American Civil War Research Finds Lost Poetry
October 14, 2013

American Civil War Research Finds Lost Poetry

In the years 1863 and 1864, during the Civil War, almost 140 poems were featured in two New York-based newspapers, the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard. Dr. Rebecca Weir from the University of Cambridge and Dr. Elizabeth Lorang from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discovered these poems following their research and now the poems have been made available to the public online.

In a statement from Dr. Weir, she wrote, “The writers who sent poems to the Anglo-African and the National Anti-Slavery Standard used their poetry as a means to express their views and participate in public debate.”

A former slave, Fanny M. Jackson, provided a poem called “The Black Volunteers” and a poem of mourning for a daughter of a friend to the Anglo-African. A civil leader, William Slade, and a servant in the White House, wrote a poem titled “The Slave to His Star”. Ellen Murray from New England, taught freed slaves in the occupied Sea Island of South Carolina, provided a slew of poems to the National Anti-Slavery Standard.

Dr. Weir added, “this is a story about two newspapers, the people who contributed to them and the people who put them together during a crucial period of the war. The writers who sent poems to the Anglo-African and the National Anti-Slavery Standard used their poetry as a means to express their views and participate in public debate. The newspapers’ editors also reprinted poems from different newspapers, magazines, and books as a matter of course. While reprinted pieces have been all but overlooked by literary critics and historians, they form a vital part of the Civil War’s literary record.”

The poems covered wartime events describing the love, loss, trauma, hope and despair of the people experiencing the war. The actual number of poems written during this time in history is unknown, but up until now, only a handful were supposedly written. The poems will be posted alongside images of the original newspaper pages.

Dr. Lorang said, “The poems were created in part by their publication contexts. Two instances of a poem that share the same words, grammar and syntax printed in two different newspapers aren’t necessarily the same text. That’s one reason why it’s important to think about poems in particular newspapers.”

She added, “one of the great finds we’ve made is that it appears there was a previously unacknowledged but remarkable collaboration between the two newspapers. What’s unique about this edition is the focus on the relationships between two Civil War publications. It’s the first edition of its kind.”

One of Ellen Murray’s poems was titled “The Working Man” and was written in early 1864.

The working men of Lancashire!

Their great self-sacrifice

Those, for whose sake ’twas undergone,

Will never know or prize;

Only when freedmen kneel at dawn

And bless their friends in prayer,

They bless the noble working men

Of England, unaware.

One of Dr. Weir’s favorite poems was an anonymous writing n titled “A Voice from the Crowd” was written in the summer of 1863.

There’s a good time coming, boys,

A good time coming;

When the Slave Confederacy

Recognized by all shall be

In the good time coming.

Let us aid it all we can,

Correspondents—every man,

To make the impulse stronger;

We shall well rewarded be

For our grand apostacy—

Wait a little longer!

Dr. Weir and Dr. Lorang published an article about their discovery in the journal Scholarly Editing.

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