A Study of Harper's Weekly by Jared Frederick
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was precariously sitting on a figurative powder keg by mid-July 1863, at least in the minds of his northern foes. Following several consecutive battles of immeasurable slaughter, the seesaw conflict between North and South at last appeared to tilt in favor of the Union Armies. Periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly viewed the northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg as justification for continuing and redefining the goals of the war while also using it costs to vindicate its purpose. Nevertheless, the reaction of immigrants and the poor to the Federal draft, coupled with the anti-war efforts of Copperheads seemingly compromised these victories by inciting riot and discontent in the North. At first glance, one might find the North’s relationship between strategic success and homefront despair to be particularly contradictory. Upon further examination of the issue of Harper’s Weekly that explored these events, however, the battles of July 1863 and the New York City Draft Riots, helped alter northerners’ perceptions of the war and race – ultimately paving the way for eventual Union victory. This rocky road to triumph, nonetheless, was laden with political and social strife exemplifying how progress and success often come at great cost.
Established in 1857 and proclaiming itself to be “A Journal of Civilization,” Harper’s Weekly quickly grew a large clientele on the eve of the Civil War through readers searching for urbane social commentary in a nation becoming increasingly chaotic. The periodical was founded by Fletcher Harper, an entrepreneurial businessman who sought the most illustrious reporters, field artists, and engravers of the time. Averaging a circulation of approximately 110,000 copies per issue throughout the war, the newspaper was unsympathetically Unionist – a fact which becomes clearly evident by examining its richly illustrated and colorfully written pages. The publication was at the forefront of reporting the dual struggles of the battlefield and home front.[i]
A highpoint in this pictorial reporting arrived in July 1863. The near-simultaneous Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson marked a state of strategic and patriotic euphoria that had not gripped the nation since the days following Fort Sumter. The New York Evening Post reported of one oration in which a speaker exclaimed, “’Gentleman! . . . I don’t know how you feel – but I am just as happy as I can be!’ This seemed to be the universal feeling. Three or four men were seen in the street this afternoon ardently embracing each other with the exuberance of their joy. So far as we could ascertain the tribe of copperheads was invisible.”[ii] Despite the draft, the riots, the unfathomable level of death, and some of the war’s darkest days yet to come, the northern people were ecstatic with the sudden reversal of their fortunes.
But while the excitement of one cause skyrocketed to new levels, another plummeted to new lows: that of the Confederacy. Although the war had been going badly for the South in the Western Theater, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had never been closer to total victory as they had been at Gettysburg. Lee’s disastrous defeat at the hands of George Meade, in addition to subsequent Confederate losses within the week, cast a dark cloud over the Confederacy that never lifted. In the wake of his defeat, Lee issued General Order Number 16, a congratulatory note of their bravery but also a stern reminder of their recent defeat and their duties that remained. The following excerpt was found by Union cavalry and later published in Harper’s on July 25:
“Once more you are called upon to meet the enemy from whom you have won on so many fields a name that will never die. Once more the eyes of your countrymen are turned upon you, and again do wives and sisters, fathers and mothers, and helpless children, lean for defense on your strong arms and brave hearts.”[iii]
Such a proclamation was a measure not only to help maintain morale within the Army of Northern Virginia, but also to discourage the increasing number of deserters abandoning it. Lee would soon after write Jefferson Davis, “The number of desertions from this army is so great and still continues to such an extent, that unless some cessation of them can be caused, I fear success in the field will be seriously endangered.” These deserters were typically poorer and far less likely to own slaves or have any connection to the institution. Due to their economic situation, being in the army also largely prevented them from providing for their families. Slave ownership, age, fatherhood, and wealth (or lack thereof) were only a few reasons men left Lee’s army by the thousands. Men were forced to choose between loyalty to their families and loyalty to their country.[iv] Yet, many in the North were hesitant to underestimate the South’s willpower.
