Texas Newspapers Report the Battle of Gettysburg and the Fall of Vicksburg
Many historians have labeled the Battle of Gettysburg, together with the fall of Vicksburg, as the major turning point of the Civil War. This assertion remains under dispute, as scholars and other experts on the conflict have offered alternative events and battles as possible turning points. Moreover, primary sources written during the war indicate that many people – lacking scholars’ hindsight and ability to see the implications of an event – did not necessarily identify the outcomes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg as turning points.
Indeed, editions of the Austin Tri-Weekly State Gazette from July 14 to July 30, 1863, in the collections of the DRT Library demonstrate that news of the battles traveled slowly to Texas. Reports published in eastern newspapers – for example the articles in Harper’s Weekly that accompanied the above illustrations (used courtesy of Son of the South Civil War website) – were reprinted in papers further west. However, when information finally did reach Texas, much of it was conflicting and inconsistent. As the newspaper’s editor admitted on July 18, a full two weeks after the battle of Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, “the dispatches we have been receiving lately are so contradictory and confused that that we must leave our readers to draw their own conclusions.”
As late as July 14, D. Richardson, the editor of the Gazette, argued that “from a careful perusal of all the dispatches, we are led to the conclusion” that news of the fall of Vicksburg “cannot be true.” Still, he notes, “it behooves us to prepare for the worst.” This arrived two days later when Richardson was forced to admit that he had received “full confirmation” of Vicksburg’s fall. Still, doubters remained, as the Gazette noted on July 21 that “notwithstanding the apparently well authenticated reports we have had of the fall of Vicksburg, there are many in this city who still have doubts on the subject.”
Some information published in the Gazette ultimately proved to be grossly incorrect. Throughout the latter part of July, the newspaper reported stunning Southern victories in Washington, D. C. and other northern cities:
- On July 23, “The news from Lee’s army is glorious – better than we at first anticipated. We have now every assurance that the news before published was true, and that both Harrisburg [the state capital of Pennsylvania] and Washington City are in our hands, with an immense number of prisoners.”
- On July 25, “The News says Johnston telegraphed Col. Carpenter at Natchez, that beyond a doubt Gen. Lee now occupied Washington City.”
- And on July 28, “The [Houston] Telegraph is in receipt of Northern papers as late as the 11th…the general impression everywhere seems to be that all the accounts of Lee’s victories are reliable, and that our successes in the North, so far as heard from already, are a full off for the loss of Vicksburg.”
During this same period, the Battle of Gettysburg appears to have been mentioned only once, in an article on July 18 stating “from Richmond we learn that a fight took place at Gettysburg on the 1st in which our losses are reported enormously heavy. It is said to have been a drawn battle. The battle reported in our last, at which Lee captured 40,000 prisoners[,] took place on the 4th at Martinsburg. It is somewhat singular we should have heard nothing at the time of the battle of Gettysburg.”
It wasn’t until July 30, almost a month after Lee was defeated at Gettysburg, that Texans learned of the loss. The newspaper reported that the Houston Telegraph “copies two official dispatches from Gen. Meade, who was in command at Gettysburg, which will be found below, showing that the fight there was not in our favor as first stated.” At the same time, Texans found that their exuberance over the fall of Washington D. C. and the capture of Memphis was unfounded. “It is evident,” reported the Gazette, trying for a cheerful tone, “that we have been ‘most delightfully humbugged,’ as the [Houston] Telegraph says, in relation to the capture of Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia.”
While reports of far-away battles consumed the front page of the Gazette throughout July 1863, the newspaper also carried stories about events closer to home. Almost all of this news related to the war effort, showing glimpses of life on the Texas homefront during the Civil War. Such news included casualty lists; rewards for deserters from the Confederate army; notices seeking assistance for destitute families of Confederate soldiers; articles about the impressment of cotton, tax regulations, and elections; and notices describing runaway slaves, slave auctions, and ordinances governing the behavior of slaves and free African Americans.