This segment features a news item from Fayette County’s past. This week we examine the February 27, 1862 edition of the Genius of Liberty.
On a February evening in Cumberland, MD, Captain James Morris of the 7th Virginia Regiment sat down to pen a difficult letter.
“It becomes my painful duty to inform you, that your Son, John Deyarman, departed this life in the Hospital in this place, about twenty minutes since, of Typhoid Fever,” he wrote. “He was sick but a short time . . . I never learned until last night after dark, that he was bad or dangerous, and then I took the first train, and came up to see him, and found him dying.”
By the time they received the letter, the Deyarmans’ son — who Morris said was “always at his post and willing to do his duty” — would already be “decently interred.” The captain promised to have the grave marked so that the family could remove the remains if they pleased, but today, Private Deyarman still rests in Antietam National Cemetery.
“Although he did not died on the field of battle,” Captain Morris said in closing, “we consider him none the less brave.”
The letter printed in the Genius of Liberty, while personal in nature, likely felt all-too-familiar in many Fayette County households. Nearly a year into the Civil War, the bulk of the writing in the local newspaper related to the war effort and the public’s conflicting opinions of the country’s future.
Here are some of the topics covered in this edition alone:
– Celebrations of George Washington’s birthday in different parts of the country, including Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore, and Huntingdon. Businesses were closed in most places, the streets festooned with flags and bunting, and both sunrise and sunset were marked with gunfire salutes or the ringing of bells. While our first president’s birthday would not become an official holiday until 1885, the traditional reading of Washington’s Farewell Address by a member of the Senate began in 1862.
– Discussions on the future of the liberated slave, including quotes by Frederick Douglass: “Slaves have the will, the capacity, and the power to rise to the highest position among the whites.” The St. Louis Republican was dismissive toward this speech, writing: “These harangues don’t hurt anybody, and are not gaining many proselytes just now.”
– The court martial of several officers and privates in General Peck’s Brigade for offenses ranging from going AWOL to “mutinous conduct” to drunkenness and disobedience. A particular unsavory sentence was meted out to one James Ford, a corporal who was “to be reduced to the rank of a private, to forfeit ten dollars per month of his monthly pay for 18 months . . . [and] to be confined at hard labor under guard, with ball and chain, for three months in regimental quarters.”
– Announcements such as the message from the Secretary of War outlining restrictions on telegraph lines and the military’s use of them. The Genius also announced the appropriation of ten million dollars for the construction for ironclad vessels for “river, harbor, and coast defense.”
The newspaper ran a lot of content from other sources, particularly the Pittsburgh Post and Pittsburgh Gazette. In one article, the former remarked that “the government under which we have live and flourished for 80 years will answer our purpose for some time to come.” For its part, the Genius offered a definition of democracy on its front page:
“Democracy: A sentiment not to be appalled, corrupted or compromised. It knows no baseness, it cowers to no danger, it oppresses no weakness. Destructive only of despotism, it is the sole conservator of liberty, labor, and property. It is the sentiment of Freedom, of equal rights, of equal obligations — the law of nature pervading the law of the land.”