Harper’s was quick to mock the sudden susceptibility of the South in a cartoon entitled, “The too Confiding South Drafting Terms Of Peace with the Federal Government.” The engraving depicts a scrawny Jefferson Davis sitting on a powder keg within a massive military cemetery. Using drums as a desk, he signs terms of surrender amidst a barrage of artillery shells labeled Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and “That Iron Hand.” For delighted northerners, there was a sensation that Jefferson Davis was at last going to be punished for the rebellion he led. Many fervently hoped the war would end by Christmas. This prospect, sadly, was not the case. Most of the deadliest battles of the war had yet to be waged. Ironically, a near-identical caricature of Davis appeared in a March 11, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The only major difference was that the cannonballs and debris were now labeled Columbia, Fort Fisher, Wilmington, Charleston, Atlanta, and Savannah.[v] This time, the newspaper was slightly more accurate in its projected timeline for the war’s end. (See Appendix A.) Nevertheless, despite the perception of southern vulnerability by mid-1863, the Confederacy was not yet prepared to give up. The Union Army was repetitively unable to deliver what they thought could have been the final tactical punch to end the war.
For as desperate as the situation was for those in the armed forces, life could be equally arduous for those on the home front. The large, multi-page engravings within Harper’s captured the horrific realization of civilians facing war on their doorsteps and in their backyards. Perhaps the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi suffered the most. A city of 4,500 on the eve of the war, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” was Ulysses Grant’s key to gaining complete access of the Mississippi River. An illustration in Harper’s showed its readers “The City of Vicksburg Before the War,” revealing its dominating strategic position on an immense bluff overlooking the vital waterway. By capturing the riverside city, Grant could effectively cut the Confederacy in two.[vi]
A sketch by Harper’s artist Theodore R. Davis revealed the tactical prominence of the Mississippi in his depiction of “The Siege of Vicksburg – Viewing upon the Extreme Right, Showing the Mississippi River Above and Below Vicksburg.” These “before and after” engravings suggested Union domination and overwhelming superiority in the face of a dwindling force. Upon closer examination, one may also discover an equally fascinating scene depicting a developing state of strategy in the Civil War. Sheltered behind their secure entrenchments, encroaching Union troops are seen taking potshots at nearby Confederates. But at this same moment, other Federals are scattered around the marksmen casually reading newspapers (Harper’s no doubt) and smoking pipes. Such an illustration reveals an evolving ambivalence toward killing that was rarely seen in newspapers. Another picture by Davis depicts Federals digging a mine beneath the rebel bastion of Fort Hill. Much like Petersburg the following summer, Grant’s men dug beneath Confederate defenses and set a massive explosive charge to create a breach in southern fortifications.[vii] Both of Davis’s sketches revealed the changing face of war that differed greatly from the romanticized Napoleonic tactics Civil War commanders were instructed at West Point. Rather, the scenes closer resemble the horrid trench warfare of fifty years later, where enemies became increasingly remote from one another.
The sketches of the Vicksburg siege revealed the changing faces of war both tactically and mentally. (HarpWeek)
With siege initiatied on May 18, 1863, the southern defenders of the city were about to endure forty-seven days of endless shelling and entrapment. Starved and cut off from the world, the civilian experience of Vicksburg must have been especially dehumanizing. Not only were the townspeople forced to eat dogs and horses to survive the siege warfare, but they also became as susceptible to Union artillery as frequently as their Confederate defenders. Few times in American military history had women, children, and old men been targeted in such a manner. This tactic went hand-in-hand with the changing face of combat as “Total War.” (Within this same issue of Harper’s, readers saw an illustration depicting Confederates carrying out much the same tactic in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.) There was little joy to be had in Dixie in July 1863, and scores of Unionists quickly realized that fact.
