Pet Book Report #6: The Civil War in Song and Story

Using some of the R scripts we experimented with on Wednesday, I was able to compare the Internet Archive’s OCR transcriptions of The Civil War in Song and Story and volume 7 of the Rebellion Record in enough detail to pick out which of the pieces from the Rebellion Record would later find a new life in Moore’s postwar anthology. From there, I entered some of the matches I found into the Chronicling America database to see if I could get a handle on the ways in which some of these pieces found their way to this book.

One anecdote’s republication history in particular usefully illuminates for me the complicated relationships between newspapers and newspapermen during the Civil War. The episode in which the writer describes a vision experienced by a local man and several other witnesses to journalistic skepticism in the form of a letter to the editor appears on p. 373 of The Civil War in Song and Story, where it’s unattributed. In its earlier publication in the Rebellion Record, it appears with much the same language but does have an attribution to the October 2nd Richmond Dispatch, year not included. I was indeed able to find it printed in Richmond’s The Daily Dispatch, but that wasn’t where the bulk of the story originated, nor was it the last place it was published. As far as I can tell, this story’s first occurrence was in the September 22 Staunton Spectator, where it was published near another account of the same vision, procession, or mass hallucination that had been syndicated from the Richmond Whig. It’s presented in the form of an interlocutor writing to reassure the editor, who is indeed addressed by name, of the witness’s credibility, and begins with a meditation on the “stranger things…in these degenerate days.”

When it next appears in the Dispatch, the editor’s name and the opening paragraphs (which also hint at partisanship in referencing an unnamed “cause we are defending…and which we all love so much”) have been left off, and an introductory paragraph mentioning that the text had previously appeared in the Spectator and claiming that “several respectable papers” had described the same scene added. These changes do the obvious work of de-localizing the article through removing the elements of the letter which specifically speak to the writer’s friends and neighbors, all of whom recognize “Mr. Mauzy” as the Spectator’s editor and all of whom are familiar enough with the writer’s cause that it doesn’t need to be articulated. But interestingly, some elements of this performed exchange between letter-writer and editor remain intact, even when clipped from the local context which gives these exchanges meaning. The writer begins his final paragraph with, “The gentleman who witnessed this is a man with whom you were once acquainted, Mr. Editor, and as truthful a man as we have in this country.” Severed from the musing tone he took up in the missing first few paragraphs, the Dispatch’s reprint of this letter takes on an accusatory tone, as though the letter-writer is working against the Spectator’s demonstrated incredulity of the tale. And this is the textual version which is reprinted, with the new introduction and the missing first part, in the DC’s Evening Star, Winston’s Western Sentinel, and the Urbana Union, if not more, over the next few months, most of which cited the story as having originally come from the Dispatch. This is also the textual version which finds its way into the Rebellion Record.

Each of these versions differs when it comes to the placement of commas and hyphens, and stylistic issues such as whether “AM/PM” are capitalized or left lowercase, but otherwise remain largely constant from paper to paper. Even these small differences seem to be artifacts of the fact that, unlike scrapbookers, newspaper editors had to arrange for copied pieces to be reset (unless, like London papers, they actually received plates from the source to encourage reprinting of particular pieces). In the Civil War in Song and Story, though, Moore has replaced the Dispatch’s introduction with his own. He’s heightened the reader’s sense that the writer is writing against popular disbelief by claiming that “it was wisely suggested that it was an optical illusion,” a bit of context that most of the reprints and the story’s previous form in the Rebellion Record did not include (the Dispatch did, indeed, accompany their reprint with a list of similar visions and a suggestion that the “above was a mirage,” but this list was not part of the text which other papers felt it was valuable to copy). And this story, which began with the title “REMARKABLE PHENOMENON.” in the Spectator, gained an article to become “A REMARKABLE PHENOMENON.” in the Dispatch, and retained that title through reprints until the Rebellion Record was renamed by Moore to “A CURIOUS INCIDENT.” in The Civil War in Song and Story. If news, or letters to the editor, are a genre of text which lacked authorship in this era, it seemed that titles were even less reflective of the will of a creator than the ever-changing introductory material or the minor issues of punctuation, spelling, or periodical name (the Urbana Union takes specific care to cite the story as being from the Richmond Despatch). And in this way, “A CURIOUS INCIDENT” provides for me a concrete example of Moore not only showing his authorial hand in editing this anthology but doing so silently, unlike his footnotes or presences/absences of attribution, which mark his presence, however unobtrusively.

Another thing that this article’s passage marked for me was how many variables, most of which I’m still not aware of, determined which attributions, anecdotes, exchanges thrived. The first paper I was able to find which reprinted from the Dispatch was the Evening Star. I wouldn’t have guessed the two to have a close relationship in the middle of the war (the year, as it turns out, was 1863), since Chronicling America describes the Dispatch as having been “unwaveringly pro-Confederate,” while the Sentinel’s editor that the original letter addresses by name was “an opponent of secession.” But Chronicling America also tells me that the Dispatch “retained connection to…northern newspaper friends and even delivered provisions to Union prisoners of war on behalf of a Baltimore publisher.” Though we’ve talked about how newspapers were organized along party lines, the fact that the Dispatch’s version of the story endured and survived causes me to reflect that when it came to business and personal interests, partisanship might’ve been the least of the factors influencing newspapers in their complex relationships to each other.

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