They Behaved Splendidly (Examiner Part I)

Published:May 15, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

Today being the anniversary of the Battle of New Market, I decided to see how the Richmond papers covered the event. That’s when I happened upon the May 17, 1864, edition of the Daily Richmond Examiner [pdf]—and I stopped caring about New Market. There’s just too much other good stuff in there to waste time on one little battle!

First, a bit of context from our Civil War newspapers entry. The Examiner, “under the editorship of John M. Daniel, became the loudest organ of dissent in the Confederate capital, its criticisms of President Davis turning more intense and more personal as the war dragged on … Indeed, Daniel’s hostility to Davis, a fellow newsman observed, was so extreme at times, so ‘like a frenzy,’ as to call into question the editor’s mental balance.”

Unfortunately, this particular Tuesday morning edition does not contain any anti-Davis invective. Instead, the lead story hypes a victory by Confederate general Pierre Goustave Toutant Beauregard—a New Orleans creole always referred to by the Examiner as “gallant”—against Union general Benjamin Franklin Butler—a portly, bald-headed New Englander regularly referred to as “the Beast” for his behavior in occupied New Orleans. “As we predicted,” the paper writes, “the great battle on the Southside was joined yesterday,” with Beauregard’s troops beating back Butler’s at Fort Darling on the James River.

If the paper is to be believed, there were “gallant” charges reminiscent of Gettysburg, and a Union general, Charles Adam Heckfield, was captured. Meanwhile, other prisoners were reportedly drunk, “showing that Butler, like Grant, had plied his men with whiskey before going into battle.” Which makes sense, right? How else could you get them to take up arms against so “gallant” a foe?

Anyway, with the lead story disposed of, the Examiner briefly updates the stalemate around Spotsylvania Court House before “announcing a handsome victory in the Shenandoah Valley.” There are few details except this reference to the Virginia Military Institute: “The corps of Cadets were with General Breckinridge in the fight with Siegel, yesterday, at New Market, and behaved splendidly.”

Which is true. But without much else to say, the paper is forced to move on … and boy, does it ever.

COMING IN PART II: Mr. Wilcox, apparently confused, asks to where he should march, and he is answered with a gun barrel in his face.