But the war began to rage in the North by now as well. The Battle of Gettysburg was the first major engagement of the war to take place above the Mason-Dixon Line. A double page spread in the July 25 issue by famed sketch correspondent Alfred R. Waud helped capture the intensity and scope of this pivotal battle. Waud, an English immigrant, was Harper’s most talented and trusted artist. His eye for details in conjunction with his ability to capture mood and light made him the admiration of many a correspondent and reader. George Augustus Sala of the London Daily Telegraph called Waud, “blue-eyed, fair bearded, strapping and stalwart, full of loud cheery laughs and comic songs, armed to the teeth, jack-booted, gauntleted, and slouch-hatted” – a personality as vibrant and colorful as the artwork Waud himself created.[viii]
The artist’s piece entitled “The Battle of Gettysburg – Union Position Near the Centre – Gettysburg in the Distance – Cemetery on Hill” is surprisingly accurate given the license many of Waud’s contemporaries took in their depictions of battle. “Gettysburg” is neither glorious nor tidy yet properly captures the scope, scale, and complexities of warfare. Heroic images of flags and sword-wielding officers are not to be easily found but are rather consumed in the shot, shell, smoke, and confusion engulfing East Cemetery Hill and Stevens Knoll. Such depiction marks a turning point in pictorial reporting during the Civil War. Just as social “typing” became passé since readers came to realize that caricatured representations of race and class did not represent reality, the same was largely true of idealized and patriotic battlefield embellishment. Readers desired a factual visual understanding of the war in order to better comprehend its costs and consequences. In a world “where expectations and assumptions were progressively undermined by the reality of the war,” Waud stands in a league of his own when contemplating accurate depiction of battle.[ix] By interpreting via realistic depiction, the artists of Harper’s could effectively convey the tolls of the war in a graphic manner readers could comprehend.
Waud's illustrations of Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. (HarpWeek)
The text accompanying Waud’s sketches stated, “Scores of dead and wounded men and horses, with broken wagons, bricks, stones, timber, torn clothing, and abandoned accoutrements, lay there.” The level of carnage surpassed that of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. This time however, Federals achieved unquestionable triumph – and they knew it. “Though they [the northerners] had lost heavily, his [Meade’s] soldiers felt elated. They saw hopes of a victory, and were ready to do almost any thing to secure it,” Harper’s reported. Regardless, the periodical offered a half-hearted conclusion of the climactic Pickett’s Charge: “They [the Confederates] were not routed. They can scarcely be said to have been driven. They have made an attack and been repulsed, and after renewed attempts, feeling that it was useless to try any more, they retreated.”[x] The rebels, like a wounded animal fleeing to lick its wounds, still possessed lethal capabilities, the paper suggested. Much like Lee’s confident Order Number 16, the skill of successful Confederate escape from Pennsylvania in addition to their obstinacy to continue the fight discomforted and outraged northerners. How could a war against the South be won if the rebels were so unforgiving and stubborn even in defeat? Harper’s reported that “the rebels have already read the words of the exultant Richmond Inquirer in a new and appalling sense: “Peace will come to us only in one way - by the edge of the sword.”[xi] Thus, July 1863 was a month of mixed emotions – a time of celebration amidst resounding victory as well as a feeling of despair resulting from immeasurable death and malaise. Many in the North saw these signs as a necessity to complete the “unfinished work” while Peace Democrats argued the cost was too great to continue.
The July 25 issue of Harper’s is especially rife with debates regarding the conflict’s purpose. Copperheads, Lincoln’s most vociferous foes in the North, were at the forefront of the movement to tie the administration’s hands behind its back to prevent further escalation of the war, cease emancipationist doctrine, and as historian James M. McPherson has stated, obtain “peace without victory.”[xii] As the Civil War continued into its third summer, despite long-awaited Union successes on the front, the immense cost of this success inflamed a growing sense of agitation and resentment on the part of many northerners. Meanwhile, “[a]ggressively anti-abolitionist copperheads played on the war-weary public’s low morale and growing fears about the coming racial integration; they also discouraged Union enlistments and spread defamatory, often false information. . . .”[xiii] Many citizens of the North became increasingly outraged as the sympathies of their Democratic neighbors closely paralleled those of Confederates. Harper’s was prompt to connect the aims of these Democrats and their southern contemporaries: “[T]he rebels and their Northern Copperhead allies. . .have outraged all public and private honor, and have plunged their country into civil war for the purpose of securing immunity in their cruel outrage of the simplest human rights.”[xiv] Guilt by association proved as effective a political weapon as today.
