This post is by Jonah Estess, Digital Project Intern in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library.
In the New-York Historical Society library collection is number one, volume one of Prison Times, a newspaper devised and edited by prisoners at the Union Army prison at Fort Delaware, Delaware. The document itself is handwritten and well organized, ready for the eyes and minds of Confederate prisoners of war being held at the Union fort.
Its mission statement strikes an inoffensive tone: despite the tensions between Union and Confederate belligerents, the paper does not engage in any of the rancorous political cartooning and cheap-shot critiquing that had become prominent during the Civil War. “In presenting to the public this our first edition of the Prison Times we are aware that there will be many criticisms… Nothing political will be indulged in…” (page 1).
Instead, the Prison Times editors sought to promote the fine arts, literature, and public education through items like “Our Prison World” (page 4), an anonymous contribution that revealed the unique experience of being a Confederate prisoner of war. He observes that “conducting an enterprise of this kind under the circumstances are duly appreciated by an intelligent public,” recognition that flew in the face of adversity to inspire radically progressive journalism. For those within and without Fort Delaware’s walls, A. Harris’ poem “The Low Soft Music of the Pines” (page 4) paints for readers a Shakespeare-esque scene in which wartime fears seem to dissipate:
Oh! there’s music in the glad gurgling waters
As they bound over rocks and through dells
A music that lends an enchantment
To the deep forests moss festooned cello
And I long to sit neath the shaddows[sic]
Of the low soft musical pine.
The newspaper also addressed the more immediate concerns of a prisoner at Fort Delaware, such as mending their torn uniform or obtaining larger rations. Indeed, the newspaper prominently featured tradesmen and skilled workers who could do for their fellow prisoner what they would otherwise be doing in the freer world. For example, haircuts and shaves at the Division 24 Barber Shop were promised to be done “in the latest style.”
More surprisingly, Prison Times editors announced their intention to include “gems from celebrated authors, male and female.” Such progressive support for the inclusion of women in the press is not something typically associated with the Confederate cause. Unfortunately, these just aspirations to feature women authors went unfulfilled: issue one is the only known issue of Prison Times. Reasons for its disappearance from print are unknown, though there is reason to believe that the war’s end may have been the culprit. In the least, Prison Times transforms the story of their lives as southerners, soldiers, and prisoners into a delightfully complex narrative for students and researchers alike. In a greater sense, this sole surviving issue of Prison Times reminds us that even in the midst of a divided nation entrenched in a political war, there were efforts to rise above propaganda and facilitate discussion on higher issues of concern for all.
Editors and publishers of the Prison Times:
Hibbs, Captain in the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment
George S. Thomas, Captain in the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment
William H. Bennett, Captain and ACD in the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment
A. Harris, Lieutenant in the 3rd Florida Infantry Regiment
To access the fully digitized Prison Times, please visit http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16694coll47/id/205
To access all other fully digitized collections within the Civil War Treasures Collection, please visit http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16694coll47