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Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.

Two Women Who Spied During the American Civil War: Going Undercover with Belle Boyd and Pauline Cushman in the Archive of Americana

In July 1861—just three months after the bombardment of Fort Sumter—unabashed Southern sympathizer Rose O’Neal Greenhow of Washington, D.C., was already engaged in espionage on behalf of the Confederacy.  Well-placed in Washington society—and adept at bleeding information from the many men who found her attractive—Greenhow learned that Union troops under General Irvin McDowell would attack Rebel forces in Manassas, Virginia, within days.

Rose got a message via courier to the Confederate commander, General P. G. T. Beauregard, informing him of the Union’s plans.  With this advance notice, the Confederates had time to bring up General Joseph Johnston’s troops from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to augment Beauregard’s army.  After crossing Bull Run Creek on July 21, McDowell’s men encountered thousands more enemy soldiers than expected.  By day’s end, the Confederates had routed the Union forces and sent them into a panicked retreat back toward Washington.

Rose Greenhow was justifiably proud of her intelligence effort, which contributed to a stunning Rebel victory in the first major battle of the war.  But this triumph all but guaranteed a long and bloody struggle ahead.  A decisive Union victory at Bull Run, followed by a push toward Richmond, the Confederate capital, might have brought the war to a quick end, thus sparing hundreds of thousands from death and disfigurement.

Two Women Who Spied During the American Civil War: Going Undercover with Belle Boyd and Pauline Cushman in the Archive of Americana

The Index of Virginia Printing: Building an Online Reference with Print and Digital Resources

How does a researcher handle dated reference works still in print and still widely used?


From the masthead of a Virginia newspaper

This has been a recurring challenge in my twenty years of research into Virginia’s early printing trade. Historians of the Old Dominion have long repeated the assertions of their predecessors with a certain reverence for their closer proximity to the historical past, and so of their forebears’ intrinsic authority. Names like Lyon G. Tyler, Earle Gregg Swem, William G. Stanard, and Lester J. Cappon carry considerable authority among Virginia’s historians, just as those of Charles Evans, Clarence Brigham, Roger P. Bristol, and Winifred Gregory do among bibliographers of early American imprints and newspapers. Their works are magisterial efforts from a time when the now-common computerized collecting and sorting of bibliographic and biographic data was not just unknown, it was unfathomable.

Volumes from Charles Evans'
American Bibliography

The Index of Virginia Printing: Building an Online Reference with Print and Digital Resources

A Few More of These Egyptian Carcasses: The Beginnings of Mummymania in Nineteenth-Century America

The first entire mummy arrived in America in 1818 in the possession of Ward Nicholas Boylston as a souvenir of his travels. In an era of four-page weekly newspapers, this was such an important event that within six weeks of the mummy's original appearance in the Columbian Centinel of 16 May 1818 the news had spread from Syracuse, New York, to Columbus, Ohio, to Charleston, South Carolina.

It would be five more years before another mummy arrived. According to the Boston Daily Advertiser of 3 May 1823, the Yankee brig Sally Ann sailed into Boston with a mummy that was presented as a gift to the city from a merchant in Smyrna. Officials quickly decided that the Massachusetts General Hospital was the logical spot for the artifact, and it was promptly used as "an appropriate ornament of the operating theater." The mummy's name was Padihershef and he had been a stonecutter at Thebes, although these facts were not known until well into the following century.

A Few More of These Egyptian Carcasses: The Beginnings of Mummymania in Nineteenth-Century America

"Forever Bear In Mind:" Spreading the News of Lexington and Concord

Important figures in the distribution of information in Colonial America were the post riders who carried both mail and printed materials. Because many postmasters were also printers, they relied heavily on these horseback-riding carriers to deliver the mail as well as the labors of their presses.

The efforts of post riders often intersected with those of two other groups: expresses, who were couriers engaged to deliver urgent materials to another party as fast as possible, and the various committees of correspondence, the organized groups set up by local governments to exchange intelligence and defend colonial rights. Together, they created a vast information network within and between the thirteen American colonies. By using the Archive of Americana to examine the work of one Colonial postmaster and printer, we can see how this intricate web of communication extended from publisher to publisher.

Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) often employed his post riders in the cause of American liberty. In his History of Printing, Thomas described how shortly after he removed his famous printing press—"Old Number One"—from Boston to Worcester in April 1775, "he was concerned, with others, in giving the alarm" about the Royal troop movement on Lexington and Concord during the night of April 18th. 1

Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera

During the Civil War, enterprising publishers produced small envelopes with patriotic images, views of camp life, battles, portraits and comic illustrations. Both soldiers and their friends and families used these Civil War envelopes to mail letters during the conflict. Although most of these envelopes were printed in Union states, a few were produced in Confederate States, which suffered from not only a shortage of paper, but also a lack of envelope-making machinery.

Engravers such as Charles Magnus created envelopes—printed in black, purple or gold ink and then carefully hand-colored—that provided vibrant images of soldiers' life during the conflict. These vignettes of camp life and battles allowed the people at home to be a part of what was happening with their loved ones so far away. News could come quickly by telegraph, but visual images of the war were few and far between. Magnus was also famous for his camp scenes taken from photographs, such as "Camp scene from photograph. 16," which showed a sailor, a Zouave and soldier standing next to four other soldiers sitting in front of a tent.

Civil war envelopes used a range of patriotic images, including eagles, Lady Liberty, cannons, drums, the United States flag, ships, soldiers and portraits of the president and his generals. Many of these were printed in red and blue ink. In an attempt to link the current struggle with the noble cause of Independence, George Washington and Revolutionary-era soldiers also appeared in illustrations.

Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera

What Shall We Do Today

Perhaps the best known Victorian amusements are concerts, musical shows and various types of theatrical entertainments. However, these ubiquitous diversions were but a few of the venues through which people sought and procured pleasure in the United States during the 19th century. During this period residents could rely on a veritable buffet of popular pastimes designed to amuse, instruct and dazzle their audiences.

Lectures were offered on a variety of subjects, from the humorous to the sublime. Some of these lectures revolved around, or included panoramas, stereopticon shows and paintings.Talks about Yellowstone and Niagara Falls illustrated the natural wonders of America for people who did not have the time or means to travel. Disasters were a common theme, running the gamut from "The conflagration of Moscow," which toured in 1837, to the "spectacle of an Arctic voyage with storm and shipwreck at sea." Onlookers could experience the awe and terror almost as if they had seen it first hand.Shows about distant places were always a draw, especially views of the Holy Land and ancient sites such as "The ruins of Pompeii and Athens." Many were geared towards families and offered insights into foreign cultures and lands, including Africa, India, Japan, Ireland and China.

What Shall We Do Today

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