In other cases of partisanship, politicians expressing Copperhead ideology were occasionally ousted from power. For instance, Senator Jesse D. Bright of Indiana was banished from his position for corresponding with Jefferson Davis. Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham was dealt a similar hand. In Connecticut, legislators threatened to remove the portraits of former governors (and war opponents) Isaac Toucey and Thomas Seymour from the senate chambers.[xv] Although fearful sentiments were conveyed and manipulated by both opponents and advocates of the war, there were widespread sentiments that Copperheads were as misguided and lethal as the Confederates themselves. Thus, one of the most proficient methods of undermining the Copperhead movement was to delegitimize their chief creeds while simultaneously illustrating them as inept and illiterate bumpkins misled by devious southerners. Following the Union successes of July 1863, Harper’s wrote of the Copperhead press: “Every disaster was magnified by the amiable Copperheads; every weakness jeered. . . . The ruin of public credit, general prostration, desolation by invading armies. . . were pleasing pictures that gushed profusely from the Copperhead pencil.”[xvi] Harper’s and similar papers sought to depict Democrats as part of “the old, defunct” and credulous party which enthusiastically supported racial oppression, support of the Confederacy, and thus opposing all the Union stood for.[xvii] As in many subsequent political debates, both Republicans and Democrats claimed to have the Constitution on their side, each claiming a moral and patriotic superiority over their ideological opponents. Harper’s, an unofficial ally of Republican ideology, was obviously not fearful of raising its politically opinionated voice in this heated debate.
Such casting of gullible Copperheads and anti-war sentiments were highlighted in the faux editorial and “POIM” resolution written by the self-described “Dimmykratte” Charity Grimes who becomes swept up in the fervor of her conservative male friends. “Why, Mr. Edditer,” she exclaims, “I declare I begun tu think thare wasn’t no rebellion at all! Awl they tawked abaout was Lincoln’s despotism, and haow he wouldn’t let ‘em speek thare minds (though I thort thay didn’t seem very bashful as tu expressin ov thare sentiments.)”[xviii] In this “editorial,” Harper’s ridiculed the critical nature by which the Lincoln Administration was viewed by Copperheads. In a venomous atmosphere where political foes referred to the president as “Ape” Lincoln and his opponents seemed more interested in defeating him rather than Confederates, Republicans were grateful to accept their informal partnership with Harper’s. This exaggerated letter to the editor had the power to diminish Lincoln’s counterparts and thus diminish their qualms and criticisms of his agenda. By having this uneducated and fictional frontier woman serve as the “voice” of these Copperheads too was to add further insult to injury in the eyes of newspaper editors. Just as many newspaper artists would use Physiognomy to create character “types” from region to region, editorialists did much the same with dialect and literacy to deliver an impression of stupidity and naiveté. Democratic foes nevertheless carried great political heft well into 1864. Copperheads insisted that the true predicament of the Union was not their undermining efforts but the supposed illegal and unconstitutional actions taken by Republicans. One of Harper’s many nemesis newspapers, the Democratic New York Evening Day-Book, expressed such sentiments most evocatively:
“Does any man pretend that Mr. Lincoln has not violated [his] oath in usurping the powers which the Constitution give to Congress alone. . . . Down the treacherous and slippery path many Republicans have descended to their doom. Great as would be the evil of secession, it [would be] still small compared to the curse of allowing executive usurpation.”[xix]
As revealed in the Day-Book excerpt, many Copperheads were unable to grasp the dire situation the Union confronted. Their strict interpretation of the Constitution prevented them from lending any assistance or making any concessions to the increasingly progressive Lincoln Administration. Not being ones to compromise, wartime Democrats offered little or no helpful suggestions and became nothing more than obstructionists in the eyes of more staunch Unionists.[xx]
A multitude of issues struck a sensitive chord among Copperheads, likeminded immigrants, and the working poor regarding the conduct of the war. Among most of them was a widespread sense of infuriation that had been simmering into a boil since the first Union defeats two years earlier. Many within these groups were frustrated by the conflict, feeling that the war could be more harmful than beneficial to their well-being. By converting the Union efforts of the war to include emancipation would allow former slaves to compete with poverty-stricken whites for the most degrading occupations. However, Harper’s argued in an article entitled “The Question,” that is was not only African Americans chained to slaveholders, but the United States itself. Furthermore, why should such a costly war be waged and not abolish slavery and risk civil war yet once more? “The Question” asks:
