"'Spend Much Time in Reading the Daily Papers': The Press and Army Morale in the Civil War."
by James McPherson

Whether they were at home or on the front, Southerners and Northerners passed through more intense experiences during the Civil War than any other generation of Americans. Time and consciousness seemed to take on new dimensions as apprehensive civilians gathered outside newspaper offices waiting for news from the battlefields and soldiers eagerly snatched the latest New York Herald or Richmond Dispatch from newsboys in army camps. "These are fearfully critical, anxious days," wrote a New Yorker waiting for news from the fighting in the Wilderness in May 1864, " In which the destinies of the continent for centuries will be decided." These words were echoed by Virginia's fire-eating secessionist Edmund Ruffin. "The excitement of the war, & interest in its incidents, have absorbed everything else," he wrote in his diary. "We think and talk of nothing else." From the American legation in London, Henry Adams wrote to his brother in the Army of the Potomac that the war might unfit them ever again "to live contented in times of peace and laziness. Our generation has been stirred up from its lowest layers and there is that in our history which will stamp every member of it until we are all in our graves.... One does every day and without a second thought, what would at another time be the event of a year, perhaps of a life."1

Some of this experience was direct and personal. Much of it, however, was lived vicariously through newspapers. "We must have something to eat, and the papers to read," declared Oliver Wendell Holmes in August 1861 as his son and namesake prepared to depart for Virginia as an officer in the 20th Massachusetts. "Everything else we can do without.... Only bread and the newspaper we must have." The same was true in the armies. Major daily papers from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, or Richmond were available to the armies in Virginia a day or two after publications, sometimes even during active campaigns. Elsewhere the papers might be delayed longer in reaching the armies, but reach them they did, and according to one contemporary, the soldiers "devour papers with a rapidity that astonished them that have less leisure time."2

Foreign observers expressed amazement at this phenomenon. When they reflected, however, that these soldiers were citizens in uniform, volunteers from civilian life in the world's most politicized society with the largest per capita newspaper circulation in the world, men who had joined the armies in the first place to resolve a national crisis but yielded none of their civilian concerns about that crisis, they understood better the soldiers' passion for newspapers. The Comte de Paris, an exile from Napoleon's France -- and a pretender to the French throne -- who came to the United States with his brother and their uncle and served on General George McClellan's staff for a time, wrote that soldiers in the Army of the Potomac were "active citizens in their respective counties and States... fully acquainted with public affairs and could not dispense with newspapers.... In every tent the latest news brought by the Herald or Tribune was read in the evening and eagerly discussed, while the soldier on duty, if he thought himself unobserved, walked up and down with his musket in one hand and his newspaper in the other."3

Another French soldier of fortune was Gustave Paul Cluseret, a graduate of St. Cyr and a French army officer for two decades before he wangled a brigade command under General John C. Fremont in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. Looking back on this Civil War adventure a few years later, Cluseret wrote that "if the American volunteers accomplished prodigies of patience, energy, and devotion it is because they fought with knowledge of the cause. In the midst of the messiest business one could hear the squeaking voice of the 'news boy' over the sound of the fusillade, crying 'New York Tribune, New York Herald.' The soldier paid up to 10 cents for the newspaper, stuffing it under the flap of his pack; and at the first break, he ran his eyes quickly over it. After reading it, one could see his face light up or become somber. But whatever his feelings were, there would be a redoubling of his zeal and drive."4

The leading historian of Civil War soldiers, Bell Irvin Wiley, found newspaper circulation to be greater among Union than Confederate soldiers. It is quite true that literacy rates were higher in the North than in the South and that the per capita antebellum circulation of newspapers had been three times as large in the free states as in the slave states. And, during the Civil War there were four or five times as many reporters with Union armies as with Confederate armies."5 Nevertheless, Johnny Reb was as avid a reader of newspapers -- when he could get them -- as Billy Yank. In January 1862 a private in the 17th Mississippi stationed near Leesburg, Virginia, wrote in his diary: "Spend much time in reading the daily papers & discussing the war question in general. We always close by coming to the conclusion that we will after much hard fighting succeed in establishing our independence." Two years later a lieutenant in the 4th Virginia reported that the "boys" spent much of their time in winter quarters reading the papers. We "make comments on the news and express our opinions quite freely about the blood and thunder editorials in the Richmond papers, smoke again and go to bed." Even in the Petersburg trenches later that summer, soldiers in the 43rd Alabama "have daily access to the Richmond papers....We spend much of our time in reading these journals and discussing the situation."6

