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Studying the Siege of Petersburg with….newspaper ads?

Regular readers will have noticed a regular cadence of articles from the Richmond Examiner these past few Fridays.  My goal is to continue to publish articles from this paper through the end of the Siege of Petersburg in April 1865.

Today I published three advertisements from the July 18, 1864 Examiner:

  • An ad offering a $50 reward for a deserter from the Richmond Parker VA Arty


  • An ad offering a $30 reward for any of five deserters from the 10th Virginia Heavy Artillery Battalion


  • An ad from the commander of the 42nd North Carolina, making known his intentions to serve as a politician if his constituents back home wanted him


You’re probably wondering why I’m posting advertisements here at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  Let’s go back to the beginnings of this site to help me explain.  I’ve been collecting newspaper articles about the Siege of Petersburg for over 10 years, and the amount you see transcribed here on the site is a drop in the bucket of the total collection.  I’ll freely admit I’ve ignored the ad sections of all of the papers I’ve posted, up until early 2020.  I incorrectly assumed that there wasn’t any worthwhile information about the Siege of Petersburg, and boy was I wrong.

Happily for me, an ad caught my eye in the July 18, 1864 Richmond Examiner.  It was the ad from Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Bradshaw of the 42nd North Carolina listed third in the bulleted list above.  I realized with excitement that I could glean the fact that Bradshaw was present with his regiment, and commanding that regiment, on July 13, 1864, the date he wrote the advertisement as a sort of open letter to the folks back home in Davidson County, NC.  A minute of scanning the other ads led to the discovery of two other similar open letters, both rewards for the return of deserters.  In each of those cases, not only was I able to find the names of the commanding officers, but ALSO their specific locations at specific dates in time!

Anyone who has tried to study the locations of Confederate artillery at the Siege of Petersburg knows how difficult it is to place a unit at a specific place on a specific date.  My hope is that with this sort of diligent collecting and publishing of newspaper articles, and correlated publishing of that information on the various unit pages at my site, I will be able to tease out quite a bit of information on Confederate units that very few people have really studied in any detail before. This sort of thing reminds me quite a but of how the late, great Dr. Richard Sommers found information on units during the Fifth Offensive of the Siege of Petersburg for his book Richmond Redeemed. I hadn’t realized until I read that book the level of detail you can find if you are diligent, patient, and know where to look. I’m not claiming any sort of expertise even remotely close to Dr. Sommers, only a kinship of thought in how to go about the research.

So in the future, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of advertisements in the newspapers used this way on this site.  And if you have similar examples, not only from newspapers, but also letters, reports, and other unpublished information which contain signatures of men commanding units or headings showing specific places on specific dates, please Contact Us and point us in their direction. My goal, as always, is to eventually have the most complete orders of battle ever compiled for the nine offensives against Petersburg and Richmond.

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