The double exclamation points hurled an editorial broadside into Down East Maine on Friday, April 19, 1861 as a pro-Union newspaper tore into “the traitorous crew in the cotton States” — and excoriated another regional weekly that lined up solidly with Jefferson Davis.
Nathaniel Knight Sawyer (a.k.a. “N.K. Sawyer”) published and edited the pro-Union newspaper, titled The Ellsworth American (colloquially known as “the American” around Hancock County in the 21st century). After acquiring the defunct Ellsworth Herald and its printing press in late 1854, William H. Chaney took on a business partner, Charles W. Moor, and launched the American that “November or December,” according to Maine newspaper historian Joseph Griffin.
Sawyer bought the American in December 1855 and took on William P. Burr as a partner in 1861. Its pages measuring 42 by 28 inches, the weekly was “the only paper printed in the county” and enjoyed a four-figure circulation, Griffin wrote.
In his April 19 editorial, Sawyer lambasted Southerners “who have been preaching treasure for twenty years against a government upon whose bounty they have fed” and to which “they indebted for all they have.”
The traitors “have commenced CIVIL WAR” and “have taken up arms” to :defy the government and its power,” Sawyer snarled. “The time to cry peace and to parley with traitors has gone by; and the people all over the land, with a unanimity truly inspiring[,] demand to have rebellion put down.”
Meanwhile, some 60 miles east in Machias (the Washington County shiretown), the Machias Union displayed no pro-American fervor, despite the paper’s name. As men from Machias and elsewhere in the “Sunrise County” poured into the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment, Editor George Washington Drisko railed that “Lincoln and his Abolition advisers have commenced the shedding of American blood” by defending Fort Sumter.
“They have inaugurated a civil war,” claimed the man named after America’s first president.
Business partners E.M. Yates and Charles O. Furbush had launched the Machias Union on Wednesday, May 25, 1853. The 36-by-24-inch broadsheet cost $2.00 a year,” payable “in advance,” reported Griffin. Around 500 “actual subscribers” bought that first issue, and the newspaper focused “mostly” on “the central and western sections of Washington County.”
Yates fell ill in late 1853 and sold his 50-percent interest to Furbush, who “sold half of the concern” to Drisko in August 1854. Drisko handling editing; “the mechanical execution of the paper and job-printing” fell to George A. Parlin, to whom Furbush sold his interest before buying into the Machias Republican In August 1859.
As its name implied, that paper was pro-Republican.
Concerning the Machias Union, Griffin claimed in post-war hindsight that “the paper was neutral in politics,” but he certainly knew better. A Jonesboro native, Drisko was a former Maine state senator and a die-hard Democrat. In fact, “in 1856[,] the Democrats not having an organ in Washington county, the Union … became a political paper, without any change of proprietors,” Griffin footnoted his Machias Union history.
Obviously an educated man, Drisko didn’t let the truth — Confederates fired first and suffered no casualties — disturb his pro-Southern chest thumping in April 1861. He and his Copperhead newspaper would rail against Abraham Lincoln and the Union war effort the next four years.
Drisko’s pop-gun volley against Lincoln annoyed Editor Sawyer at The Ellsworth American, as “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah” a patriotic newspaper as any published in Maine in ’61. Loading his 12-pounder Napoleon press, Sawyer gave Drisko a USS Constitution-style broadside on Friday, April 19.
“The course of the Machias Union is infamous; and the treasonable sentiments of its writers and the mendacious lies uttered in its last issue will disgust all honest democrats,” Sawyer thundered.
“This paper has always twaddled and been on both wings of its [Democrat] party; and now it turns against the stars and stripes of its country,” he blasted Drisko’s rag. “Such traitorous sheets in the city of New York are summarily dealt with.”
Shades of press-censorship caterwauling in 2021, Sawyer sure sounded like he wanted the Union shut down.
Ignoring Drisko’s anti-Lincoln and anti-U.S. tirades, enough Machias-area patriots (and Copperheads) would buy the Machias Union or advertise on its broadsheet pages to keep the paper printing during the war. In fact, the weekly enjoyed a long run.
Drisko served as its editor until 1876. The Machias Union ceased publishing on Thursday, July 1, 1920.
Although politically 180 degrees from its pro-Republican stance of ’61, The Ellsworth American still publishes to this day, printed on an updated press at the newspaper’s offices in downtown Ellsworth.
Sources: Civil War!!, The Ellsworth American, Friday, April 19, 1861; Joseph Griffin, editor, History of the Press of Maine, J. Griffin Press, Brunswick, Maine, 1872, pp. 115-116, 155-156; Ellsworth, Maine 1860 U.S. Census
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