As the war went on, however, the occupation of several Southern cities by Union forces and growing shortages of paper and ink in the rest of the South put an end to several Confederate newspapers and reduced the size of those that remained. Few Confederate soldiers enjoyed the luxury noted by a lieutenant in the 50th Ohio, which was not untypical in the Union army. "I receive the 'Chronicle' regularly," this lieutenant wrote to his brother back home in 1863. "The boys all want to read it.... The officers subscribed $4.75 each for papers for the benefit of the boys. [We] get four daily papers, all loyal and right on politics"-that is, anti-Copperhead.7

Like most Americans today, Civil War soldiers had a kind of love-hate relationship with the media. But in their case, it was with newspapers, including the illustrated weeklies such as Harper'sFrank Leslie's, and the Southern Illustrated News. Soldiers often denounced the biases or inaccuracies of the newspapers but could not stop reading them. In the Union armies, particularly, Republican and Democratic soldiers argued over the editorial policies of the New York Tribune versus the New York Herald, the Chicago Tribune versus the Chicago Times, and so on. More than one fistfight, and sometimes a free-for-all melee, grew out of these arguments.

Even more than the editorials or political news, soldiers read newspapers for war news, especially stories about their own units or accounts of battles in which they had fought. But they were by no means uncritical readers -- quite the contrary. The notoriously exaggerated, distorted, partisan, romanticized, and, in some cases, fictionalized accounts of battles provoked increasing cynicism among soldiers. The tendency of Southern papers to report such battles as Shiloh or Sharpsburg or Murfreesboro as "one of the most complete victories that has yet immortalized the Confederate arms" or to under-report Confederate casualties while exaggerating enemy casualties became a byword and probably undermined Confederate morale in the long run because the truth, when it eventually came out, was all the more dispiriting. "As to the newspapers, they are perfectly absurd," wrote home a South Carolina officer after the first battle of Manassas. "I hope you don't believe one-tenth of what you read." In a letter to his fiancee in 1863, a Mississippi soldier declared that "I have been so often deceived by [newspaper reports] that I've lost confidence in our press and believe nothing coming through that channel, unless I know it is so."8

But Northern newspapers were no slouches in the business of distortion and exaggeration, or what one journalist conceded to be "the slam-bang, going-off-half-cocked style of reporting." A Union sergeant said that "we have learned not to swallow anything whole that we see in the papers. If half the victories we read of were true the Rebellion would not have a leg to stand on." A major in the Army of the Potomac recalled after the war that "we would read with amazement accounts of what our own troops were supposed to have done." General George G. Meade himself wrote to his wife in 1864: "Do not be deceived about the situation of affairs by the foolish dispatches in the papers. Be not over-elated by reported successes, nor over-depressed by the exaggerated rumors of failures."9

Yet this cynicism did not prevent soldiers from devouring the newspapers, and, almost in spite of themselves, believing or at least half-believing what they read. In that respect they were not much different from people today in our responses to what we read in the newspapers or see on television. I recently wrote a book about the combat motivations of Civil War soldiers, using their personal letters and diaries as my main sources. Nothing was more frustrating in my research than to read a soldier's letter written after a battle in which he told the letter's recipient that he wouldn't say much about the battle because he knew only his small part in it, and further, by the time the recipient received the letter he would have already read a much fuller account in the newspapers. And, of course, the soldier would eagerly read the same newspaper stories of the battle, even as he might curse the reporter for his misrepresentations. To be sure, an individual soldier would know first-hand only what his company or regiment experienced in a battle, while a newspaper reporter could piece together the larger picture from interviews with several officers and soldiers, even if he did then spice up his story with rumors and speculation. Nevertheless, I often wished I could go back in time and wring the necks of those soldiers who told their correspondents to read about the battle in the papers, because it was their first-hand experiences of combat, no matter how limited the space in which it had occurred, that I wanted to get.

