How much influence did newspaper editors have on the Civil War?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
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Aug 25, 2012
Editors like Robert Barnsell Rhett of the Charleston Mercury influenced how the war was fought. Newspapers of the Civil War era were not overly objective and the newspapers often were associated with a political parties. Editors often allowed their personal views to creep in to how thier newspapers reported the news. This gave the editors tremendous power. Often instead of just reporting the news, editors attempted to shaped the events about to occur.

But just how much did these editors impact the war? It does appear that newspaper editors could make or break a general. By helping to shape who the generals were, the editors could have a huge influence on the war. So what is your opinion on this subject?
 

Bruce Vail

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Lincoln understood that Greely controlled a vast amount of influence over the population in New York, and overseas. The prominent newspapers that were read by the Parliament and the French Republic could persuade those countries on how much attention they should spend with the crisis here in America.
Lubliner.

Greeley was very influential in the Republican coalition, which is why Lincoln paid such close attention to him. Post-Emancipation Proclamation, Greeley's influence declined, as the Republican coalition solidified behind Lincoln's slavery policies. By the time Greely ran for president in 1872 his influence had all but vanished.
 
Sam Wilkeson of the New York Tribune managed a team of reporters in the field. The following excerpt is from a letter to his editor stating that a reporter accompanying soldiers in the field, ought to share their hardships.

"Colston came to me yesterday with his lifeless drawling whine about the impossibility of getting 'accommodations' and buying forage for his horse. Soon he asked me for money (I have furnished him $25 in all) and announced his purpose of going to retrieve from the mail a box of summer clothing and of comforts sent to him by his wife. The mention of the word 'comforts' by a newspaper man in the field enraged me. He has no more right to them than private soldiers have.

"The work needs first Class men: men of physical courage, intelligence, tact, patience, endurance, DEVOTION.

"To enlarge on this—while my hand is in. I wear four shirts a week when I am at home. The flannel shirt I have on I have worn five weeks. It is abominable, certainly. But it is not unendurable. . . . Rails make my bed. . . . My jackknife is my spoon, knife, fork, and toothpick. . . . My horse (the Tribune's) don't starve & by God! he shan't starve. I have burst open a planter's store room, and taken the hominy corn hidden for his family's food, and shelled half a bushel of it with my fingers, and fed it to 'Bayard' out of my pocket handkerchief—running the risk of the Provost Marshal. That pocket handkerchief—certainly, I have washed it ten times. Washing! It has not cost me 80 cents since I left Washington. He must be damned helpless who cant wash clothes."
Brayton Harris, Blue & Gray in Black & White - Newspapers in the Civil War, pg. 120
 

ForeverFree

Major
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District of Columbia
Historians today would wholeheartedly agree that the most influential people in 1860's influencing public opinion regarding any aspect of the war fell into one of four categories. I list them in no particular order:

1. Politicians (Government)
2. Academians (Colleges)
3. Orators (Prominent Public Speakers)
4. Newspaper Editors (Written Press)
I would include
5. Friends/Family/Word of Mouth
6. Church.

- Alan
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Actually, I don't believe that newspapers had that much of an influence on the war itself. The minds of those who read them (officers and political leaders) were already made up; editorials especially were often just "preaching to the choir". A good many of the soldiers themselves were illiterate and couldn't read.

The news that was followed were the lists of wounded and killed.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
As far as Northern newspapers are concerned, I'd say the influence of political parties and the influence of editors were two sides of the same coin. As noted in other posts, most Northern newspapers were little more than party organs, and the individual editors did not excercise much independent editorial judgement. (A notable exception here would be our friend Greeley.) As news outlets in a one-party state, the Confederate newspapers were a different story. They tended to be advocates for regional political leaders in the conflicts with central government of the Confederacy (Davis).
 

Lubliner

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I think the newspapers influenced congressional districts, which led to commitments with the representatives in the House. As well, the huge campaign for recruiting could be broadcast and compared with different districts and States. The competitive nature for hawking thrived with editorial bias.
Lubliner.
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
Editors like Robert Barnsell Rhett of the Charleston Mercury influenced how the war was fought. Newspapers of the Civil War era were not overly objective and the newspapers often were associated with a political parties. Editors often allowed their personal views to creep in to how thier newspapers reported the news. This gave the editors tremendous power. Often instead of just reporting the news, editors attempted to shaped the events about to occur.

But just how much did these editors impact the war? It does appear that newspaper editors could make or break a general. By helping to shape who the generals were, the editors could have a huge influence on the war. So what is your opinion on this subject
While I agree that newspapers did play a significant role in the CW, on further thought I would add a significant caveat.
The 1950's brought a great change to American thought. Walter Cronkite and his colleagues wrought a great change on the American psyche. He promoted the concept that TV news and by extension all other forms--newspaper, magazines, books and radio were all simple purveyors of fact. Too a large degree this was a simple fact.

We have to remember that in the 1860's newspapers were not fact providers, they were rabidly partisan. There was no newspaper in Richmond, Charleston or New Orleans that was pro north, anti slavery, or anti secession. The converse was true in New York, Chicago or Philadelphia.

The significance of this is that they were preaching to the converted AND THE CONVERTED KNEW IT. For instance the southern newspapers were publishing to readers who were already solid proponents of slavery, who viewed the North as an enemy and secession as a good idea. Not that had no influence but less than we would expect given today's atmosphere.
 
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