Harpers Weekly

American Civil War Correspondent and Special Artist
James Allen Davis


Clarence J. Lipsey

Mr. Lipsey at the Calico Silver Mining camp in California.

Clarence J. Lipsey was born in 1828 in Albany, New York, the son of a prominent local editor. He studied at Columbia College in New York City, where he took a particular interest in the natural sciences. Dissatisfied with the prospects of following in his father's footsteps as a journalist, Mr. Lipsey lit out for the gold fields of California in 1849 at the age of 21, determined to make a fortune for himself in the West.

After surviving the perilous ocean voyage around Cape Horn, Lipsey arrived in San Francisco in September 1849, and went immediately to the mining camp along the American River near Sutter's Mill. He soon found that more fortunes were being lost than made, and after having to sell most of his personal possessions to buy food, he began earning a meager living writing letters for the miners and submitting freelance articles on the gold fields to the New York Herald.

Above right: Mr. Lipsey at a silver mining camp in California in 1855.

In 1850, he was offered a position as a field correspondent for the Science and Mining News, covering the technological and scientific developments in the gold and silver fields. He was also hired as an assistant engineer and surveyor by a local entrepreneur in hydraulic mining, but resigned after witnessing the destructive effects of this particular method of mineral extraction on the pristine Sierra Nevada landscape. By 1853, Lipsey had relocated to San Francisco and made a name for himself as a popular writer and essayist, traveling about with his canvas duster, custom boots, compass, tinted spectacles, and Colt's Wells Fargo .31 caliber "hideout" revolver.

By 1856 he had tired of the avaricious and capricious economic realities of Gold Rush California and was casting his eyes about for a new opportunity to seek adventure and fortune on a regular salary. He found it in a fortuitous letter from Mr. Henry Raymond, editor of the New York Times, who had read Lipsey's California columns and offered him a position as a Special Correspondent covering the troubles in "Bleeding Kansas." Lipsey accepted the assignment and traveled east to Kansas Territory, where he spent the next five years writing accounts of the unfolding struggle between anti-slavery and pro-slavery settlers, exploring the Flint Hills in search of new minerals, and tinkering in chemical experiments with Dr. Lawrence Duncan, an army surgeon based at Fort Leavenworth.

Davis & Lipsey at the All Sorts Saloon in Leavenworth, Kansas, December 1861.

Davis & Lipsey at the All Sorts Saloon in Leavenworth, Kansas, December 1861.

Soon after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Mr. Raymond offered Lipsey an extended position as Special Correspondent for the duration of the Southern Rebellion. While nursing a weak whiskey in the All Sorts Saloon in Leavenworth, Kansas on December 11, 1861, Lipsey met Lt. J.A. Davis of Jennison's Jayhawkers, and the two became fast friends, in spite of Lipsey's low opinion of "irregulars." Three weeks later, Davis left the Jayhawkers and returned to his home in Cincinnati, rejoining the Army in January as a scout for General U.S. Grant's 1862 Tennessee campaign. Lipsey was assigned to St. Louis by Mr. Raymond to cover the war along the Mississippi River, spending a few weeks aboard the Eads ironclads, and keeping in touch with Davis through regular correspondence.

Lipsey met up with Davis again at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee in April, on his way east to cover the upcoming Peninsula Campaign in Virginia. Davis had been wounded by shrapnel at the Battle of Shiloh while carrying dispatches for General W.H.L. Wallace, and Lipsey helped to persuade him to leave the Army and accept an offer to cover the Peninsula Campaign as a Special Artist Correspondent for Harper's Weekly. Lipsey and Davis joined several other members of the "Bohemian Brigade" such as Alfred Waud, Thomas Nast, Charles Palmer, Junius Browne, W.S. Halliday, and Ephraim Gantt, following the Army of the Potomac through many campaigns, including Yorktown and Williamsburg (where they were carried aloft by Dr. Thaddeus Lowe's observation balloon, the Intrepid), the Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. After the New York Draft Riots that summer, Davis traveled to Tennessee to cover the campaigns at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, while Lipsey remained in New York City as an assistant editor and typesetting manager for the New York Times. The two reunited again as field correspondents during Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864 and remained in Virginia through the siege of Petersburg. Both were present for Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

After the war, Mr. Lipsey settled in Chicago, Illinois, where he became a well-known and successful editor and publisher of several scientific journals of note. He was reunited with his old friend and fellow correspondent, J.A. Davis, on Custer's 1874 Black Hills Expedition, in which both men were followed about by young cavalry troopers and newspapermen eager to hear stories of famous battles during the Civil War. He traveled by steamer to Paris, France in 1876 to be the best man at Davis's marriage to Mary Willey, and rode to San Francisco on the transcontinental railroad in 1907 to be present at Davis's funeral. The following year, when he was 80 years of age, Lipsey purchased one of Henry Ford's new automobiles, in which he was often seen driving about Chicago and the surrounding countryside in tinted goggles, pilot's scarf, and riding gloves. He died in San Diego, California in 1915 at the ripe old age of 87, after speaking to enthusiastic and admiring crowds at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in Balboa Park.


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