The counterparts to battle descriptions in daily newspapers were the drawings for illustrated weeklies. Some of these woodcuts were superb, such as Winslow Homer's drawings of life in camp, several of which became the basis for his earliest oil paintings. But the depictions of combat by many of the illustrators who traveled with the armies, especially in the war's early years, were so stylized and sentimentalized that soldiers ridiculed them. Next to Homer, one of the best illustrators was Alfred Waud. By the latter part of the war, Waud had learned how to draw realistic pictures of the chaotic, brutal, confusing reality of combat. But earlier, for example, in a drawing of a Union charge at the battle of Fair Oaks, Waud depicted nearly five hundred men in a perfect line, every man running with the same leg forward, every bayonet leveled at the same angle and height. When this issue of Harper's Weekly reached camp, veterans of the battle howled with derision. Cavalrymen alternately laughed and groaned at illustrations showing them riding straight at the enemy in perfect order at a gallop on fierce-looking horses while firing their carbines with one hand and waving their sabers with the other. Even as good an artist as Thomas Nast portrayed a trooper who had skewered his enemy with such force that the blade of his saber protruded six inches out of his adversary's back! Yet soldiers had the same love-hate complex toward the illustrated papers as toward print stories of battles. An English observer with the Army of the Potomac described the arrival of the mail boat with a shipment of Harper's and Leslie's. "A curious sight it was to me," he wrote, "a general rustle of opening leaves, and in a moment every man as if it had been part of his drill, was down upon the ground with the same big picture before him."10

Journalistic descriptions and pictorial depictions of combat never entirely caught up with reality. In another respect also, Civil War journalism diverged from the actual experience and mood of soldiers. At the beginning of the war, soldiers and reporters both declared that the men -- Yankee and Rebel alike -- were "spoiling for a fight," "anxious for the fray," eager to prove their manhood, to demonstrate their superiority, to smite the enemy. "Our boys are dieing for a fight," wrote a recruit in the 8th Georgia. An officer in the 37th North Carolina told his wife that "our Men are allmost Crazy to Meet the Enemy," while a lowly private in the 13th North Carolina wrote to his father that "the Company is all anxious to get in to a battle and they cannot go home without a fite."11

Union soldiers were no less eager. "We are all impatient to get into Virginia and have a brush with the rebels," wrote a lieutenant in the 2d Rhode Island in June 1861. A private in the 10th Wisconsin criticized "our donothing Generals" for "not leading us forward.... We came not for the paltry pay but to Fight. All we want is to be led to Battle." An Indiana private wrote that orders to move toward the enemy "filled me with an exciting feeling, & I took off my cap & gave one loud yell. We pushed on anxious for the fray."12

The first shock of combat cured most soldiers of this eagerness to "see the elephant." An Ohio soldier who had written home before his first battle that "Wee ar all big for a fight" told his wife afterwards "Mary I went into the fight in good hart but I never want to get in another it was offal mary you cant form any idy how it was the bulets and cannon ball and shells flew thick as hail." A private in the 6th North Carolina wrote his father after the first battle of Manassas: "Sutch a day the booming of the cannon the ratling of the muskets you have no idea how it was I have turned threw that old book of yours and looked at the pictures and read a little about war but I did not no anything what it was."13 After similar experiences a Virginia private wrote that "I have seen enough of the glory of war.... I am sick of seeing dead men and men's limbs torn from their bodies." An Indiana teenager who had been eager to see action wrote after his first combat experience that he had "got to see the Elephant at last and to tell you the honest truth I dont care about seeing him very often any more, for if there was any fun in such work I couldent see it.... It is not the thing it is braged up to be."14

Long after reality had replaced romance in the soldiers' view of combat, the image conveyed by the press seemed unchanged. The "reports of newspaper correspondents that the troops are all 'eager for the fray," wrote a Minnesota sergeant to his wife in July 1862, are "simply all 'bosh.' I don't know any individual soldier who is at all anxious to be led, or driven for that matter, to another battle." A Massachusetts lieutenant who had seen plenty of action wrote that he hoped his regiment would be in reserve at the next battle. "You will call that a cowardly wish," he conceded, "but although we see a great many in print, we see very few in reality, of such desperate heroes that they had rather go into the heat of battle than not."

