I have been interested in the Civil War since elementary school when I read a book about two brothers on different sides of the conflict. I grew up in Maryland, a border state, and had a relative who served in the Union army. I later moved to SC and realized they viewed the Civil War differently, always referring to it as The War Between the States. Even to this day, this war brings strong feelings. I was also interested in this book, not just for the fact that it was about the Civil war but I also have a close friend who is a newspaper journalist and we have discussions about journalists, the telling of the story and public opinion. This book was bringing all those things together and did not disappoint.
War News: Blue & Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil War was originally published in 1999 as Blue & Gray in Black & White, and tells the story of the Civil War through the newspapers of the time. From before the first shots were fired, through the surrender of Lee, Brayton Harris shows how the newspapers and the reporters of that time got the story, how it was published and the public’s response to it. Harris was in the US Navy and served as a media coordinator in Vietnam so he understands about covering a war from the field.
It was interesting to see that some things have not changed much: journalists will work hard to get the latest story, even going behind enemy lines, the military wants to preserve secrecy and control the story, the public wants to hear firsthand accounts and those stories can change public opinion of the war. Journalists will do anything to get the story and use the latest technological tool of the time, the telegraph, to beat their competitors to get the story back to the publisher. Harris provides a good balance of North and South perspectives and gives you a glimpse of the personalities of this war, from the president, to the generals, who made numerous mistakes, to the newspaper publishers that demanded the story, to the reporters who were the first war correspondents.
In War News: Blue & Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil, Harris has definitely added to the list of books that those who are interested in journalism and the Civil War will want to read. Check it out as we mark the 150th anniversary of this war.
What most fascinates you about the American Civil war?