As the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I wanted to take a look at how people back home in North Carolina would have learned about the battle through their local newspaper. The North Carolina Newspapers collection on DigitalNC includes the Fayetteville Observer from the 1860s. The Observer was a paper of regional importance and reach and we can assume that many people in eastern North Carolina would have looked to it for news of the war.
In the summer of 1863, the Observer was still publishing twice a week. Following a common practice of newspapers of the time, many of the reports from the war were excerpts or summaries gleaned from other newspapers. The paper published on July 2, 1863, the day after the start of the battle, contained no news of Gettysburg, but did include reports from the New York Herald of the Confederate army in Pennsylvania:
More recent news, from June 30, came from the Richmond Examiner:
The newspaper published on July 9 finally contained news of the battle, but the reports were inconclusive at best. The Observer reprinted reports from Richmond and Baltimore papers which described the first day’s battle, but were unable to say anything definitive about the outcome of the battle. The latest news available at the time was the evening issue of the Baltimore American from July 3, which wrote, “there must have been a great battle fought yesterday afternoon and evening (July 2d) as heavy cannonading could be heard at Parkton, Fredericksburg and Harrisburg, from noon to 9 o’clock at night, when it ceased. A gentleman who came down this morning (July 3d) from Parkton, says that the cannonading was resumed again at daylight this morning with such force and volume as to almost make the ground tremble.”
It was not until the paper published on July 13 did the readers in Fayetteville begin to get a sense of the enormity of the battle and its tragic outcome for the Confederate troops:
Nearly an entire page is given to accounts of the battle culled from multiple newspapers. These reports often conflicted greatly, with the news clearly exaggerated to favor whatever side the editors supported. The Baltimore American said that “rebel losses are estimated at 20,000” and that “the enemy is in full retreat, demoralized and almost disorganized.” The Richmond Enquirer acknowledged that “the enemy are said to have fought well” and that “our loss is estimated at ten thousand.” The Richmond paper also noted the significance of the battle, but still put its own spin on the news: “The fighting of these four days is regarded as the severest of the war and the slaughter unprecedented; especially this is so of the enemy.”
The editor of the Observer offered thoughts on the battle and its aftermath in the editorial section of the July 13 paper, acknowledging the grim news but remaining defiant in the end: