Without so much as mentioning that I haven’t posted in a year and a half . . . today I read parts of the November 16, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly, curious what was happening this time of year back when the Civil War was fairly new and perhaps still expected to be quickly resolved.

General Winfield Scott retired from active control of the army, citing health issues. He mentioned that it hurt to even mount a horse or walk “more than a few paces at a time.” He also suffered from dropsy and vertigo and, so, enough was enough. Effective November 1, Major-General George McClellan took command.

This issue also contains what was generally considered (at least by the Harper’s Weekly) as the most comprehensive war map in existence.

Yet another section, titled “The Disappointments of the Traitors,” shared the pitiable state of existence of the Confederates, with the journalist stating that the “stings of conscience must be quickened by a constantly recurring recognition of the fact that Providence is against them . . . From the day their friend, the hoary dotard Buchanan, vacated the post he disgraced, the hand of God has lain heavily on them and theirs.”

Jefferson Davis, dubbed the “arch-traitor,” apparently felt differently, as he sent word to “keep his pew in church for him, as his family would want it this summer.” History shows that both sides were more optimistic than future events would warrant.

That snippet of text also led me to look for more information about Davis, and it led me to a site that focuses on his papers (by Rice University in Houston, Texas). This site reproduced the Richmond Sentinel’s reporting on Davis’s February 6, 1865 speech where he still tried to rally morale with these words: “Does any one, he inquired, who has seen the Confederate soldiers, believe they are willing to fail? If so, the suspicion is most unjust!” Did the crowd still believe in him? I wonder.

Back to Harper’s Weekly: the issue also contains jokes, such as one titled “A Youthful Indiscretion” that reads this way. “What is the difference between spermaceti and a school-boy’s howl?—One is the wax produced by the whale, and the other is the wail produced by the whacks.”

Okay. The truth is, I didn’t know what spermaceti was until I read the answer to the question. And, even if I’d known, I never would have guessed the correct answer.

I also looked at some advertisements, including one where every man could now be his own printer, thanks to the affordable Cottage Printing Press. With this press, one could print “Handbills, Billheads, Circulars, Labels, Cards &c., Type Cases, Ink, Chases, and other printing materials.”

Another advertisement, this one for “Ward’s Perfect Fitting Shirts,” seemed oddly defensive, with one line reading as follows: “P.S. – Those who think I can not make a good Shirt for $18 per dozen are mistaken.”

I hope I can return to more issues of Harper’s Weekly soon.



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September 29, 2006

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