Coverage differed among Portage County’s newspapers during the Civil War

Sometimes we look at the condition of media today and wish for the times when news was news and current events weren’t sensationalized out of proportion. We watch the rivalries between media outlets and wonder if it will ever end.

However, in nineteenth century Portage County, there was plenty of drama to go around.

During the time leading up to and during the American Civil War, newspapers and journalists played a huge role in the politics of the day, the spreading of ideas, and in influencing widespread communities that were otherwise isolated from the spiraling events around them. The newspapers and their editors were looked at as leaders in policy and thought – a standard to go by when making community decisions.

More about Portage County and the Civil War

    *Medicine in the Civil War: Primitive and Painful

    *Four Portage County African-Americans honored with monuments, markers

    *County residents among the witnesses to Lincoln’s assassination

    *Three Portage County soldiers received a Medal of Honor

    *Persistent Patriot: Samuel H. Cole of Franklin Mills enlisted in the Union military four times

    *Three Portage County brothers fight for the Union but only one survives

    *Changing sides: John Thomas chooses the North

    *Portage County residents were not in total agreement over the draft system

    *Coverage differed among Portage County’s newspapers during the Civil War

    *Two poets interpret the Civil War and its impact on their Portage County neighbors

    *Portage County soldiers detested anti-war factions

    *Portage County’s Buel Whitney provides spiritual counsel to those on the battlefield

The papers serving Portage County were no different.

These were the Portage County Sentinel and the Portage County Democrat – two different newspapers with two radically different political perspectives. While the Democrat was actually the paper containing Radical Republican views, the Sentinel promoted a more democratic perspective – almost bordering Copperheadism.

The rivalry between the two papers was intense. Their content was decidedly different, and their editors were outspoken concerning each other’s politics. In a time when paper and ink were expensive and newspapers were scarce, the two rivals did all in their power to bring the best and fastest news to the residents of Portage County – proselytizing along the way.

Yet the battles could not last forever.

The Portage County Sentinel began to publish the writings of the pro-Confederate Peace Conference, and later on began to print the attempts of Southern states to draft their own constitutions. Other features included the Crittenden Amendments and Mr. Guthrie’s Plan – both propositions to change the existing United States Consitution.

It was the equivalent of signing their own death sentence.

In an extremely Republican and Abolitionist atmosphere, the Portage County Sentinel didn’t stand a chance of survival. In August of 1861, only a few short months after the war began, the Sentinel abruptly stopped circulating – because of alleged “financial troubles.” Three months later the editor, James Somerville, announced in his weekly column that the paper would begin running again. The tone was decidedly more patriotic and anti-Southern after that point.

Eventually, however, the Sentinel would go out of business entirely. The local businessman who purchased the franchise promptly sold it to the Portage County Democrat, thus ending the Sentinel’s existence forever.

By Philip Shackelford