We live in an age of seemingly incessant and increasingly intrusive advertising. In a world where algorithms monitor our online browsing to offer us individually tailored ads, it is easy to consider opportunistic advertisement as a relatively modern phenomenon. Of course that is not necessarily the case. A review of advertisements from periods like the 1860s demonstrates just how clued in those creating them were to the needs and concerns of their target audience. I decided to take a look at a number of ads aimed specifically at Irish soldiers and their families during the war, largely from the New York Irish-American Weekly. In them we find everything from the practicalities of how to get packages to and from the front to where you could buy presents for the soldier in your life. The 1860s equivalent of “celebrity culture” is represented in the sale of images and memoirs of and by the most popular members of Irish-American society. For the families of those who never came home, solicitors were on hand to offer their services, some with specific reference to recent bloody engagements. Meanwhile, and perhaps most insidiously, the medicine salesmen pulled at the heartstrings of those whose loved ones’ were still alive, by offering remedies for every conceivable ailment connected with military service.
In the 1860s, as now, advertisement was a major source of finance for many newspapers. Each issue of the New York Irish-American Weekly contained large numbers of them, many specifically targeting the Irish community. This ad lists the paper’s advertising rates as published on 8th March 1862.
Shipping to the Front
Getting money and packages safely to and from the front was a major consideration of practically every soldier in the service. In this Harnden Express advertisement from the New York Irish-American Weekly of 9th May 1863, those with family in the Irish Brigade were specifically targeted.
Another Harnden Express Advertisement, showing the main articles they were willing to transport. New York Irish-American Weekly, 9th April 1862.
The Adams’ Express were unrivalled in their role of getting material to and from the Army of the Potomac, and are mentioned in hundreds of Irish-American letters. This advertisement ran in the New York Irish-American Weekly of 31st January 1863, a few weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Food, Clothing & Accoutrements
Food, clothing and accoutrements were often the subject of ads. This is a section of an advertisement for Tiffany’s, run in the New York Irish-American Weekly on 3rd January 1863, highlighting their “Military Departmen” where there were many potential “gifts for the Union Soldier.”
Advertisement for Fowler & Griffin of Greenwich Street, highlighting their War Prices for groceries. Advertisement run in the New York Irish-American Weekly, 5th July 1862.
Advertisement for Benedict Brothers of Broadway, suggesting that soldiers provide themselves with an “American Watch” before returning home. Advertisement from the New York Irish-American Weekly, 29th June 1865.
The concept of commemorative posters or pull-outs was alive and well in the 19th century, and appealing to the celebrity of Irish leaders was big business. This advertisement of an upcoming portrait of Michael Corcoran in the New York Illustrated News ran in the New York Irish-American Weekly on 23rd August 1862.
General Corcoran’s popularity was an opportunity to make money, particularly given the increase in his fame following his capture at First Bull Run and subsequent imprisonment. Following his release, his account of his time in Southern prison was in huge demand. Advertisement from the New York Irish-American Weekly on 18th July 1863.
This publication targeted both soldiers and those at home who wanted to read accounts of the late battles of the war. It also appeals to the strong support for General McClellan among the Irish-American community by highlighting that each copy contained an “autograph letter” from him. Advertisement from the New York Irish-American Weekly of 9th May 1863.
Death & Entitlements
From the summer of 1862 onwards both disabled veterans and the widows and dependents of deceased soldiers became eligible for U.S. pensions. In addition family often needed to access back-pay and bounties to which they were entitled. This became major business for solicitors, who took to running advertisements offering their services to the bereaved. This ad for R.S. Davis of Louisiana Avenue was specifically targeting Irish New Yorkers who had lost loved ones at the Second Battle of Bull Run, fought a few weeks previously. New York Irish-American Weekly, 22nd November 1862.
The U.S. Army Agency at 64 Bleeker Street must have been a busy place. This advertisement from the New York Irish-American Weekly of 20th August 1864 instructed people how they could go about lodging their claims.
The entitlement to pensions based on Civil War service was not restricted to the Irish in America. There were also opportunities for the legal profession in Ireland as a result of the war. This advertisement for R.H. O’Bryan of Queenstown (now Cobh) in Co. Cork is testament to the number of families in Ireland who lost loved ones during the conflict. The Waterford News, 24th April 1863.
Throughout the war all sorts of remedies were offered for the assistance of soldier’s at the front. The majority almost certainly provided little benefit. A popular ad targeting not only the soldier’s but their loved ones at home was for Loway’s Pills, which offered to stave of the impact of sickness in the army. This advertisement ran in the New York Irish-American on 31st May 1862.
Another advertisement expounds the benefits of Loway’s Pills for the troops, this time from the New York Irish-American of 18th July 1863.
A rival to Loway’s was “Radway’s Ready Relief.” This ad from the New York Irish-American Weekly of 4th April 1863 was specifically targeting those with “friends in the army” so that they might buy their product and thus “protect soldiers against sickness.”
Holloway’s- Masters of Advertising
Off all the remedies on offer during this period, none rivalled the success of Holloway’s. The company, established in Britain by Thomas Holloway, became famous for driving their sales through advertisement and endorsements. Holloway himself became an extremely wealthy man as a result (money he bequeathed in his will led to the establishment of Royal Holloway College in London). They ran dozens of advertisements through the war in newspapers like the New York Irish-American, offering their product as a cure for every imaginable soldierly-related ailment. This from the Irish-American of 31st October 1863.
Holloway’s Ointment & Pills, the “Soldier’s True Friend,” New York, 1862 (Library of Congress)
This example of a Holloway’s ad, from the Irish-American of 21st February 1863, warns young men considering a soldiery life not to do so without a box of Holloway’s Pills.
Providing endorsements from soldiers was a favourite strategy of Holloway’s in their advertising. They also sought to exploit interest in goings-on from the front. This ad from the Irish-American of 17th May 1862 brings news from Yorktown on the Virginia Peninsula. The “T. Hanley” of the 9th New York Cavalry, who endorsed the pills, was a real soldier, Timothy Hanley, who ended the war as Lieutenant-Colonel (Click to Enlarge).
Another endorsement of Holloway’s Pills from an officer of the 9th Cavalry, who appear to have been particular fans of the remedy! From the New York Irish-American Weekly, 1863.
In their extensive ads, Holloway’s would claim the pills were beneficial for everything imaginable, even bullet and bayonet wounds. New York Irish-American Weekly, 31st October 1863.
Another extract from the Holloway’s advertisement aimed at the troops and their families from the Irish-American in 1863. Diarrhoea, dysentry, scurvy, sores and scorfulous eruptions all fall at the feet of this miracle cure.
The impact of Holloway’s Pills on “coughs and colds affecting troops”, New York Irish American Weekly, 31st October 1863.
In one of the few references to veneral disease from the New York Irish-American– here referred to as “indiscretions of youth”- Holloway’s recommend a combination of their pills and ointment to ensure success. New York Irish-American Weekly, 4th February 1864.
New York Irish-American Weekly