You should first read the tutorial on newspapers before continuing with this activity. The tutorial provides a brief overview on using newspaper articles in historical research.
Researchers examining a particular issue using newspapers as primary sources should be sure to consult different newspapers to learn different perspectives. These two articles may offer a researcher a glimpse at public attitudes in regards to desertion and to punishments for military offences during the war. The article taken from the Raleigh Standard was found through a keyword search on Newspaper Archive, and was fairly easy to find. On the other hand, the article taken from the Weekly Raleigh Register was preserved on microfilm, which was found in the state library of North Carolina in Raleigh. Unfortunately, there is no indexing system for the Register, so it was found the “old fashioned way” (i.e. with a lot of skimming and reading). It is important to know where and how an article or editorial was found to determine if it is representative of the newspaper’s perspective as a whole.
Read the two articles to compare their perspectives. Consider the questions in the tutorial. Knowing that the Raleigh Standard placed greater emphasis on the individual solider overall and worked to encourage questioning of the national government, are there any clues in this article that may back this up? Of course, there may be several ways to interpret these articles, but it seems as though there are two key aspects of the Standard’s article that suggest that it was working to create sympathy for the soldier while subtly questioning the actions of the army. First, the Standard was sure to give the soldiers’ names and mention how the two acted in their final minutes before being shot, while the Register did nothing of the sort. It may be the case that the Standard’s writer was working to give more humanity and thus more sympathy to the two men who had, at that point, either been drafted into the army or who had been given a forced extension on their volunteer enlistment. The Register, on the other hand, may have been attempting to paint the picture more as soldiers who had broken their allegiance. Also, toward the end the Standard’s seems to take on more of a somber tone, hoping that the executions have some sort of benefit in the end. The Register is clear, though, in saying that the executions should have been an example for anyone who might have been thinking of also deserting. The Register also calls the act an offense, which further suggests that the act was wrong.
One should also consider when the articles were published. Obviously, having been both published in 1862, the two articles are relevant to the Civil War as whole, but at the same time they were published more than two months apart from one another. Does the more somber and humane approach of the later Standard reflect changing attitudes in North Carolina? Could this approach also be related to the election of Zebulon Vance as more of a state and individual rights oriented governor? You can only answer these questions with further research. Further reading into both newspapers suggests that the differences in perspective in the two articles are less reflective of the two-month time difference and more reflective of the stances that the newspapers had been taking at least since the passage of the Conscription Acts.