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From the pages of the Sentinel

The opening salvos at Fort Sumter were buried in small type on Page 3

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 10:21 am

Editor's note: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, The News-Sentinel is providing a retrospective on the role Allen County residents played in the war effort.

The headlines didn't exactly jump off the page in the Fort Wayne newspapers of 1861. And there were no photographs.

In fact, the front pages resembled today's classified pages. They were columns of gray text that blended in advertisements with the news. News of the beginning of the Civil War 150 years ago today was for the serious reader — one with good eyesight, or a good pair of reading glasses.

The American Civil War began early in the morning on Friday, April 12, 1861, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor off the coast of South Carolina by Confederate batteries. Today huge, bold headlines and color pictures would fill the front page. But on Saturday, April 13, local readers had to turn to Page 3 of Dawson's Fort Wayne Daily Times to find the news. And there, in the fourth of six columns under a small bold header, “Telegraph,” was a listing of telegraphic correspondence between Confederate Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and the Secretary of War of Confederate States between April 10 and 12 regarding the request in vain for Maj. Robert Anderson to evacuate the fort. And beneath that, on the bottom third of that single column of text, was a tiny headline that said, “FORT SUMTER BOMBARDED!”

On the front page of that same day's Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel, this newspaper's early incarnation, there were reports from the previous week's daily papers, the most prominent at the top of the page, dated Wednesday, April 10, with the headline “War Probably Commenced!” It read, “The news today is of such a character as (if true) to leave but little doubt that we are on the eve of war, if hostilities have not already commenced.”

At least Dawson's Daily Times had the news from the previous day. Dateline, Charleston, April 12: “The ball has opened. — war is inaugurated.”

Editor and Publisher John W. Dawson's front page was an amalgam of advertisements and listings (Meyer & Brother Druggists, W.H. Brooks, Jr. Wholesale Bookseller, Robinson's New Brick Store). Page 2 featured editorials and ads. And Page 3 finally got to the news under the “Telegraph” header.

The actual story of Fort Sumter continued: “The batteries of Sullivan Island, Morris Island and other points were opened on Fort Sumter at 4 o'clock this morning. Fort Sumter has returned the fire, and a brisk cannonading has been kept up. …

“The military are under arms and the whole of our population are in the streets, and every available space facing the harbor is filled with anxious spectators.”

The Weekly Sentinel rounded up its daily coverage of the first week of the war in the following Saturday's edition, April 20. There on 17-inch-wide, 22-inch-deep newsprint, as type-heavy as a page from a Webster's dictionary – juxtaposed with textual ads for the Mad Anthony Restaurant, the Toledo & Wabash Railway, the Rockhill House on the corner of Broadway and Main and several others – were several column inches of stories and transcripts of telegraph correspondence reporting on the beginning of the conflict.

The Weekly Sentinel appeared on Saturdays, while the Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel was published every evening. The editor and publisher was Thomas Tigar.

In small, bold, italic type barely a quarter-inch tall under the news from April 13 were the words in the middle of the page: “War Commenced!” with a subhead beneath saying “Attack on Fort Sumter.”

The story began, “We have at length received the startling news that a state of civil war is inaugurated and the conflict actually commenced at Fort Sumter. Our accounts are meager and unsatisfactory; but it appears that the fleet had not yet arrived, yesterday morning, when the Carolinians opened fire on Fort Sumter.”

Dawson's Daily Times followed that fateful first weekend of the war on Page 3 on Monday, April 15, with a story saying, “It becomes our painful duty to announce the following news, handed us this day (Sunday, 14th April) … Fort Sumter has surrendered. The Confederate flag floats over its walls.”

Dawson's editorial on Page 2 began, “How terrible the reality of the existence of war strikes on the ear and sickens the heart of the patriot — and yet such a state exists — and that too a war among citizens of one section against another of a common Government, and about what? About a matter which settled peaceably, though evils might have resulted, they would have been endurable — but forcibly settled, shakes the pillars of the government and weakens the ties of the national affection so necessary to constitute us one people. — What then but sadness comes over the heart of the patriot when he contemplates the fact that under all these circumstances — in the light of the 19th century — neither the duty of patience nor the arts of peace has sufficed to stay the sword.”

He ended by writing, “We encourage patriotism — we encourage a full and free interchange of opinions on this as on all subjects — but equally earnest are we that our citizens be saved from the painful scenes too frequently resulting from heated blood and ill manners. It is well to remember that ‘a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.'

“The people without distinction or party are ready to support the federal power, and we rejoice at it — nor will parties assume shape until the collision shall be over.”

Also on that Monday's Page 3 was this report, headed “President's Proclamation”:

“Washington, April 14 — The President's Proclamation says: Whereas the laws of the United States have been, and are now opposed in several States by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in the ordinary way, I therefore call forth the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, to suppress said combinations and execute the law.”

Newspapers provided extensive coverage throughout the war, depending on the telegraph wires for news transmission. Correspondents reported uncensored from the battlefields. Newspapers kept the public informed with letters to and from soldiers, casualty lists, artist's battle sketches, maps, stories and editorials.