Newspaper Sunday

A Collection of Blog Items Featuring 19th Century Coverage of Historic Events

The sunken treasure of vintage newspapers remained far from public view for many decades. But thanks to recently digitized archives, we can now see exactly what rolled off the printing presses in the 19th century.

Newspapers are the first draft of history, and reading the actual 19th century coverage of historic events will often provide fascinating details. The blog postings in this collection feature links to actual newspaper headlines and articles about significant events, as seen when the ink was still fresh on the page.

Lincoln's Funeral

New York City Hall during Lincoln's funeral
New York City Hall in Mourning for Lincoln. Library of Congress

The 50th anniversary news coverage of the funeral of John F. Kennedy was a reminder of how Kennedy's funeral was intended to evoke the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. A look at the coverage of Lincoln's funeral shows exactly how the public saw the pageantry surrounding the observances for a murdered president.

Related: Lincoln's Traveling Funeral


Boys with Jack-o-Lantern
Boys with Jack-o-Lantern. Library of Congress

Halloween was often criticized by newspapers during the 19th century, and even the New York Tribune predicted that it would fall out of fashion. Of course that didn't happen and in the 1890s some lively reporting documented how Halloween had become fashionable.

Baseball History

Member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings
Player for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Library of Congress

Newspaper accounts from the 1850s and 1860s demonstrate how the game of baseball was becoming popular. An 1855 account of a game in Hoboken, New Jersey mentioned "visitors, especially ladies, who seemed to take a great interest in the game." By the late 1860s newspapers were reporting attendance figures in the thousands.

Related: The Abner Doubleday Baseball Myth

John Brown's Raid

Lithographic portrait of John Brown
John Brown. Library of Congress

The national debate over the institution of slavery grew more intense throughout the 1850s. And in October 1859 things reached an explosive point when the anti-slavery fanatic John Brown organized a raid that briefly seized a federal arsenal. The telegraph carried dispatches about the violent raid and its suppression by federal troops.

The Battle of South Mountain

Portrait of Gen. George McClellan
General George McClellan. Library of Congress

The Civil War's Battle of South Mountain has generally been overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam, which was fought by the same armies just three days later. But in the newspapers of September 1862, the fighting in the mountain passes of western Maryland was initially reported, and celebrated, as a major turning point in the Civil War.

The Crimean War

Photo of Lord Raglan, British officer in the Crimea
Lord Raglan, British commander in the Crimean War. Library of Congress

The war in the mid-1850s between the great European powers was watched from a distance by Americans. News of the Siege of Sevastopol traveled quickly to England via telegraph, but then took weeks to reach America. Accounts of how the combined British and French forces finally conquered a Russian fortress were major stories in American newspapers.

Related: The Crimean War

The Plot to Burn New York City

The Astor House Hotel
The Astor House Hotel. Library of Congress

In late 1864 the Confederate government tried to launch an audacious attack that would disrupt the presidential election and perhaps put Abraham Lincoln out of office. When that failed, the plan transformed into an elaborate arson plot, with Confederate agents fanning out across lower Manhattan in one night, intent on setting fires in public buildings.

Fear of fire was taken very seriously in New York, which had suffered from cataclysms like the Great Fire of 1835. But the rebel arsonists, due mostly to ineptitude, only succeeded in creating a chaotic night. The newspaper headlines, however, spoke of "A Night of Terror" with "Fire Balls Thrown About."

The Death of Andrew Jackson

Portrait of Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson. Library of Congress

The death of Andrew Jackson in June 1845 marked the end of an era. The news took weeks to spread across the country, and as Americans heard of Jackson's passing they gathered to pay tribute.

Jackson had dominated American politics for two decades, and given his controversial nature, newspaper reports of his death ranged from barely muted criticism to lavish praise.

More: Life of Andrew JacksonElection of 1828

Declaring War on Mexico

Illustration of men reading news of the Mexican War
Americans reading news of the Mexican War. Library of Congress

When the United States used a violent border dispute to declare war on Mexico in May 1846, the newly invented telegraph carried the news. The reports in newspapers ranged from outright skepticism to patriotic calls for volunteers to join the fight.

Related: The Mexican WarPresident James Polk

President Lincoln Shot!

Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre
Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre. Photograph by Robert McNamara

Reports of the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln moved quickly across the telegraph wires and Americans woke to see shocking headlines on the morning of April 15, 1865. Some of the initial dispatches were confused, as might be expected. Yet it's remarkable to see how much accurate information appeared in print very quickly.

Related: Assassination of LincolnLincoln's Traveling Funeral

The Death of Phineas T. Barnum

Phineas T. Barnum
Phineas T. Barnum. Getty Images

When the great American showman Phineas T. Barnum died in 1891 the sad event was front-page news. Barnum had entertained millions for most of the 19th century, and newspapers naturally took a look back at the career of the beloved "Prince of Humbug."

