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Review: News In History Provides A Look Into the Past Via Newspapers

I recently found an exciting new site for history buffs, NewsinHistory.com, which offers readers and (even more importantly for me, as you will read later) researchers a look into the past via digitized versions of old newspapers.  I truly believe TOCWOC readers will find this site endlessly fascinating, especially those who specialize in a particular unit, battle, or other specialized interest.  NewsinHistory.com contains “hundreds of millions of newspaper articles” in its database from newspapers spanning all 50 states.   News In History is a fascinating resource for students and researchers of the Civil War.

The main page of the site is divides up newspaper coverage into five main eras:

  1. The Early Republic , 1800-1844
  2. Civil War Era, 1845-1877
  3. Guilded Age / Prog. Era, 1878-1913
  4. WW I / Great Depression, 1914-1938
  5. WW II / Information Age

These categories explain some of the major events which students of history might like to explore further.  I expected this area to lead directly to search results for each specific era, but this was not the case.  Instead, the five buttons or categories appear to be more of a jumping off point to give the reader search ideas and dates.  I suspect that most people subscribing to NewsinHistory.com will already be interested enough in their particular topics that the information on these arbitrary “eras” will not be of all that much use.

The search area allows users to quickly type in search terms.  A quick run through several searches shows the depth of material located at NewsinHistory.com.  A search for “battle of Gettysburg”, for instance, showed over 12, 500 results.  A similar search for “battle of Petersburg”, a much lesser known battle, still yielded 240 results.

An advanced search feature allows users to filter by search item, date of publication, and the name, city, or state of a newspaper.  Results may be returned by best matches first, in chronological order, or in reverse chronological order.

I was able to search over a period of years by using a dash.  For example, in one search I used “1864-1865” in the Date field and “Petersburg” in the Full Text Field to produce results hopefully related to the Petersburg Campaign.  This search yielded over 13,000 results, providing me with an excellent starting point for adding newspaper articles to my Petersburg Campaign web site Beyond the Crater.  As you can see in the image below, the results produced are accounts of military activity around Petersburg in 1864-1865, exactly what I was looking for.

A Featured Articles section allows readers to immediately dive into articles covering some of the great events in American history.  Topics from the Louisiana Purchase to the Emancipation Proclamation to the Tet Offensive are some of the topics currently covered in this section of the site.  For those who are not specialists in any one era, this is a great area to go back to time and again to read about these events from the perspective of their times.

Tony Pettinato’s NewsinHistory Blog is also a great way for readers to dive right into the newspaper collection at NewsinHistory.com.  His nearly daily looks at unique and important events in American history allow non-subscribers a chance to see exactly what the site is all about.  The articles featured in his blog are offered to everyone free of charge.  Civil War buffs will definitely find many articles of interest here.

For those of you looking for specific newspapers published during the Civil War, the Title List section is the place to go.  Copying and pasting the newspapers listed here shows a grand total of 1236 different newspapers offered at NewsinHistory.com!  Sorting by newspaper name, state of publication, city of publication, and years of availability are all possible.  Naturally, TOCWOC readers will want to immediately screen for newspapers available during the Civil War, but the point is that many ways to narrow down your search are available.

A review of this type wouldn’t be complete without looking at a specific article.  Since I am particularly interested in the Petersburg Campaign, let’s look at the first search result returned from my earlier look for mentions of the word “Petersburg” from 1864-1865.

This is an article from the June 30, 1864 edition of the New Hampshire Sentinel based in Keene, New Hampshire.  The article headline tells us that this article is about “The Situation before Petersburg: a Military Review.”  Before we dig into the article, let’s review what was happening around Petersburg in late June 1864.  In mid-June, Ulysses S. Grant was finally able to confuse Robert E. Lee in a grand flanking movement across the James, with a final objective of Petersburg.  After four days of assaults from June 15-18, 1864 and more than one glorious opportunity to take the city, Lee’s Confederate lines held, setting the stage for the Siege of Petersburg.  Grant was not yet ready to settle in, however.  From June 21-24, 1864, he sent the Federal II Corps and VI Corps in a flanking movement to the south and west in an attempt to completely encircle Petersburg, intending to cut off all of the main roads and railroads running into the city.  This attempt failed miserably, the II Corps routed back to the Jerusalem Plank Road and a large number of men in the VI Corps’ Vermont Brigade captured and shipped off to Andersonville.  This repulse led Grant to accept the necessity of siege operations, operations which would continue all the way to early April 1865.  This article only covers the attempts to take Petersburg from June 15-18, 1864, with no mention of the later actions.  This serves as a reminder that our instant gratification, 24 hour news cycle was not remotely present in 1864.

Left clicking on the article image or the headline takes us into the main viewing tool at NewsinHistory.com.

A Table of Contents for this particular issue of the New Hampshire Sentinel is at the left, allowing a reader to fully explore not only this article but the entire issue.  The title of the newspaper, the date, and the article headline are located above the viewing area for the article.  A Highlights section allows the reader to highlight words or phrases of specific interest.  Each article may be downloaded as a PDF file, an excellent feature which allows a much better viewing experience.   Various zoom levels give the user full flexibility in deciding exactly how the article displays in the reader.  Some articles are easier to read than others depending on the quality of the original newspaper when scanned into the archive.  A printer friendly button allows users to print the article for future reading, a useful feature for researchers or teachers wishing to use articles in the classroom.  Depending on the size and shape of the article, it may be easier to simply print from the PDF file than via the printer friendly page.  The maximize image view button in the top right corner increase the viewing area available on your computer screen.  This combined with the zoom feature should allow even those of us wearing the thickest coke bottle lenses to view articles comfortably.

NewsinHistory.com is an excellent and voluminous resource for Civil War students and researchers, and really for those interested in any period of American history.  With over 1200 newspapers and many millions of articles, NewsinHistory.com provides its subscribers with access to history via primary documents.  Subscriptions are reasonably priced, especially for researchers, at $9.95 per month.  Go check out Tony Pettinato’s Blog and the free Featured articles today!  They are a good representation of what you will get with a full subscription.  If any TOCWOC readers have subscribed already or subscribe in the future, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Note: In an upcoming article here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog, I’ll announce several new ideas I have to use NewsinHistory.com with Beyond the Crater: The Civil War Campaign Online and TOCWOC.  I’m very excited by the possibilities this site presents with regards to both of my Civil War blogs.

Disclaimer: The author of this article was given a free subscription which was used to review this web site.