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Vicksburg History

Wallpaper Newspaper: Americana relic from Vicksburg

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Vicksburg is home to one of the rarest artifacts of Americana history: a newspaper, The Vicksburg Daily Citizen, printed after the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4th, 1863. It circulated throughout town after a Union soldier discovered the press of J. M. Swords and reset the type for a July 2nd edition of the paper. Swords had resorted to using wallpaper as a medium for his publication throughout the Siege, as supplies had become extremely limited. Thus, the July 4th Wallpaper Edition of The Vicksburg Daily Citizen was born.Wallpaper Newspaper

J. M. Swords had an office on Crawford Street where his publication came out at regular intervals. It was typically a four-paged columned paper covering local and national news. He used an old model Franklin Press, which required each letter insert to be set into a mold and pressed onto treated paper that Swords himself produced on-site. Once Vicksburg came under Siege by General Grant’s Army, it became impossible for Swords to acquire new supplies for his press. So he resorted to decreasing the size of his publication to a single page and using the wallpaper from his office to craft printing paper. His work kept the citizens of Vicksburg informed throughout the siege, even giving them news on military movements throughout the nation. His last publication was printed on July 2nd, and seemingly in haste, he abandoned his office with the type still set in place for that edition.

The July 2nd edition of the Citizen is most notable for a sly remark Swords had made about General Grant in the closing column. “On Dit. – That the great Ulysses – the Yankee Generalissimo, surnamed Grant – has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on Saturday next, and celebrating the 4th of July by a grand dinner and so forth. When asked if he would invite Gen. Jo Johnston to join, he said, ‘No! For fear there will be a row at the table.’ Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook a rabbit is ‘first to catch the rabbit.'” The statement was bold and further pushed the narrative that the people of Vicksburg were not ready to surrender. Ironically, General Pemberton was indeed ready to surrender and hoped July 4th would bring about favorable terms for the Confederate army.

On July 4th, William T. Gardner of the 97th Illinois was among the first units to enter the city and was tasked with clearing dugouts in the fortified area. During this operation, Gardner came across Swords’ abandoned press and, upon viewing the July 2nd edition of the paper, decided it would be fitting to add an updated correction to the script. “Two days bring about great changes. The Banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit’; he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. For the last time, it appears on ‘Wall-paper’.” Gardner later wrote in his memoirs that only 50 papers were printed that day on the remaining supply of wallpaper and were distributed throughout the army as souvenirs.

Unbeknownst to Gardner at the time, the July 4th edition of the Wallpaper newspaper became quite famous across the United States. Reprints of it were made and sold, and several were handed out at the Blue and Gray Reunions held in Vicksburg. However, very few of the originals have been rediscovered. By 1946, only eight of the originals were accounted for. While many believed their reprints were original copies, almost all of them had corrected spelling mistakes and various other errors that constituted the original publication. As of today, several more copies have reappeared, and two new wallpaper patterns have been verified as authentic. Multiple originals are archived at the Old Court House Museum, and on display are the originals of both the July 2nd and 4th editions of the printing.

 

Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society

If you enjoyed this story about the famous Wallpaper Newspaper and want to learn more about this area, please consider visiting the Old Court House Museum here in Vicksburg, MS. We’ve been a museum for 75 years now, and all items on display represent the history of our community. We also have a vast archive in our McCardle Research Library that is accessible by appointment. Members of the Historical Society have free admission to the museum, so please also consider becoming a member! All proceeds raised through membership go directly to the preservation of this museum and its contents. For more information, visit our website at www.oldcourthouse.org or give us a call at 601-636-0741. You never know what you’ll find at the Old Court House!

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