Related: Vintage Images of BarnumGeneral Tom ThumbJenny Lind

Washington Irving

Washington Irving, writer and creator of Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane
Washington Irving. Library of Congress

The first great American writer was Washington Irving, whose satire A History of New York charmed the reading public 200 years ago. Irving would create timeless characters such as Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle, and when he died in 1859 newspapers fondly looked back at his career.

Related: Biography of Washington Irving

Coxey's Army

Members of Coxey's Army, 1894 protest march from Ohio to Washington, D.C.
Members of Coxey's Army marching to Washington. Getty Images

When widespread unemployment struck America following the Panic of 1893, an Ohio businessman, Jacob Coxey, took action. He organized an "army" of the unemployed, and essentially invented the concept of the long-distance protest march.

Known as Coxey's Army, hundreds of men left Ohio on Easter Sunday 1894, intending to walk all the way to the U.S. Capitol where they would demand Congress take action to stimulate the economy. Newspapermen accompanied the march, and the protest became a national sensation.

Related: Coxey's ArmyLabor HistoryFinancial Panics of the 1800s

St. Patrick's Day

Program for 1891 St. Patrick's Day Dinner at Delmonico's
Program for 1891 St. Patrick's Day Dinner. courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections

The story of the Irish in America can be told by looking at newspaper coverage of St. Patrick's Day observances throughout the 19th century. In the early decades of the 1800s, there were reports of unruly immigrants rioting. But in the 1890s elegant dinners attended by the powerful attested to the political clout of the Irish.

Related: History of the St. Patrick's Day ParadeThe Great Famine

Lincoln at Cooper Union

Abraham Lincoln at the time of his Cooper Union Address.
Abraham Lincoln at the time of his Cooper Union Address. Library of Congress

In late February 1860 a visitor from the West arrived in New York City. And by the time Abraham Lincoln left town, a few days later, he was a star on his way to the White House. One speech, and some important newspaper coverage, changed everything.

Related: Lincoln's Greatest SpeechesLincoln at Cooper Union

Marking Washington's Birthday

Patriotic envelope depicting George Washington.
Patriotic envelope depicting George Washington. Library of Congress

In 19th century America no one was venerated more than George Washington. And every year on the great man's birthday cities would host parades and politicians would give speeches. The newspapers, of course, covered it all.

John James Audubon

John James Audubon
John James Audubon. Library of Congress

When the artist and ornithologist John James Audubon died in January 1851, newspapers reported on his death and his accomplishments. His enormous four-volume work, Birds of America, was already considered a masterpiece.

Related: Biography of John James Audubon

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Library of Congress

When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time, on March 4, 1865, the Civil War was ending. And Lincoln, rising to the occasion, gave one of the greatest speeches in American history. Journalists, course, reported on the speech and other events surrounding the inauguration.

Related: Five Best Inaugural Addresses of the 19th CenturyLincoln's Greatest SpeechesVintage Images: 19th Century InaugurationsVintage Images: Classic Lincoln Portraits

Sinking of the USS Monitor

USS Monitor
USS Monitor. Library of Congress

A warship that changed naval history, USS Monitor, was only afloat for about a year. When it sank at the end of 1862 reports of the ship's sinking appeared in newspapers throughout the North.

Vintage images: USS Monitor

The Emancipation Proclamation

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law on January 1, 1863, newspapers reported on the event. The New York Tribune of Horace Greeley, which had criticized President Lincoln for not moving fast enough on the abolition of slavery, essentially celebrated by printing an extra edition.

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

Perhaps the most famous newspaper editorial ever appeared in a New York City newspaper in 1897. A young girl wrote to the New York World, asking if Santa Claus was real, and an editor wrote a response that has become immortal.

Christmas Trees In the 1800s

The German tradition of decorating Christmas trees became popular in England in the early 1840s, and by the mid-1840s American newspapers were taking note of Americans adopting the practice.

The Battle of Fredericksburg

The Battle of Fredericksburg, it was hoped, would bring an end to the Civil War in December 1862. But the offensive waged by General Ambrose Burnside, the Union commander, turned into a disaster, which was reflected in the newspaper coverage.

The Hanging of John Brown

The fanatical abolitionist John Brown seized a federal arsenal in October 1859, hoping to spark a revolt of enslaved people. He was captured, tried, and convicted, and hanged in December 1859. Newspapers in the North extolled Brown, but in the South he was vilified.

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens
Thaddeus Stevens. Library of Congress

Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was a noteworthy voice against the practice of enslavement before the Civil War, and wielded enormous power on Capitol Hill throughout the war and during Reconstruction. He was, of course, the subject of newspaper coverage.

