This week marks the 160th anniversary of the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The long campaign of combined Army and Navy forces ended in a 47-day siege that enabled the Union Army to gain more control over the Mississippi River.
During the siege, one newspaper in the city continued to print: the Daily Citizen. The Library of Congress has several issues of the Citizen from the time of siege, during which the printers ran out of paper and resorted to printing one-sided issues on the back of colorfully designed wallpaper.
“At a great expense and with the most untiring labor, we have succeeded in making our paper a pictorial sheet to the great delight of our readers. Citizens will please save these illustrated papers until the war is over, when they can ornament the walls of their rooms with the most beautiful designs. The soldiers also will be very glad to obtain the variegated papers for the embellishment of their tents. Thus we go.”
–Daily Citizen, Vicksburg, M.S., June 18, 1863.
The most famous of these wallpaper issues are the final two editions of the Citizen: the original issue by the publishers on July 2, and the edited re-print by the Union army on July 4 when the city surrendered. The Union printers added a small “Note” in the bottom right corner. This issue has often been reprinted and copied in facsimile form over the years.
The Library of Congress published an Information Circular that provides guidelines on determining the facsimiles from the originals. Some of the Library’s copies of these issues are digitally available in the Printed Ephemera digital collection.
The Library has six other issues from the duration of the siege for the dates of June 13, 16, 18, 20, 25, and 30. These few issues of the siege newspaper, while remarkable in their colorful backdrop, also provide vivid civilian perspectives during the military bombardment and show the distinct voice of their local Confederate paper.
By June 13, the siege had been going on for almost a month and communications from the outside world had essentially been cut off since the start. The Citizen notes that June 13 was the first day they had received newspapers from outside the city since May 16. With the nearby cities of Jackson and Raymond already taken by the Union army, the Citizen was hard pressed for news beyond the siege.
The paper continually printed encouraging words and rousing editorials to rally the spirits of the civilians and soldiers. In the June 13 issue, an article “To our Friends and Soldiers” was written, assuring that people will “never fail to remember the days when our city stood in unity, confidence, and strength against the vaunted boast of power of an invading usurping relentless foe.”
News-worthy events certainly did take place within the besieged city. The June 18 issue features the story of how, two days before, a 13-inch bombshell crashed into the printing offices of the Citizen. The paper reported that 50 people were in the office but none of them were injured, and vented how the Northerners apparently cared very little for the press.
Personal details of civilian life during the siege were also documented in the newspapers. Communal hardships, calls to share clothing and food, and the injury and death of citizens as well as soldiers were announced in print.
The negotiations for surrender occurred on July 4, but it took a few days for reliable word to reach the newspapers in the Northeast. The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) printed a tiny note about Vicksburg in their July 6 issue. The rest of the paper was filled with the details of another battle much closer to home.
The battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania ended on July 3, and the eastern papers were full of the news and maps of the battle. It wasn’t until July 7 that the Star covered Vicksburg more extensively, even referring to an editorial in the June 18 issue of the Citizen which, they note, is “printed on common wall paper.” It wasn’t until July 8 that the New York Herald featured the news from Vicksburg on their front page.
Though the Civil War would continue for two more years, the confrontations at both Gettysburg and Vicksburg were seen as major turning points in the war. You can follow more news of Civil War battles in Chronicling America* and read historic newspapers page by page, day by day, to see how news and rumors traveled in the press.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Topics Pages on the Civil War. Topics Pages are research guides created by librarians to assist navigating specific events and themes in Chronicling America.
Today in History – May 19 – Grant at Vicksburg
Bibliography of Civil War newspapers that were printed on wallpaper: “Wall-paper Newspapers of the Civil War” by Clarence S. Brigham (1924)
Click here to subscribe to Headlines & Heroes and never miss a post!
Follow Chronicling America on Twitter @ChronAmLOC