Confederate veterans made the same point. "There are very few men really eager for a battle, and 'spoiling for a fight,' at this stage of the war," wrote a private in the 3rd Georgia to his sweetheart in 1863. "Perhaps you will think this a rather unchivalrous sentiment for a Southern soldier... but let me explain that we do not fear the foe with a cowardly fear, that would make us shrink from our duty to our country, but we have that undefinable dread which the knowledge of an unpleasant task before us always occasions."15

Many other veteran soldiers on both sides echoed this reference to duty rather than eagerness as their reason for continuing to risk their lives despite a preference for staying out of the path of bullets. An Illinois sergeant in Sherman's army reported in the spring of 1864 that "I don't particularly like fighting but if it has to be done we must try and do our duty." After six weeks of the campaign in north Georgia, he wrote to his family that "the boys are generaly well & in good spirits but are not spoiling for a fight as some Reporters represent although we will try and doe our duty when we are called upon." A veteran officer in the 10th Massachusetts wrote in late 1863 that "we are expecting a hard time and plenty of fighting. We are not at all eager for the 'fray,' but we are all ready which is much better. Where ever you find a soldier 'eager for the fray' as the newspapers have it, you may be sure that he has never been in any fray, for being in one takes away all eagerness for it, I assure you."16

The commander of the 6th Wisconsin of the famed Iron Brigade, one of the best fighting units in any Civil War army, explained to his fiancee what motivated such an elite outfit. "The 'Iron Brigade' has a record beyond reproach," he wrote, "and a record it will always maintain, but the 'Iron Brigade' does not crave a battle. A battle to veterans is an awful experience. There is not with our men the headlong recklessness of new men, who start in, acting as though they would rather be shot than not, and then lose their organization and scatter like sheep, but there is a conviction from much experience in fighting, that safety is best had by steadiness, persistence in firing, and most of all by holding together. So, with the inducement of pride, duty, patriotism and personal preservation, they will stand together till the last."17

No matter how much they professed to disdain the press, Civil War soldiers and especially officers were aware of its power. One form of such awareness was exemplified by the famous example of General William T. Sherman, who disliked reporters so much that he banned them from his army, or tried to. Such was Sherman's success and fame in the latter part of the war that he could get away with doing so. In 1864 General George G. Meade had a reporter who Meade thought had written lies about him drummed out of camp wearing a sign with the words "Libeler of the Press." By tacit agreement, reporters thereafter refused to mention Meade favorably in their dispatches. In truth, praise or criticism or silence in newspaper stories could go a long ways toward making or breaking an officer's reputation. Some officers therefore resorted to favoritism toward certain reporters, or even bribery, to win favorable treatment -- which naturally occasioned bitter or sarcastic comments from other officers.

In one famous case such a contretemps almost led to a dual between Generals James Longstreet and A. P. Hill in the Army of Northern Virginia. The editor of the powerful Richmond Examiner was actually a member of Hill's staff during the Seven Days battles in June and July 1862. The Examiner extravagantly praised the performance of Hill's division, especially in the battle of Glendale, and obliquely criticized Longstreet, Hill's superior officer. Outraged, Longstreet wrote a reply that was published in the rival Richmond Whig over the signature of his adjutant G. Moxley Sorrel. Hill responded by requesting transfer from Longstreet's command. A bitter exchange of letters followed, and Longstreet finally ordered Hill placed under arrest and confined to camp. Hill then evidently challenged Longstreet to a duel which would have done wonders for Confederate morale. But Lee finally stepped in and damped down the quarrel by transferring Hill's division to Stonewall Jackson's corps.18

The press sometimes exacerbated unit or state rivalries by allegedly exaggerating the fighting prowess of troops from one state or denigrating the cowardice of those from another. Because Southern brigades usually consisted of regiments all from the same state, and because the Richmond newspapers dominated the Confederate press, this was a more serious bone of contention in the South than the North. North Carolinians in particular complained of bias in the Richmond papers toward Virginia brigades at the expense of those from North Carolina. The longest-running controversy of this sort started after Gettysburg, when a bitter dispute arose over the performance of Virginia and North Carolina troops in the so-called "Pickett's Charge," a controversy fought out in newspapers in 1863 and continued in various other media for 135 years.'"19

Union officers and units similarly complained about various kinds of distortion and favoritism in the press. Interservice rivalries between army and navy, not unknown in more recent wars, were sometimes reflected in Northern newspapers during the Civil War. One example will illustrate the point. During Longstreet's campaign against the Union position at Suffolk on the south side of the James River in April 1863, the main line of Union defenses was on the Nansemond River, a tributary of the James. Union army units dug in on the east bank of the Nansemond, while two gunboat flotillas commanded by Lieutenants Roswell H. Lamson and William B. Cushing, two of the best young officers in the U.S. Navy, patrolled the river. According to Lamson's letters to his fiancee, the gunboats did the only real fighting in the campaign, yet the kept reporters gave all the credit to the army. After one fight, Lamson wrote that "everything has been done by the Navy gunboats.... I have been complimented for the affair more than I should like to tell you.... It is well known who did it... but the reporters here are all under control of the army, and so nothing is said about it." In another letter Lamson hinted to his fiancee that "I could tell you of some army movements that are so absurd you would hardly believe any 'General' would order them, but which have been ordered by 'Generals' who figure most conspicuously in the papers."20

