Fresh news from Gettysburg battleground

Cullen Aubrey couldn't sell the newspapers fast enough. Every Union soldier seemed to want a copy of The Inquirer.

Amazingly, the paper carried news of the first day's fighting at Gettysburg, Pa., before the outcome of the three-day battle was known.

"The papers went like gingerbread at the state fair," wrote Aubrey, an industrious newsboy who later described the response in a book, Reflections of a Newsboy in the Army of the Potomac.

The sales of the paper - and the coup of getting the news coverage on the battlefield so quickly - was only possible because of The Inquirer's star reporter, Uriah Hunt Painter.

In an era when travel and communications were limited, Painter took a train from Baltimore to Westminster, Md., then a horse to Gettysburg.

Hundreds of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were converging on the rural town, along with at least 30 newspaper correspondents.

Painter arrived on the evening of July 1 and got busy reporting. He quickly pulled together a story despite the difficulties of covering a far-flung fight over rural landscape nearly devoid of telegraph and rail lines.

Then he returned to Baltimore on July 2 and telegraphed the War Department at 8:15 p.m.:

"I have a full account of the battle yesterday & partial list of casualties. Can fair & impartial account go to Phila. Inquirer."

The military censor passed his story, and The Inquirer carried a four-column account on the morning of July 3. Papers were sent by train to Baltimore and Westminster, where Aubrey picked them up the same day.

The boy strapped piles of unfolded Inquirers in the front and back of the saddle and rode to Gettysburg. Along the Union line, he was very popular with troops anxious for news.

That same afternoon, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered a massive bombardment of the federal line on Cemetery Ridge, followed by a concentrated assault on the Union center. The attack that followed - known as Pickett's Charge - was repulsed.

Back in Philadelphia, residents breathed a heavy sigh of relief. On July 4, they read Inquirer headlines about Gettysburg:

THE GREAT BATTLE!

HIGHLY IMPORTANT!

FROM THE SEAT OF WAR.

In a special edition on July 6, The Inquirer used its largest headline type:

VICTORY!!

WATERLOO ECLIPSED!!

The Desperate Battles Near Gettysburg!

REPULSE OF THE REBELS AT ALL POINTS!!

Painter detailed Lee's unsuccessful attack. But the war was far from over for the newsman, once described by a New York World correspondent as "made of iron."

He and other Inquirer reporters would be following it for nearly two more years.

 


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.