Charles Anderson Dana

Courtesy of THE Historical Society of Cheshire County

Charles A. Dana of Hinsdale, as seen in the 1850s, was a key figure in the Civil War and in New York journalism.

Charles Anderson Dana, the fourth and oldest child of Anderson and Ann Dana, was born in Hinsdale in August of 1819. His father operated a store there, and young Dana attended local schools. His mother died when he was 9 years old and he went to live with his uncle. At age 12, he went to work at his uncle’s store in Buffalo, N.Y. He entered Harvard in 1839, but could not complete his studies because of poor eyesight.

While at Harvard, Dana became interested in socialist ideas. After leaving the school, he joined the Brook Farm utopian socialist community in Roxbury, Mass. He spent several years there with George Ripley, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other philosophers.

Dana entered the field of journalism when the Brook Farm community was discontinued. He joined the staff of the New York Tribune in 1847, and was soon managing editor, working closely with Horace Greeley. Dana and Greeley fought a diligent battle in the columns of the Tribune against the spread of slavery.

Dana left the Tribune after the Civil War began and was immediately offered a position in the War Department in Washington. In 1863, he was appointed assistant secretary of war under President Lincoln. He held this position through the remaining years of the conflict, spending considerable time on the battlefield gathering firsthand information to report to Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton. He spent much time with the army of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and had a major impact on Grant’s career.

After the war, Dana returned to New York and headed a group that purchased The Sun newspaper of New York City. He remained in control of the newspaper until his death almost 30 years later. The Sun flourished under his leadership, and Charles Anderson Dana, Hinsdale native, became known throughout the country as a “genius of journalism.”

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.