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Gift of Civil War Newspapers Enriches W&L Collections and Classes

More than 150 Civil War-era newspapers have found a home in the Special Collections of Washington and Lee University’s Leyburn Library thanks to Fred Farrar, a member of W&L’s Class of 1941 and a retired teacher of journalism.

“Each one has to do with a major highlight of Civil War history, from the very beginning right up through the end and the assassination of Lincoln,” said Vaughan Stanley, special collections librarian at W&L. “They’re just an amazing collection. Fred is undoubtedly one of the leading collectors of original historic newspapers in the United States.”

The collection, which is in excellent condition, includes a mix of Northern and Southern newspapers, from the Richmond Whig and the Nashville Daily Union to the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. There are also pages from 1860 and 1862 editions of Harper’s Weekly.

In 2005 Farrar, who majored in journalism at W&L, gave about 1,500 historic newspapers to W&L, including copies of the London Gazette from the late 1600s and more than 90 American newspapers covering the Revolutionary War era, from 1765 through 1783. An indexed list of the Farrar Collection of Historical Newspapers can be found on the W&L website at www.wlu.edu/x52088.xml.

“This whole Civil War collection is just the cherry on top of the dessert,” said Doug Cumming, associate professor of journalism and mass communications at W&L. He has worked extensively with Farrar over the years while cataloging the collection. He’s also taught three undergraduate courses built around the papers Farrar gave in 2005. He hopes to offer a class based on the Civil War newspapers in the fall of 2013.

“Having these original newspapers is just a treasure trove for our students, to see what people were saying at the time,” said Dennis Cross, vice president for University advancement.

Farrar began collecting newspapers during his career as an advertising executive. That passion led him to earn a master’s degree in history. In 1980, he began teaching the history of journalism at Temple University School of Communications, in Philadelphia, and he used historic newspapers from his collection as a primary resource.

Using newspaper articles to bring history to life in the classroom has long been important to Farrar. “I started back in the 1950s. An eighth grade teacher asked me to come to her class and talk on the Civil War. Right about that time the New York Times, with the centennial of the war coming up, had reproduced its front pages,” he said. To compress his talk, Farrar focused on just a few days of the war. “I decided to take 13 days and tell them all about those days … and then show them the actual papers.”

For students today, he has found, it’s often hard to recognize how different life was in the past. “I used to say to my class, ‘How do you think the French Army got from Rhode Island to Yorktown to help Washington?’ And they always said, ‘They took the bus,’ ” said Farrar. “C’mon, they walked. It’s out of their consciousness that anybody would walk that far.” Newspaper accounts help students conceptualize the differences between eras.

The Civil War newspapers cover numerous historic events, including South Carolina’s secession, the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, the Battle of Antietam, the death of Stonewall Jackson, the Fort Pillow Massacre and Sherman’s March. Both Southern and Northern newspapers covered the surrender of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of the Wilderness, and the assassination of President Lincoln.

The Nov. 20, 1863, issue of the New York Daily Tribune contains one of the first printings of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. “That was pretty neat to see, and it wasn’t even a headline. It was buried down in one of the lower columns of the newspaper because Lincoln’s speech came after a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, who was the main speaker at the dedication of Gettysburg Cemetery,” said Stanley. “Lincoln was just on as almost an add-on at the end, but his speech has become by far the most famous one in history. But at the time it was made, it wasn’t highlighted in the headline.”

Several newspapers cover Lincoln’s assassination. The Daily Alta California ran the story on Sunday, April 16, 1865, the day after Lincoln died. “That’s one of the more interesting papers because the Daily Alta in San Francisco was the leading paper on the West Coast,” said Farrar. Because the Pony Express had stopped its cross-country mail delivery, the city had just started to get news via telegraph. “The first news story to go across the country was the peace treaty , and the following week you get the assassination of Lincoln, the second major story to cross the continent.”

The newspapers in the Civil War collection are being indexed, transcribed and digitized. Once digitization is complete, the papers will be available and searchable online.

“They’re one of the best collections of their kind in the U.S.,” said Stanley. “Our Journalism Department and students are very fortunate to have this collection available to them.”

— by Amy Balfour ’89, ’93L

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