The first official observance of Memorial Day took place on May 30, 1868, with the laying of flowers upon the graves of Union and Confederate dead in Arlington National Cemetery. Just a few years past was the end of the Civil War, a conflict that stands as history’s most thoroughly documented set of hostilities up to that time. Press coverage of the war in periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly was extensive and is well remembered today. Less widely known is the printing that came straight from the battlefield out of small-format, print-on-demand equipment that’s recognizable as the ancestry of modern solutions for short-run production. These tabletop presses and their applications are the subjects of a fascinating online exhibition of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. “Civil War Field Printing” traces the adoption by both sides of portable printing equipment like the “Army” printing press (pictured above) that Cincinnati Type Foundry Company introduced in 1862. Inexpensive, relatively lightweight, and simple to operate, these presses could turn out up to 500 impressions per hour in formats from simple handbills to camp newspapers. “To the army and navy . . . they will be found very useful,” declares an advertisement for one of them. “They can be packed within the compass of a common traveling trunk, and transported any distance without injury.” In a postwar ad, Cincinnati Type Foundry said that its press had been judged “very convenient in the printing-offices attached to many camps during the late war.” Printed in the field on these presses were the kinds of paperwork that every military organization runs on: orders, requisition forms, receipts, and, in one notable occurrence, 28,000 blank parole slips for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia after its surrender at Appomattox. But the production workflow could be as turbulent as the conflict itself. “Printing presses, no matter how portable, were sometimes abandoned in battle situations,” says the text of the exhibition. “Equipment was left behind on occasion, and unit printers were injured or killed. Therefore, some units may have printed field documents for only a short period of time.” “The use of portable printing presses expanded after the War and a movement of amateur printers was born,” the text goes on to say. Thanks to the value it demonstrated throughout the Civil War, printing continues to be an essential component of military operations in the field. Another direct descendant of the Civil War portable presses is the U.S. Army’s Deployable Print Production Center (DPPC), a self-contained, mobile printing office that has been displayed at the Print and Graph Expo shows. The DPPC’s forte is psychological operations, a.k.a. psyops, an activity that has included the production of leaflets and other thought-influencing literature for people living in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our purpose isn’t to celebrate printing as a tool of warfighting, but to respect the role that printing has always played in helping America to bring its conflicts to a close. In his wonderful article, “When Printers Went to War,” Gene Gable makes this point as he surveys the uses of printing and the graphic arts in all phases of World War II—a struggle that showed as no other how appalling the price of war can be. As Gene writes, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the real meaning of Memorial Day “while looking at the newspaper inserts suggesting that the way to honor our war dead is to shop.” We think he would agree that the best way to commemorate their sacrifice is to reflect that because of what they gave, printing in America remains what it always has been: proud, purposeful, and forever free.