At times it almost seemed that such internecine rivalries within and among the armies, navies, and press of one side or the other were bloodier than conflict with the enemy. But for the most part such rumblings and grumblings were the outlets for frustrations that have been typical of all wars. The real battle was with the enemy, and the principal forces that shaped morale grew out of that conflict. These forces included the hardships, hunger, danger, shortages, and the like that were part of the soldier's lot. But the principal factor in morale was victory or defeat. Victory pumped up morale; defeat deflated it.

On the homefront the most immediate information about victory or defeat came from the newspapers, followed later by soldiers' letters, which were uncensored during the Civil War. In the armies, of course, soldiers experienced victory or defeat directly. But the Civil War was fought over vast distances by several different armies on both sides. A victory or defeat in Mississippi could affect the morale of armies in Virginia, and vice versa. And soldiers learned of such distant victories or defeats mainly from the newspapers they read. In the summer of 1862, for example, the Confederate army that had been forced to evacuate Corinth, Mississippi, as a climax of an unbroken string of defeats in that theater suffered from low morale until they read about Lee's victories in the Seven Days battles in Virginia. That news "cheered our army a good deal," wrote a Mississippi artillery corporal, "and put all in much better spirits than they had been for some time. We fired a salute of 13 guns in honor of the victory." The same news from Virginia had the opposite effect on the morale of the victorious Union army in Mississippi. "There is a universal depression in camp at the bad news from Virginia," wrote a sergeant in the 15th Iowa. These reports "have a tremendous effect upon men as we gain or lose at distant points. So goes the thermometer of our hopes and fears in other places."21

In July 1863 the loss of Vicksburg and Port Hudson had a greater negative impact on the morale of many soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia than their own retreat after the bloody carnage at Gettysburg. Two Georgia soldiers in Longstreet's corps commented that "the reverses in the West, have a bad effect.... Our army seems to be depressed.... it Don't look like that we will Ever whip the yankees." On the other side of the coin, reports of the Army of the Potomac's repulse of Lee at Gettysburg resonated loudly in the Western Union armies. A major in the 47th Ohio reported a few days after the capture of Vicksburg that "everybody is electrified" by the news from Pennsylvania. "We hardly know how to contain ourselves.... The army is on fire as irresistible as an avalanch."22

Meanwhile in the Army of the Potomac, a New Jersey captain whose regiment had helped to repel the Pickett-Pettigrew assault at Gettysburg wrote to his brother and sister that "the glorious news from other armies has helped to inspire our troops in this." More than a year later, a Vermont colonel in the Army of the James that had made little headway at Petersburg told his father that Union victories in other theaters had been a tonic for this previously dispirited army. We are now "elated, buoyant with highest hopes.... Atlanta, Mobile and Winchester have stirred up the blood of the men, and their confidence now amounts to fanaticism."23

News from the homefront as well as from other theaters of war affected army morale. A soldier's conviction that he was risking his life for a worthwhile purpose, a Cause with a capital C, was rooted in the support of his family and community for that Cause. Some of that support, or the lack of it, was conveyed to soldiers by the letters they received from home. But much of it came via the press and the political process, which were intertwined institutions during the Civil War. In both North and South, antiwar movements arose and flourished at times when the war seemed to be going badly for one's own side. These movements advocated an armistice and a negotiated peace. The governments in both Washington and Richmond viewed such proposals as defeatist at best, treasonable at worst. So did most soldiers. They labeled the peace proponents in the Confederacy as "Tories" and in the North as "Copperheads." On both sides, opponents of the war -- or more accurately, perhaps, opponents of their governments' war policies -- made their case through the press as well as through the political process.