“And if before they [the Confederates] rebelled and showed their true colors, slavery was so meddled with that they tried to destroy us, now that we have seen exactly what slavery is and have repulsed their efforts, are we likely to hold our tongues? . . . The question is simply whether the loyal people of this country. . . are inclined to submit to that subservience and dictation [of slaveholders] again[?]”[xxi]
To grasp the significance “The Question” asks of the reader, the editorial must be examined in a military and political context. To not strike down slavery was to strengthen the Confederate war machine and embolden the elite slave owners who initiated the hostilities. Allowing slavery to endure was to allow prolonged sectional division. Nevertheless, many whites felt threatened by talk of emancipation. A March 18, 1863 issue of Crisis exclaimed that, “The negro is a barbarian,” and cannot be trusted in any way, shape, or form. In an article entitled “What Arming Negroes Has Done,” Crisis and several other Copperhead periodicals published a “parallel” narrative recounting the Saint-Domingue “Massacre” in which slaves rebelled for independence and claimed the lives of innumerable French colonists. This newspaper hoped, of course, to further incite fears of emancipation and arming black military personnel. Not surprisingly, the Richmond Examiner published a near-identical opinion piece decrying that, “War upon the South by means of negroes, means nothing short of war to extermination. . . . They invoke the blacks to the work of blood and rapine. They seek to spread abroad the flames of insurrection.”[xxii] The July 25 issue of Harper’s reported of an announcement from the Richmond Inquirer calling for the execution or enslavement of Germans, blacks, or any others they viewed as racially inferior:
“Why not hang every Dutchman captured? We will hereafter hang, or shoot, or imprison for life all white men taken in command of negroes, and enslave the negroes themselves. This is not too harsh. No human being will assert the contrary. Why, then, should we not hang a Dutchman, who deserves infinitely less of our sympathy than Sambo?”[xxiii]
In a racially strict world where foreign outsiders were frequently considered equally second-rate to blacks, southerners feared job-hungry Germans as much as ex-slaves. The Inquirer’s statement testifies to the many complexities of race and tense ethnic relations during the war. For immigrants in the North, enlistment presented the chance to obtain “whiteness” or citizenship that no other means could offer. Signing up also brought forth the opportunity to disprove racial accusations as published in the Inquirer and confirm manhood. Nevertheless, the thought of waging a war for the “darkies” riled many a destitute immigrant.
But these racial tensions were not exclusive to the South alone. The institution of the Conscription Act of 1863 renewed white anger toward blacks. Many whites had no desire to wage a war that would ensure their own bondage as “labor slaves” and exploitation in the industrialized North. Such fears intensified thanks to the method in which conscription was implemented. Each congressional district in the United States had a troop quota. If this quota was not met, men were chosen at random via a lottery to be drafted into the military. Draftees could evade service by paying a $300 exemption fee or hiring a substitute. Naturally, Irish and German immigrants living in squalor could not afford such luxury and exemption rules further reinforced the illusion of the conflict being a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”[xxiv]
Once names were drawn from the lottery in New York on July 11, 1863, just one week following Vicksburg’s surrender, large crowds and riots began to initiate violence against blacks, abolitionists, Republican newspapers, and federal employees in retaliation for the draft. The brutal series of lynching, burnings, and urban battles did not cease until Union troops, fresh from their victory at Gettysburg, arrived on the scene. One week after the incident, Harper’s wrote: “The attempt to enforce the draft in the city of New York has led to rioting. Men have been killed and houses burned; worst of all, an orphan asylum—a noble monument of charity for the reception of colored orphans—has been ruthlessly destroyed, and children and nurses have lost every thing they had in the world.”[xxv] But the situation was even more grotesque in many instances. Well-dressed bystanders (who appeared to be “$300 men” as the rioters referred to them) had their skulls crushed in with bricks while blacks were stabbed, hanged from lampposts, and then set aflame. “The event should cause no surprise,” Harper’s lamented. “It will take time to make them [the rioters] understand that every government must, for its own protection, enjoy the power of compelling its citizens to perform military service,”[xxvi] the paper concluded.
