Primary Sources: The National Tribune

One of my very favorite primary sources is The National Tribune. The Trib began as a monthly newspaper intended for Union veterans of the Civil War, and was published monthly until 1881. Beginning in 1881, it was published weekly, and continued to be published under that name until 1917, when it finally ceased publication. By then, of course, many of the veterans had passed away. The Trib also published 24 books during the course of its run, many of which are now difficult to find. The Trib was chock-full of first-hand accounts of veterans, ranging from prominent officers to common privates. Most of them are not available anywhere else, and many are entertaining. One must take some of them with a grain of salt, but they are always useful and often fascinating.

I first learned of the existence of the Trib in the mid-1990’s when I got serious about writing Civil War history. In those days, there was no index available, and you either had to have specific citations, or you had to know Dr. Richard Sauers, who was working on indexing it. Fortunately, Rick Sauers is an old friend, and he was always willing to share the information at his disposal. Savas-Beatie has since published Rick’s index in a three-volume set. Needless to say, I was one of the first to order them, and I use them extensively today.

The other problem was accessibility. There are very few complete runs of the Trib to be found anywhere, and almost all copies of it are on microfilm today. Using the Trib either meant a trip to the U.S. Army Military History Institute at the Carlisle Barracks to use the microfilm, or inter-library loan. Either way, it was never easy to get access and it never happened quickly. Fortunately, the entire run of the Trib  held by the Library of Congress (which is not a complete run; there are some missing issues) is available on-line in digitized format for free. They can be found here:https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. The images are available both as PDF and text files, although the OCR on the text files is not great, and it can sometimes be really difficult to work with the text files as a result. The same digital images are also available at www.newspapers.com.

Anyone who reads my work regularly knows that I rely heavily upon the Trib. Like any source based on recollections recorded years after the fact, there are detail issues, and there are accuracy and corroboration issues, but the Trib is perhaps my favorite primary source for human interest stories.

About Eric J. Wittenberg

Award-winning Civil War historian Eric J. Wittenberg focuses on cavalry operations in the Civil War.
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3 Responses to Primary Sources: The National Tribune

  1. Ed Sargus says:

    Great stuff. Thanks Eric.

  2. Great post! The Trib has been invaluable to me in my research

  3. Mike Maxwell says:

    Eric Wittenberg
    Thanks for alerting other Civil War fanatics to the existence of this valuable primary reference (a newspaper that was created to help Veterans keep in touch, better understand the experience they had lived through, and most crucially, to keep Veterans appraised of developments in regard to Pensions, disability pension requirements, Bounty Land availability, etc.)
    Letters from individuals with “peculiar knowledge” and exchanges between veterans with opposing views IRT battle outcomes (such as a series of exchanges between Generals Veatch and Hovey regarding flaws at Battle of Shiloh) …first-hand information, not to be found anywhere else.
    Another tip: at the Chronicling America site, use peculiar single-word entries in the Search Feature (such as Veatch, Hovey, Pittsburg, or Shiloh…) after selecting “District of Columbia” (where the newspaper was published) and a run of 2 or 3 years (1882 – 1884 for example) and sift through the returns. Guaranteed, surprises are waiting…
    Thanks again, Eric. And wishing everyone a bountiful 2019

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