After the triple disasters to Confederate arms in the summer of 1863 -- Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the Army of Tennessee's retreat from its namesake state some Southern civilians began urging a compromise peace. A nineteen-year-oid private in the 7th Alabama Cavalry denounced what he called this "miserable class of men that now infest the country," while another Alabamian, an infantry captain, deplored the lack of "patriotism of a great many of the people at home. The army cannot be sustained without the cooperation of the people." Even in South Carolina, a few Tories seemed to surface after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, causing a nineteen-year-old veteran from that state to cry out: "Shame for South Carolina! Go back into the union, degraded despised dishonorable.... This is the way we are rewarded -- our own people forsake us in the trying hour -- and after our all -- honour-and everything else is at stake.... Degrading, wretched, unpatriotic, infamous thought!"24

In 1863, peace sentiment manifested itself most powerfully in North Carolina. The state's largest newspaper, the North Carolina Standard, edited in Raleigh by William W. Holden, became an outspoken advocate of peace negotiations. So incensed toward Holden were Confederate soldiers that on the night of September 9-10, 1863, several men of General Henry L. Bennings's brigade of Georgia troops, passing through Raleigh on their way from Virginia to Georgia where they would suffer heavy losses at Chickamauga ten days later, broke into the Standard's office and wrecked it.25

Union soldiers did the same to so-called "Copperhead" papers in the North. And judging from the volume and bitterness of soldiers' denunciations of homefront "traitors," the Copperhead press in the North was far more extensive and outspoken than the Tory press in the South. Especially during the early months of 1863 and again in the summer of 1864, the drumbeat of defeatism and anti-war editorials in Copperhead newspapers caused morale problems in Union armies. A captain in the 8th Connecticut complained in January 1863 that "the papers (many of them) published at the North & letters rec[eive]d by the soldiers are doing the Army an immense amount of evil." From Grant's army in the Western theater came similar testimony from a captain in the 103d Illinois: "You can't imagine how much harm these traitors are doing, not only with their papers, but they are writing letters to the boys which would discourage the most loyal of men.... I put in a great deal more of my time than I would wish to, in talking patriotism at the boys... to counteract the effect of these letters [and papers]... and doing good solid cursing at the home cowardly vipers." An enlisted man from Iowa believed that the Copperhead press not only discouraged the boys in blue but also encouraged the enemy. "The Rebels in the South well know how we are divided in the North," he wrote in March 1863. "It encourages them to hold out, with the hopes that we will get to fighting in the North, well knowing that 'a house divided against itself cannot stand."26

At the same time, however, a backlash against the Copperheads' anti-war rhetoric forged a bond of unity among Union soldiers that actually improved their morale. "Copperheadism has brought the soldiers here together more than anything else," wrote a corporal in the 101st Ohio in April 1863. "Some of the men that yoused to be almost willing to have the war settled in any way are now among the strongest Union soldiers we have got." Many Northern soldiers lumped the Rebels and Copperheads together as twin enemies who deserved the same treatment. "My first object is to crush this infernal Rebellion," wrote a Pennsylvania infantry captain in March 1863, "the next to come North and bayonet such fool miscreants as [Clement] Vallandigham" the foremost Copperhead political leader. A private in the 49th Ohio told his sister in June 1863 that "it would give me the greatest pleasure in the world to be one of a regiment that would march through Ohio and Indiana and hang every Copperhead in the two States."27

When Northern homefront morale plunged to perhaps its lowest point in the summer of 1864 because of horrendous casualties in the Army of the Potomac without much apparent progress toward victory, Union soldier morale remained higher than it had been in the spring of 1863 because of this bond of unity against the Copperheads. As a New York captain wrote to his wife, "it is the soldiers who have educated the people at home to a true knowledge ... and to a just perception of our great duties in this contest."28 That is one reason why many Union regiments established their own camp newspapers at various times and places during the war -- at least one hundred such newspapers, most of them short-lived. (There seem to have been few if any counterparts in Confederate camps.) They bore such names as Stars and StripesWhole UnionBanner of FreedomNew SouthFree SouthAmerican Patriot, and other such patriotic titles. Many Union soldiers (and some Confederates as well) also served as army correspondents for their hometown newspapers. Perhaps the most famous of these was Wilbur Fisk of the 2d Vermont, whose dispatches have been published in book form in two modern editions. Fisk signed his letters with the pen name "Anti-Rebel," which pretty much sums up their dominant theme.29

That is why almost 80 percent of the Union soldiers who voted in 1864 cast their ballots for Abraham Lincoln on a platform of conquering a peace by military victory, compared with 53 percent of the civilian vote for Lincoln. As one Union officer put it in August 1864, at the low point of civilian morale, "We must succeed. If not this year, why then the next, or the next. And if it takes ten years, then ten years it must be, for we can never give up, and have a Country and Government left."30

