Analyzing primary sources: Civil War Newspapers

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about analyzing literature from the world wars. This week we’re also looking at published material – newspaper images depicting scenes from the Civil War.

Context

During the Civil War, newspapers were a popular source of information about battles, events, and opinions on the war. Radio, television, and the internet were decades away from creation, and photography was still in its early years. Newspapers were dominated by illustrations and articles depicting scenes of the war, which was one of the only ways readers could stay informed about what was happening. Keep in mind national opinions on the war and how newspaper publishers, reporters, and illustrators may have interpreted the scenes they were illustrating and reporting on.

Questions

Below are several pages from 19th century American newspapers. Think about some of these questions as you look at each page:

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Analyzing primary sources: A Confederate soldier’s sketchbook

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about what primary sources are and how to analyze them. This time around we’re going to talk about how to analyze a rather unusual sketchbook.

Context

At the outbreak of the Civil War, John Jacob Omenhausser was an amateur artist and candy maker living in Richmond, Virginia. He enlisted in the 46th CSA Virginia Infantry in April 1861, and in June 1864 he was captured by Union troops and sent to Point Lookout – a large prisoner-of-war camp in southern Maryland. Once there, Omenhausser encountered the grim reality of prison camp life – limited access to food, medicine, and clothing and poor sanitary conditions. He was lucky enough to have access to stationery, brushes, and inks – perhaps due to the fact that he had relatives in the North. Omenhausser used these supplies to create illustrations of camp life, often accompanied by captions and humorous dialog. His sketches provide us with a unique look at prison life for a Confederate soldier.

Questions

Below are a few images from his sketchbook (you can find the entire sketchbook digitized here). Think about some of these questions as you look at each page:

  • What do these images tell us about living conditions in a prison camp? What kind of clothing, shelter, and supplies do the prisoners have?
  • Omenhausser often inserted humor into his sketches – is that the case with these images?
  • How do the conditions at Point Lookout compare to other Union and Confederate prison camps?
  • What do these illustration reveal about Omenhausser’s opinion of other prisoners and camp visitors?
  • How do these illustrations contrast with each other and Omenhausser’s other sketches?
  • What do these sketches tell us about the morale in prison camps?
  • How do Omenhausser’s sketches match up with other accounts of life at Point Lookout and other Civil War prison camps?

[click for larger images]

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