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Role of the Media

War Correspondents

by Mitchell Roth from The United States and Mexico at War

The modern war correspondent was first introduced during the U.S.-Mexican War. Several types of war correspondents reported the war. In addition to the full-time reporters, of whom there were probably fewer than ten, most representing New Orleans newspapers, numerous free-lance writers were found anywhere there was a military presence. Many enlistees had made arrangements with their hometown papers to send home dispatches. Editors as well as their underlings served in the army, with sixteen from Massachusetts alone. During this era most newspapermen were referred to as "printers," and virtually every company of volunteers employed at least one.

Newspapermen were abundant during the conflict because so many had volunteered to fight the Mexican army. In one company of volunteers, there were at least twenty New Orleans printers. Among them were three correspondents for the New Orleans Delta: James Freaner, J. G. H. Tobin, known for his sketches "From Captain Tobin's Knapsack," and John H. Peoples, better known by his pseudonym "Chaparral."

The most celebrated correspondent of the war was George Wilkins Kendall, who cofounded the New Orleans Picayune with Francis Lumsden in 1837. Kendall was so anxious to witness warfare himself that he left Gen. Zachary Taylor's command temporarily to join the Texas Rangers under Capt. Ben McCulloch. Kendall covered most of the battles of General Taylor and Gen. Winfield Scott, including those at Chapultepec, Monterrey, Cerro Gordo, and Churubusco.

Lumsden attempted to raise his own New Orleans regiment, but he ended his recruiting drive when a better equipped mounted company from Georgia passed through the Crescent City on its way to the border and elected Lumsden as its leader.

Also representing the Picayune was Christopher Mason Haile, a Kendall protege and graduate of West Point. He joined Scott's staff during the siege of Veracruz and became widely known for his humorous letters in the paper signed "Pardon Jones."

One of Kendall's chief rivals was James Freaner, correspondent for the New Orleans Delta, who published his dispatches under the pseudonym "Mustang." He acquired his sobriquet at the battle of Monterrey, where he killed an officer of the lancers and seized his charger. In February 1848, Nicholas P. Trist entrusted Freaner to carry the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to Washington, D.C.

Although few newspapers outside the deep South sent correspondents, others were present. For example, in 1846, the New York Herald claimed that its five correspondents in Mexico "had more talent than those of any other paper," and Lucian J. Eastin published firsthand accounts under the initial "E" in the Jefferson Inquirer of Jefferson City, Missouri. Also, numerous correspondents and printers founded newspapers, which were collectively referred to as the "Anglo-Saxon Press," in Mexico's occupied cities.

The only known woman correspondent to cover the front lines was Jane McManus Storm, whose dispatches appeared under the pseudonyms "Montgomery" and "Cora Montgomery" in the New York Sun. She was the only member of the press to report from behind Mexican lines and was one of the few to criticize both U.S. military efforts and her fellow war reporters.