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Confederate Newspapers in Richmond, Virginia

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There were actually four daily newspapers that were operational during the war years in the Richmond, a city that had a population of 39,000. And they were all over the place regarding what they reported and what they didn’t.

The Richmond Enquirer was known for exaggerating Confederate victories and putting little news in about those not so exciting Confederate defeats. They were often as much into war propaganda as actual news. It was also the oldest newspaper in the Commonwealth. Its editor during the war years was O. Jennings Wise, son of the former Governor of Virginia. With its support of the Jefferson Davis administration, it was seen by many as the Confederate government’s mouthpiece.

The Richmond Whig, as the name implies, was favorable to the Whig party, but by the time the war started, that party was pretty much a forgotten political entity. The Whig was not critical of the Jefferson Davis government at first, but abandoned him as the war went on, reporting following military losses at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in 1862 that those two defeats cost President Davis "the confidence of the country.”

The Richmond Dispatch was the largest Richmond newspaper of the day, but also spent the most time avoiding editorializing which was a thriving topic of the other three newspapers.

The Richmond Examiner was a real thorn in the side of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Government. Its editor, John M. Daniel, criticized President Davis and his government from the beginning. As the war continued, Daniel’s editorials became more and more damning. The Examiner went so far in 1864 to say this: “Every military misfortune of the country is palpably and confessed due to the personal interference of Mr. Davis.”

A fifth Richmond newspaper, the Richmond Sentinel, started up in 1863, during the war years. It was very supportive of the Jefferson Davis administration.

Two other newspapers operated nearby in Augusta County, Virginia. The Staunton Vindicator was very pro-secession. Its counterpart, the Staunton Spectator, was pro-Union, in all probability because its owner was originally from Chambersburg, PA. It too had Whig sympathies and was conservative in editorial comment.

According to T. C. DeLeon’s book “Four Years in Rebel Capitals: An Inside View of Life in the Southern Confederacy from Birth to Death” these newspapers had some of the best minds in the area. DeLeon was convinced that the newspapers “recorded the real and true history of public opinion during the war. In their columns is to be found the only really correct and indicative map of busy life, its fluctuations, and its vast concerns in the South, during her days of darkness and of trial.” Most of the editions of the newspapers mentioned are available for viewing today.

DeLeon also states that prior to the start of the war, Virginia boasted having 120 newspapers. By 1861 that number was a mere seventeen. When the war ended, in 1865, half of those had also ceased to exist.

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