Confederate army morale also remained higher than civilian morale until the final months of the war -- at least in the Army of Northern Virginia, which by 1865 was the only institution that still propped up the Confederacy. In March 1865 an officer in the 61st Alabama still breathed defiance, but conceded that civilians had become "craven hearted and weak kneed.... Our people are not the same as they were four years ago. Their courage, spirit and pride are gone.... I don't know what can be done to save Us."31

At the same time, after Sherman's capture of Atlanta, Northern morale at home reversed its decline and rose toward the high level of army morale. The American correspondent of the London Daily News expressed astonishment in September 1864 at "the extent and depth of the[ir] determination to fight to the last. They are in earnest the like of which the world never saw before, silently, calmly, but desperately in earnest; they will fight on, in my opinion, as long as they have men, muskets, and powder" until they win an unconditional victory.32 And so they did.

NOTES

  1. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), viii.
  2. Louis M. Starr, Reporting the Civil War: The Bohemian Brigade in Action, 1861-1865 (originally published with the title The Bohemian Brigade) (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 44; W. Fletcher Thompson Jr., The Image of War :The Pictorial Reporting of the American Civil War (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960), 137.
  3. Comte de Paris, History of the Civil War in America, quoted in Belle Becker Sideman and Lillian Friedman, eds., Europe Looks at the Civil War (New York: The Orion Press, 1960), 52-53.
  4. Gustave Paul Cluseret, Armee et democratie (Paris, 1869), 101-2; translated by Philip Katz. 5. 5. Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank. The Common Soldier of the Union (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1952), 153-54; Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty (New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1975), 17, 24; James M. McPherson, Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 19.
  5. "Robert A. Moore: The Diary of a Confederate Private," ed. James W. Silver, Louisiana Historical Quarterly 39 (1956), 312 (entry of January 28, 1862); Ted Barclay to sister, March 6, 1864, in Ted Barclay, Liberty Hall Volunteers: Letters from the Stonewall Brigade, ed. Charles W. Turner (Rockbridge, Va.. 1992), 131; William J. Mims to wife, September 22, 1864, in "Letters of Major W. J. Mims, C.S.A.," Alabama Historical Quarterly 3 (1941), 223.
  6. James G. Theaker to brother, August 10, 1863, Through One Man 's Eyes: The Civil War Experiences of a Belmont County Volunteer, ed. Paul E. Rieger (Mount Vernon, Ohio, 1974), 49.
  7. J. Cutler Andrews, The South Reports the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 89; J. Cutler Andrews, "The Confederate Press and Public Morale," Journal of Southern History 32 (1996): 463.
  8. All quotations from Starr, Reporting the Civil War, 202.
  9. Thompson, The Image of War, 83, 137-38.
  10. Hamilton Branch to mother, July 20, 1861, in "Three Brothers Face Their Baptism of Battle, July 1861," ed. Edward G. Longacre, Georgia Historical Quarterly 61 (1977): 163; William G. Morris to wife, February 15, 1862, Morris Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Leonidas Torrence to father, July 20, 1861, in "The Road to Gettysburg: The Diary and Letters of Leonidas Torrence of the Gaston Guards," ed. Haskell Monroe, North Carolina Historical Review 36 (1959): 480.
  11. William Ames to father, June 28, 1861, in "Civil War Letters of William Ames, from Brown University to Bull Run," ed. William Greene Roelker, Rhode Island Historical Society Collections 33 (1940): 82; James Goff to father, January 23, 1862, Goff Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Stephen Keyes Fletcher, diary entry of October 16, 1861, in "The Civil War Journal of Stephen Keyes Fletcher," ed. Perry McCandless, Indiana Magazine of History 54 (1958): 145-46.
  12. Joseph Diltz to Mary Diltz, January 19, September 21, 1862, Diltz Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University; James Overcash to Joseph Overcash, August 11, 1861, Joseph Overcash Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University.
  13. James Binford to "Carrie and Annie," August 13, 1862, Binford Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond; John McCreery to mother and father, October 13, 1864, McCreery Letters, John Sickles Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  14. Josiah Chaney to wife, July 28, 1862, Chaney Papers, Minnesota Historical Society; Charles H. Brewster to Mary Brewster, April 30, 1864, When This Cruel War is Over: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Brewster, ed. David W. Blight (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992), 291; Samuel F. Tenney to Alice Toomer, April 18, 1863, in "War Letters of S. F. Tenney, A Soldier of the Third Georgia Regiment," Georgia Historical Quarterly 57 (1973): 293.
