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The knapsack. [volume] : (Gauley Bridge, W. Va.) 1863-1863
Place of publication:
Gauley Bridge, W. Va.
Geographic coverage:
  • Gauley Bridge, Fayette, West Virginia  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
Fifth Va. Vol. Infantry
Dates of publication:
  • Ceased in 1863?
  • Vol. 1, no. 1 (Sept. 3, 1863)-
  • English
  • Gauley Bridge (W. Va.)--Newspapers.
  • West Virginia--Gauley Bridge.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01209676
  • Archived issues are available in digital format from the Library of Congress Chronicling America online collection.
  • Editor: J.G. Downtain.
sn 85059623
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The knapsack. [volume] September 3, 1863 , Image 1


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The Knapsack

In the fall of 1863, Union soldiers of the Fifth Virginia Infantry stationed at Gauley Bridge in the western portion of Virginia (present West Virginia) formed a publishing association and began issuing theKnapsack, a four-page newspaper offered every Thursday morning for five cents. Lieutenant William Shelling and Sergeant James G. Downtain served as the editors, and the newspaper's board of directors contained several officers and at least one experienced newspaperman: C.B. Webb, formerly the editor of the Ceredo Crescent in the years prior to the Civil War. In the Knapsack's salutatory message, Editor William Shelling made clear its goals. Hoping to cater to the "military, moral and intellectual interests of the regiment," the Knapsack offered a wide variety of information meant to inform, entertain, and uplift its readers. Although only published for a few months, the paper sheds light on Civil War soldiers' lives and politics.

The Knapsack reveals the sundry details of army life. It published a schedule of religious services, praised the temperance of the soldiers while in camp, lamented their prolific profanity, and happily announced the creation of a soldier-run bakery- "an important progress, which will be valued highly by the 'Boys'." When a favorite dog of the Fifth's wagon drivers went missing, a poetic eulogy was printed. The regimental surgeon Daniel Meyer reminded readers of the importance of sleep, and the necessity of cooking beans fully before consuming them.

The Knapsack also kept its readers abreast of military affairs across the nation. In particular, it tracked the constant campaigning between Union and Confederate armies in Virginia, where the Fifth Virginia Infantry had fought the year previous. Indeed, the Knapsack devoted considerable space to an ongoing history of the regiment's service in the war, an indication that the editors wrote not just for their immediate audiences but also for posterity.

Nothing, however, captured the attention of the Knapsack's editors or its readers more than the upcoming Ohio gubernatorial election. Despite its designation as the Fifth Virginia Infantry, many of the regiment's soldiers actually hailed from Ohio. The 1863 Ohio gubernatorial election was a referendum of the war itself: Democrat Clement Vallandigham sought immediate peace with the Confederacy, while Union Party candidate John Brough stood for a continuation of the war and the restoration of the Union. The Knapsack staked a decisive position in this debate, voicing support for "the present administration in all its efforts to crush the rebellion and restore the Union of the States." The paper offered a full-throated endorsement of Brough and hoped "the vote will be so unanimous and decided that the traitors and sympathisers [sic] everywhere will understand that soldiers do not fight their enemies with guns and at the same time fight their friends with the ballot." In October 1863, Brough was elected governor with the overwhelming support of Union soldiers casting ballots in Ohio.

Undoubtedly both the Knapsack and its readers in the Fifth celebrated John Brough's victory. Unfortunately, only a few extant issues of the Knapsack survive. By December 1863, the Fifth Virginia Infantry was campaigning again and may have needed to cease publication. Despite its short tenure, however, the Knapsack gained hundreds of readers, enjoyed the support of the regiment's officers and men, and reveals how soldiers coped with camp life and remained deeply invested in the military and political affairs of the Civil War.

Provided by: West Virginia University