Rather than fully acknowledging the racial tensions and class disparities which sparked the riot, Harper’s instead downplayed social anxieties and declared the violence to be a result of Irish and German stupidity and lack of civic duty. Meanwhile, newspapers such as the Detroit Free Press were perhaps more accurate in interpreting the motives of the rioters: “There is no good reason why one man should be exempt and another compelled to perform military duty, simply because one happens to have temporarily more money than another. . . . If he has wealth, he has more reason to fight for its protection than the man who has nothing.”[xxvii] Likewise, the New York News encapsulated the frustrations of the protestors and the reasons which drove them into the streets for retribution: “It is a strange perversion of the laws of self-preservation which would compel the white laborer to leave his family destitute and unprotected while he goes forth to free the negro, who, being free, will compete with him in labor.”[xxviii] Perhaps unknown to these editorialists, these were many of the reasons cited by Confederates in defending slavery.
Although Democrats used the riots to demonstrate anger toward the Lincoln Administration, the violence depicted and described in Harper’s Weekly and related periodicals garnered widespread sympathy for the plight of African Americans. At this same moment, white Northerners became impressed with the dedication and heroism of black troops who were entering combat for the first time. The Colored Troops’ praiseworthy actions at Milliken’s Bend, Port Hudson, and Battery Wagner revealed the worth of blacks as combatants, reinforced emancipationist ideology, and contradicted the doctrine of both Copperheads and Confederates – points all of which Republicans were quick to highlight. As stated by historian Barnet Schecter, at this point, “[to] favor the Copperheads and deny the aspirations of loyal soldiers fighting for the Union was tantamount to treason” in the eyes of Republicans and an increasing number of northerners.[xxix]
Citizens of the North were greeted with both written and visual testimony to the deeds of the U.S. Colored Troops. A June 27, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depicted scores of black troops charging furiously over the ramparts of Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson. Such images had rarely been seen by the eyes of readers, an image in which African Americans were not only the focal point of the illustration, but also cast in a positive and rather glorious representation of what the ideal Union soldier should represent. Times were indeed changing, and multitudes of Confederates and Federals realized this glaring fact.[xxx] While Harper’s lacked any in-depth coverage of black troops at Port Hudson, it made up for it in its coverage of the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner. The paper wrote, “The 54th Massachusetts (negro), whom Copperhead officers would have called cowardly if they had stormed and carried the gates of hell, went boldly into battle, for the second time, commanded by their brave Colonel, but came out of it led by no higher officer than the boy, Lieutenant Higginson.”[xxxi] Through these depictions, readers discovered the dedication of black troops, the cost at which they revealed their faith in their cause, and the shortsightedness of Copperheads in criticizing them.
Harper’s Weekly was not only a publisher of human dramas, politics, societal quandaries, and battlefield sagas, but also parables and poems used to reinforce social and national dogma. A Captain James F. Fitts of the 114th New York authored the evocative poem “In Hospital” while recovering from wounds in New Orleans. In his lyrical account of military service, he offered readers a moving testimony of his painful experiences on the battlefield. Fitts also wrote, “O my brothers who lie with me here in the hospital ward, Steeling your noble hearts to the agony of your pain, Ours is the loss and the labor, long, heart-breaking, and hard, Yet as God and our country live shall ours be the gain.”[xxxii] The captain had survived many battles and survived many more upon his return to service. To staunch Unionists, men like Fitts embodied all that was good and righteous in the northern cause. Not only were he and men like him more than willing to risk life and limb on behalf of their country, but they returned to active duty after surviving grievous wounds in battle. The editors of Harper’s craved such poignant material to hurl at their Copperhead adversaries.
