The Cedar Swamp Historical Society collection contains five editions of the Sag Harbor Express newspaper. The Sag Harbor Express was first printed in 1859
and still in existence today. These five editions of the paper are one page "Extra" printings from April 13th,
17th, 18th, 19
th and 24th, 1861 and are reports about the first stages of the Civil War.
The information in these editions was gathered mainly by telegraph dispatches and by reports from other newspapers.
The first is an account of the opening shots of the Civil War. It is dated April 13th, 12 midnight with the headline, "Fort Sumter Attacked".
Other headlines below state, "The War Actually Begun!" and "First Shot from the Rebels!" The report comes from special telegraphic dispatches which describe the first
shots at Fort Sumter, and gives an account of the early stages of the battle. Specifically, it describes the firing on Fort Sumter by the Rebels and the response by the
Union troops. This battle was a defeat for the Union side and was also what convinced Lincoln that war was the only way that the conflict with the
secessionist states could be ended.
The April 17th edition reports on the favorable response to President Lincoln's call for volunteers to fight on the Union side and the enthusiasm
for the cause. It also reports on the steps being taken towards a blockade of southern ports and the attempts being made to keep Virginia from seceding. However, these
attempts failed and on the same day as this edition was printed, Virginia seceded from the Union.
The next day, the newspaper proclaimed "Defeat of the Ordinance of Secession in Virginia", although this information would prove to be incorrect. Virginia
actually voted in favor of secession on April 17, 1861. This is an indication of how inaccuracies could occur when trying to report events as quickly as possible using the current
technology. It also describes a call for a "monster Mass Meeting" in Union Square in New York City, which illustrates the kind of effort being made to gather support and volunteers
for the Union side.
On April 19th the Express reported on the continued strengthening of Government defenses and stated that "active measures are being taken to ferret
out each and every traitor to the Government and already several have been driven out from their hiding places". It is clear that the paper supported the Union side. Another
interesting story told of Major Anderson's defense of Fort Sumter, where he and his men continued to fight valiantly through many hardships. Those reading the news
story of Anderson and his men would have been in awe of their heroism.
The latest edition in the CSHS collection is dated April 24th and contains dispatches from New York, Philadelphia and Greenport updating conditions
in these areas. The first from New York stated that Anapolis [sic], Maryland was overtaken by rioting Confederate supporters and the fate of Washington D. C. was in jeopardy.
A dispatch from Philadelphia reported that Baltimore was also in "the hands of the mob" and that it was not safe to support the Union side in that city. A note at the bottom
of this edition informed the public that in response to their appeals, telegraphic dispatches would continue, although support from readers would be necessary to defray the expense.
It also stated that they would begin to publish as a circular and if successful, they would create a daily paper.
Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the Sag Harbor Express had been a weekly, published on Thursdays. The CSHS editions of the Sag Harbor Express are
important documents that demonstrate how breaking news was reported during the Civil War era. Because of the telegraph, dispatches could be sent soon after a significant
news event, thus accelerating the dissemination of information to the public. These editions hold interesting glimpses of the social and political climate in America
occurring during the opening moments of the Civil War.
L. Baker et al eds. "1861: Creation of the Confederacy". American Civil War Reference Library. Vol. 3: American Civil War Almanac.
Detroit: U*X*L, 2000. 69-85. 5 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomas Gale. Long Island University Libraries. Accessed 11 July 2005.
[accessed 8 Dec 2005] "Fall of Ft. Sumter, 1861". Discovering U. S. History. Gale Research, 1997. Reproduced in History Resource Center.
Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC/ [accessed 8 Dec 2005] S. Mintz, "Timeline of Secession". Digital History.
University of Houston, Houston, 2003. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/south_secede/timeline_secession.cfm [Accessed 5 Jan 2006].
"Sumter, Fort". Dictionary of American History . 7 vols. Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1976. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills,
MI: Gale Group. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HistRC [accessed 8 Dec 2005].