EXCERPT: Civil War Washington

9780803262867-JacketBlue.inddThe following is an excerpt from Civil War Washington: History, Place, and Digital Scholarship (April 2015) edited by Susan C. Lawrence, from chapter eight: Poetry, Washington DC’s Hospital Newspapers, and the Civil War by Elizabeth Lorang.   

The sheer numbers of poems published in the newspapers is a rough measure of the poems’ importance to their communities of readers. If readers did not value the poems, it is unlikely that poetry would have had such a prominent and prolific presence in the newspapers, with no shortage of news coverage or other material with which to fill their pages. Discussion of poetry in the newspapers further demonstrates the central role poems played in the Armory Square Hospital Gazette, the Soldiers’ Journal, the Cripple, and the lives of their readers. An early editorial in the Gazette commented on the number of poems received by the newspaper: “We seriously affirm that we have received from the soldiers three pieces of poetry to one of prose, ever since our paper began to live, and hereafter we shall ever declare that in the American Army, the Sword and the Lyre go hand in hand, or side by side.”29 And a reprinted poem in the August 20, 1864, “Odds and Ends” column of the paper presents poetry as antidote or elixir for the physically and mentally downtrodden. In a note introducing a poem, the Gazette describes the circumstances under which the piece was written: as a response to “[n]ot feeling very well the other day,” the writers “turned [their] attention to poetry and Petersburg.”30 The resulting poem brought levity to a dire situation and to the news emerging out of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign:

Says U. S. Grant to R. E. Lee—‘
Surrender Petersburg to me.’
Says R. E. Lee to U. S. Grant . . .
‘Have Petersburg? Oh, no you shan’t.’
‘I shan’t!’ said Grant, ‘Oh very well . . .
You say I shan’t, I say I shell.’

 

  1. See “Dupont Metro Gets Poetry,” http:// dcist .com /2007 /06 /05 /dupont_metro ge .php.
  2. Roper, Now the Drum of War, 225.