A very different but equally effective poem entitled “A Child’s Question,” (set during the futuristic Independence Day 1883) described a yet-to-be born girl asking of her father, “What glorious deeds were done In the war that burst upon the land In eighteen sixty-one?” But the child explains:
“I wish I had been living then,
I'd be a soldier too,
And help defend the noble flag
From all the rebel crew:
I'd be ashamed to stay behind;
Dear father, wouldn't you?”
Upon the listening father's face
A painful flush there came;
The patriot-soldier's meed of praise
He could in nowise claim,
And the question of his little son
Smote him with sudden shame.
Young men, your country calls to-day
For loyal men and true;
She has enough of earnest work
For earnest men to do.
Give heed, lest in the coming days
Your children blush for you.[xxxiii]
Such a poem was used to instill shame upon any reader and “loyal” American who avoided military service or denied the worth of the Union war effort. While many who joined Federal ranks were draftees, substitutes, or bounty men, Harper’s hoped to encourage enlistment by using history – history not yet written – as a method of recruitment. In contrast to Fitts’s poem, “Question” suggested military service out of fear of judgment rather than inspiration.
By making young men and future fathers contemplate, “What will my children think of me?” is a powerful concept not to be underestimated. Also aimed at Copperheads, poetic propaganda such as “A Child’s Question” was a potent form of coercion and call to duty.
Duty was a main underlying factor in determining Federal success in the Civil War. An obligation to dedicated Union troops, men like Fitts, and their ongoing successes in the field trumped any partisan rhetoric Peace Democrats hurled upon the war effort. Despite the riots, political discord, home front woes, and similar predicaments that would arise in 1864, the northern people soon believed that a continuation of the war was necessary for both the living and the dead. Harper’s Weekly, amidst a time of great contention, argued that the war progressed too far and claimed too much to be abandoned. Above all, the conflict evolved into a battle to redefine citizenship. Harper’s surmised: “By the act of the United States [former slaves] become not our sons-in-law, nor our bosom friends, nor our rivals in labor, nor voters, but they become citizens of the United States. What State law, then, can enslave them?”[xxxiv] By the summer of 1863, more and more Americans began to ponder the same question.
Appendix A: Jefferson Davis depicted in Harper's Weekly
[i] Lewin, J.G., and P.J. Huff. Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War. New York: HarperCollins, 2007, 194.
[ii] Ibid., 182.
[iii] “General Lee’s Account of Gettysburg.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 467.
[iv] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. New York: Free Press, 2008, 408-11.
[v] Lewin and Huff, 176-77.
[vi] “The City of Vicksburg Before the War.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 469.
[vii] The Siege of Vicksburg – Viewing upon the Extreme Right, Showing the Mississippi River Above and Below Vicksburg.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 478.
[viii] Starr, Louis M. Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954, 254.
[ix] Brown, Joshua. Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, 57.
[x] “The Battle of Gettysburg.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 471.
[xi] “Rebel Exultation.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xii] McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, 590.
[xiii] Garcia, Hazel D., and Giovanna Dell'Orto. Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press. Spokane, Wash.: Marquette Books LLC, 2008, 83.
[xiv] “Rebel Affectations.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xv] Weber, Jennifer L. Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, 26.
[xvi] “Copperhead Statesmanship.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xvii] Weber, 174.
[xviii] "Tu the Edditter of Harper's Weekly." Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xix] Coopersmith, Andrew S. Fighting Words: An Illustrated History of Newspaper Accounts of the Civil War. New York: The New Press, 2004, 43.
[xx] Weber, 6.
[xxi] “The Question.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xxii] Coopersmith, 146.
[xxiii] “Rebel Exultation.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xxiv] McPherson, 606-611.
[xxv] “The Draft.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.
[xxvii] Coopersmith, 194.
[xxix] Schecter, Barnet. The Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007, 262.
[xxx] Coopersmith, 151.
[xxxi] “The Attack on Fort Wagner.” Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, August 8, 1863, p.510.
[xxxii] “In Hospital.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 474.
[xxxiii] “A Child’s Question.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 474.
[xxxiv] “The Question.” Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, July 25, 1863, p. 466.