalry, knighthood, and the literature of Sire Walter Scott and this offering reflects that taste.  The newspaper also carries paid advertisements for barbershops, “washing and ironing,” dental services, and music instruction. If the first issue is any indication, the editors had no problem finding prisoners willing to underwrite this venture with their advertising dollars.

In The Civil War in 50 Objects, historian Harold Holzer wrote about this newspaper and  surmises that this edition of the Prison Times was probably one of very few produced. Vol. 1, No. 1 was “printed” the same month that the war ended.

Source: Slate, The Vault 

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