While searching for free downloadable Civil War Era newspapers to use at the Siege of Petersburg Online, I came across an eccentric but extremely useful site, Old Fulton NY Post Cards. While the name may not immediately conjure up the term “extremely useful” to Civil War buffs, seeing is believing. Thousands of old New York newspapers, many from the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, are hosted there. The webmaster has spent thousands of hours copying newspapers from microfilm as well as performing OCR on those images, allowing interested researchers to search for topics of interest.
The home page I linked to allows you to immediately search in the upper left hand corner. The search functionality is extremely powerful, but I would encourage potential users to take a moment to read the examples in the FAQ. It helps to be pretty computer literate in order to make the most use of this site, but as long as you can follow the detailed directions, you should be fine.
The FAQ also notes the direct link to the main Newspaper Page. Every paper hosted on the site is listed by title and the years available. As you’ll see after clicking on the link, there are a LOT of small town New York newspapers from the Civil War era available. Why are these useful? There are several examples I can give off the top of my head.
- If you are researching a particular regiment and you know the county or counties the regiment’s companies came from, it pays to go to the newspapers published in those counties. You’ll find all kinds of interesting information, including letters written home from soldiers at the front, news on the regiment, including casualty lists, command changes, and other details you might not be able to find elsewhere.
- If you are researching a particular battle involving New York regiments or batteries and looking for as many first person accounts as you can find, these newspapers may deliver some pretty obscure viewpoints which may prove useful to your research.
- If you are doing research on the home front, or on some aspect of political or social history, these newspapers often contain editorials opining on numerous aspects of the war and its effects on the local community.
Now that I’ve provided several reasons why you might find these newspapers useful, let’s take a look at a specific newspaper in this massive list. I chose the Oswego Commercial Times, which is available for 1849-1865. I encourage you to open that link in a new window and follow along. When you click on a specific newspaper, you’ll get a page full of labeled folders, as displayed below:
The folders further break down the years available into manageable chunks, typically one year or six months per folder, depending on the volume of the paper (i.e. daily, tri-weekly, bi-weekly, weekly, etc.). Since I’m interested in the Siege of Petersburg, let’s take a look at July-December 1864. Here’s where the implementation gets a bit eccentric. The folder contains a bunch of PDF files with the name of the main folder followed by numbers in sequence. There are no dates. So you basically have to pick a PDF file at random and see what date is on that particular newspaper page. After a little bit of searching to narrow down the time frame, I chose Newspaper Oswego Commerical Times July-Dec 1864 – 0092.PDF, which is a page from the July 28, 1864 edition of the Oswego Commercial Times. Note that I had to go one page previous to actually find the date, as it doesn’t appear on this specific page. Just looking over the contents of this page, I found th following potentially useful information to researchers and genealogists:
- Neal Hatten of the 82nd New York was killed by a solid shot while on picket duty at Petersburg.
- Captain A. Taylor of the 24th New York Cavalry was at home recovering and was going back to the front soon.
- Various official reports typically found in more popular newspapers. These are not typically what you would be looking for in a smaller paper, but they could prove valuable if the edition of the larger paper which contained that specific report is not readily available today.
So there you have it. I’ve provided what I think is a fantastic site for Civil War researchers along with a little of what I’ve learned while navigating through it looking for Petersburg articles. I encourage you to browse through the site and see what you can find about topics of interest to you.
I do want to leave readers with one final piece of advice. If you are thinking of using any kind of harvesting software over there, DO NOT. You will be permanently banned by IP address:
Use of Programs like Web Devil, SiteGrabber, OfflineExployer or any other mass downloading software programs will get you banned from this site. Server logs are read each morning and my software will detect this type of activity. Violators will be automatically prohibited from entering this site, I do Not have the bandwidth to support this kind of activity and serve the people who wish to use this site as it was intended.
As you might imagine, the web site’s owner is providing a resource which thousands of people will use in any given day. Please be respectful and use the site by the owner’s rules. He is also willing to work with anyone who would like to download a specific time period for a given paper. His email address is on his FAQ page for those interested.
Does anyone else have some favorite free Civil War era newspaper sites? If so, drop me a line in the comments. I intend to highlight a lot of these hidden gems going forward.
***Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!
What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.
Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.