Rare New York Times editions recount Civil War news

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, October 8, 2006

Ranger Jim Lewis displays Stones River Battlefield's rare copy of the New York Times coverage of the battle.

Ranger Jim Lewis displays Stones River Battlefield’s rare copy of the New York Times coverage of the battle.

By Erin Edgemon, Post business editor

Murfreesboro splashed across the front page of the New York Times doesn’t happen nowadays.

But the Stones River National Battlefield is now in possession of nine such papers that were printed about one of the most significant and bloody battles of the Civil War.

They also record Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raid and capture of Murfreesboro in July 1862 and Forrest’s other engagement, the Battle of the Cedars, fought in December 1864.

The Battle of Stones River, which served as a significant morale boost for the Union Army, raged Dec. 31, 1862 through Jan. 2, 1863.

Friends of Stones Rivers Battlefield — a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the battlefield — purchased the newspapers for $650, a portion of a $1,000 donation given to the organization by author Jeff Shaara.

The newspapers joined a collection of more than 20 other Confederate and Union newspapers and of more than 110,000 items, most of which are kept behind closed doors. The collections range from miniballs and cannons to letters and diaries and flags and firearms.

Shaara gave a portion of his advance for his recent book “Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields” and pledged future donations from royalties he receives from book sales.

The battlefield will use the remainder of the donation for the preservation and for the creation of reproductions of several of the papers for display in the museum.

“We were just so pleased that we had the money to do something of this magnitude and the money to make it happen,” said Shirley Jones, a member of the Friends executive board. “The New York Times is a rare bird in itself, but it will give the almost 200,000 visitors to Stones River an interesting account from the northern perspective.”

She said the newspapers preserve a handwritten account of the action that took place in Murfreesboro during the Civil War written the days the events actually happened.

“To be able to see a document that was created at the time of the battle, I think it adds a new dimension of visiting the Stones River Battlefield,” Jones added. “This is one of the most exciting things that we have done.”

By preserving the newspapers, she said the organization is doing its part to preserve the stories that made up the Battle of Stones River.

“These (soldiers) lived,” Jones said. “They did not die to be forgotten.”

James Patterson, president of the Friends of the Stones River Battlefield, said there is no better reading than eyewitness accounts and personal experiences.

Jim Lewis, battlefield park ranger, donned white gloves as he picked up the various editions of the prestigious newspaper — its masthead then printed New-York Times — that had been tucked away in box behind the closed doors of the battlefield’s archives.

He admitted that he might have purchased the newspapers for himself if the battlefield hadn’t come through with the funds. One of Lewis’ pastimes is searching online auctions
for authentic Civil War-era newspapers. He finds them intriguing and entertaining because both Confederate and Union newspapers claim their side won the same battle, and casualties are exaggerated.

Lewis said history lovers 150 years from now will be reading the stories generated today about the War on Terror and will be surprised about the change in perspective.

The Friends organization — spurred into action after the demolition of the historic Hiram Jenkins House this summer — is beginning to take a more active role in preservation efforts than it has in years.

Several Civil War enthusiasts attempted to save the Jenkins House, which served as a temporary Union field hospital during the Battle of Stones River.

The organization is hoping to begin holding fund-raisers in the near future to purchase more newspapers and other authentic items, such as a Confederate belt buckle and uniform, to replace reproductions that are currently on display in the museum.

Patterson said the Friends hopes to eventually be able to purchase every newspaper with an article related to the Battle of Stones River.

One of the battlefield’s most prized possessions is a Jan. 2, 1863, edition of the Daily Rebel Banner-Extra, a Confederate newspaper that was printed on a mobile press wherever the battle was raging.
“That paper cost us several thousand dollars — a single sheet,” Lewis said. “It is the only one we know about.”

To do your own research:

Stones River Battlefield’s collections can be viewed by visiting the park’s Web catalog at www.museum.nps.gov/stri/page.htm.

Researchers may request an appointment to use the Battlefield’s archives by calling 615-893-9508.

For more information on the Friends of Stones River National Battlefield, visit www.friendsofstonesriver.org.

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