  15. Henry H. Orendorff to Washington Orendorff, March 3, 1864, Henry H. Orendorff to parents, June 20, 1864, in We are Sherman's Men: The Civil War Letters of Henry Orendorff, ed. William M. Anderson (Macomb, Illinois, 1986), 75, 92; Charles Brewster to Mary Brewster, November 25, 1863, When This Cruel War is Over, 348.
  16. Rufus L. Dawes to Mary B. Gates, August 6, 1863, in Dawes, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), 197.
  17. Andrews, The South Reports the Civil War, 189-190; Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command, 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942-1944), I, 664-68.
  18. Carol Reardon, Pickett's Charge in History and Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
  19. Roswell H. Lamson to Catherine Buckingham, April 24, April 30, 1863, in Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy, ed. James M. McPherson and Patricia R. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 101, 104.
  20. John Euclid Magee, Diary, undated entry, Magee Diary, Perkins Library, Duke University; Cyrus F. Boyd, diary entry of July 7, 1862, in "The Civil War Diary of C. F. Boyd, Fifteenth Iowa Infantry," ed. Mildred Throne, Iowa Journal of History 50 (1952): 170-71.
  21. Daniel B. Sanford to sister, July 25, 1863, Sanford letters in the possession of Sanford Pentecost, quoted with permission; John A. Everett to mother, August 4, 1863, Everett Papers, Woodruff Library, Emory University; Thomas T. Taylor to wife, July 15, 1863, Taylor Papers, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
  22. Richard S. Thompson to brother and sister, July 27, 1863, While My Country is in Danger: The Life and Letters of Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Thompson, ed. Gerry Harder and Ralph G. Poriss (Hamilton, New York, 1994), 85; Edward Hastings Ripley to father, September 26, 1864, Vermont General: The Unusual War Experiences of Edward Hastings Ripley, 1862-1865, ed. Otto Eisenschiml (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1960), 242.
  23. Robert A. McClellan to sister, May 13, 1863, McClellan Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University; Joab Goodson to Nannie Clements, August 18, 1863, in "The Letters of Captain Joab Goodson, 1862-1864," ed. W. Stanley Hoole, Alabama Review 10 (1957): 146-47; Peter McDavid to Nellie McDavid, August 15, 1863, McDavid Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University.
  24. W. Buck Yearns and John G. Barrett, eds., North Carolina Civil War Documentary (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 298-99.
  25. Charles M. Coit to family, January 5, 1863, Coit Papers, Gilder Lehrman Collection, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City; Charles Wills to sister, February 7, 1863, in Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Letters and Diary of the Late Charles Wills (Washington, D.C., 1906), 153-54; Osiah Moser to wife, March 22, 1863, Civil War Collection, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. 27. 27. Enos B. Lewis to parents, April 21, 1863, in "The Civil War Letters of Enos Barret Lewis," Northwest Ohio Quarterly 57 (1985): 90; Alexander Caldwell to brother, March 7, 1863, Caldwell Papers, U.S. Army Military History Institute; Bela Zimmerman to Minnie Zimmerman, June 14, 1863, Zimmerman Letters, in possession of Samuel F. Abernethy, quoted with permission.
  26. Nelson Chapin to wife, March 6, 1864, Chapin Papers, U.S. Army Military History Institute.
  27. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank, 179-83, 402; Anti-Rebel: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865, ed. Emil and Ruth Rosenblatt (Croton-on-Hudson, New York: Rosenblatt, 1983); Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865, ed. Emil and Ruth Rosenblatt (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992).
  28. Delos Van Deusen to Henrietta Van Deusen, August 21, 1864, Van Deusen Papers, Huntingdon Library.
  29. Abner E. McGarity to Franinia McGarity, March 6, 1865, in "Letters of a Confederate Surgeon: Dr. Abner Embry McGarity, 1862-1865, " ed. Edmund Cody Burnett, Georgia Historical Quarterly 30 (1946): 62.
  30. London Daily News, September 27, 1864, quoted in Allan Nevins, The Organized War to Victory (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), 141-42.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Of America's first 25 presidents, who is your favorite? From George Washington to William McKinley, which of the new country's leaders most helped shape America in its first century of existence?