Sumter’s 9/11 aftermath: The 12-pounder editorial broadside

After arriving at an army camp in Virginia, a newspaper vendor (second from left) peddles recent copies of Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore papers to news-hungry soldiers. Soldiers clamored for newspapers (particularly those from home) during the Civil War. (Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress)

Civil War!!”

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 its April 19, 1861 issue, the pro-Republican Ellsworth American fired an editorial broadside against a pro-Southern Maine newspaper. (digitalmaine.com)

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.

Viewed from the Down East Sunrise Trail alongside the Machias River, downtown Machias spreads across the northern horizon in high summer. A rabidly anti-Republican newspaper flourished in Machias during the Civil War. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

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.

His binocular case flying behind him, a newspaper correspondent gallops from the front with news about the latest battle. (Edwin Forbes, Library of Congress)

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


“Swartz delves into the personal stories of sacrifice and loss…” — Civil War News

If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–

Available now: Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Civil War, released by Savas Beatie.

This new book chronicles the swift transition of Joshua L. Chamberlain from college professor and family man to regimental and brigade commander and follows him into combat at Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns.

Drawing on Chamberlain’s extensive memoirs and writings and multiple period sources, historian Brian F. Swartz follows Chamberlain across Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia while examining the determined warrior who let nothing prevent him from helping save the United States.

Order your autographed copy by contacting me at visionsofmaine@tds.net.

Passing Through the Fire is also available at savasbeatie.com or amazon.com.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.