Related: Vintage Books About Thaddeus StevensThe Abolitionist MovementThe Radical Republicans

The Amendment Ending Slavery

Newspaper articles from February 1865 reported on the passage of the 13th Amendment, which ended enslavement in America. "Freedom Triumphant" declared a headline in the New York Tribune.

Vote On November 6th

Election Day fell on November 6th in both 1860 and 2012. Newspaper articles from Election Day 1860 predicted a Lincoln victory and referred to his supporters holding end-of-campaign rallies.

Opening of the Statue of Liberty

When the Statue of Liberty officially opened, on October 28, 1886, bad weather put a damper on the ceremonies. But the newspaper coverage was still exuberant.

Civil War Scandal

Scandals involving military contractors are nothing new. The rush to outfit the rapidly expanding Union Army in the first year of the Civil War led to widespread corruption, and the newspapers were all over it.

Emancipation Proclamation

In late September 1862, following the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The announcement was a sensation in newspapers, which reported on reactions both positive and negative.

The Battle of Antietam

The Civil War's bloodiest day was a media milestone, as newspaper correspondents rode along with the Union Army as it moved to head off Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North. Following the epic clash of Antietam, telegraphed reports filled with vivid descriptions of the carnage filled newspaper pages.

The Franklin Expedition

Sir John Franklin
Sir John Franklin. Library of Congress

In the 1840s the British Navy dispatched Sir John Franklin to search for the Northwest Passage. He sailed into the Arctic with two ships and disappeared. For years after, newspapers reported on the searches for Franklin and his men.

Dark Horse Candidate

James K. Polk
James K. Polk. Library of Congress

Political conventions, in their earliest decades, could deliver surprises. In 1844 the nation was startled by news stories that a fairly unknown figure, James K. Polk, had been nominated for president by the Democratic Convention. He was the first "dark horse candidate."

News From England By Telegraph

The transatlantic cable changed the world profoundly, as news that could take weeks to cross the ocean suddenly took minutes. See how that revolution was covered in the summer of 1866, when the first reliable cable began sending a regular flow of information across the Atlantic.

The 1896 Olympics

The revival of the ancient Olympic games in 1896 were a source of fascination. Coverage of events appeared in American newspapers, and those telegraphed dispatches marked the beginning of Americans taking a real interest in international athletic competition.

Phineas T. Barnum

People in the 19th century revered the great showman Phineas T. Barnum, who entertained millions at his museum in New York City before becoming a great circus promoter. Barnum was, of course, a master of drawing publicity, and a selection of stories about Barnum and some of his prize attractions demonstrate the fascination the public had for his work.

Custer's Last Stand

In the 19th century newspapers had the capacity to shock, and the nation was startled in the summer of 1876 by news out of the great plains. Col. George Armstrong Custer, along with hundreds of men from his 7th Cavalry, had been killed by Indians. Custer, who had become famous during the Civil War, was memorialized in stories with headlines such as "On the Field of Glory" and "The Fierce Sioux."

The Steamship Great Eastern

The great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the innovative steamship the Great Eastern. The largest ship afloat, it arrived in New York City at the end of June 1860 and caused a great stir. The newspapers, of course, reported every detail of the amazing new ship.

Civil War Balloons

When the Union Army, with the help of Professor Thaddeus Lowe, began using balloons to observe enemy troop movements in the spring of 1862, newspaper reporters naturally covered the "aeronauts." Dispatches described how observes in baskets high above the action could detect Confederate troop formations, and when a Union general nearly drifted off and became a prisoner the news quickly made it into print.

Queen Victoria's Jubilees

Queen Victoria celebrated her 50th anniversary on the throne with her Golden Jubilee in 1887, and in 1897 a massive celebration was held for her Diamond Jubilee. American newspapers covered both events. Victoria's Golden Jubilee was front-page news in Wichita, Kansas, and the Diamond Jubilee dominated the front page of the newspaper in Omaha, Nebraska.

Decoration Day

The observance of Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, began in May 1868. A collection of newspaper articles shows how the very first Decoration Day ceremonies were covered.

The Election of 1860

Presidential campaigns were very different in the 19th century, but one thing is the same as today: candidates were introduced to the public through news coverage. During one of the most significant campaigns in American history, candidate Abraham Lincoln went from being virtually unknown to being elected, and a look at newspaper articles can show us how that happened.

The Debate Over Slavery

A sampling of articles from newspapers published in the 1850s shows the deep divide in the United States over the issue of slavery. Events covered included the beating of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, an anti-slavery advocate, by a South Carolina Congressman, Preston Brooks.

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McNamara, Robert. "Newspaper Sunday." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, McNamara, Robert. (2021, February 16). Newspaper Sunday. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Newspaper Sunday." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).