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I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers… William Tecumseh Sherman

Three-quarter length portrait of Brown accompanies text describing the insurrection at Harper's Ferry.

Three-quarter length portrait of Brown accompanies text describing the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry.

The War Between the States was the first war that was contested ever bit as much in the press as on the battlefield and the newspapers that heaped vitriol on their opposition gave no more quarter than the battlefield commanders who poured hot lead on the battalions advancing against them. While Coopersmith’s book is more objective by comparison than the second offering – which is nothing more than a history of a single example of what would become known of as yellow journalism – he still falls into the trap of believing that there was some sort of integrity in the political reporting or any effort to discover the truth beyond the bombast. It is regrettable that so much of the history of the conflict cites journalistic accounts as establishing the truth of both cause and effect in the conflict – the press was no more honest then than it is now and its misrepresentations are the cause of so much of the division that caused the war and perpetuated the animosities thereafter.

General Rosencranz, [i.e. Rosecrans] commanding the Department of Western Virginia, surrounded by his staff, at their headquarters, Clarksburg, Va. / from a sketch by our special artist with General Rosencranz's [i.e. Rosecrans] command.

General Rosencranz, [i.e. Rosecrans] commanding the Department of Western Virginia, surrounded by his staff, at their headquarters, Clarksburg, Va. / from a sketch by our special artist with General Rosencranz’s [i.e. Rosecrans] command.

We have illustrated this post with pictures from Frank Leslie’s New York based tabloid in order that the discerning reader may determine how much was propaganda and how little was news and may then extrapolate what was going on in editorial offices from Birmingham to Bangor and then look more closely at what was happening behind the news.

Frank Pierce, one of the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment, diving for a missing rail on the road from Annapolis to Washington

Frank Pierce, one of the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment, diving for a missing rail on the road from Annapolis to Washington

Fighting words : an illustrated history of newspaper accounts of the Civil War  Andrew S. Coopersmith  New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., 2004  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxii, 325 p. : ill., maps ; 27 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The Misses Cooke's school room, Freedman's Bureau, Richmond, Va. / from a sketch by Jas. E. Taylor.

The Misses Cooke’s school room, Freedman’s Bureau, Richmond, Va. / from a sketch by Jas. E. Taylor.

Andrew S. Coopersmith’s Fighting Words: An Illustrated History of Newspaper Accounts of the Civil War is an important new work on a relatively understudied aspect of the American Civil War. Prior to the inauguration of the great conflict at Fort Sumter in the spring of 1861, there were nearly 4,000 newspapers in print in the United States, and in the absence of radio, television, or internet, those papers served as soldiers’ and civilians’ chief source of information regarding the contest between the North and South.

Andrew Johnson taking the oath of office in the small parlor of the Kirkwood House [Hotel], Washington, [April 15, 1865]

Andrew Johnson taking the oath of office in the small parlor of the Kirkwood House [Hotel], Washington, [April 15, 1865]

Having examined close to one thousand editorials in more than eighty of these Civil War newspapers, Coopersmith focuses on a few key issues to demonstrate that these papers helped both the Union and the Confederacy in their respective efforts to win the “war of opinion”. He also uses the papers to show that aside from actual battles and campaigns other “bitter struggles raged along political, social, and racial lines, pitting Republicans against Democrats, whites against blacks, rich against poor, women against men, and soldiers against civilians”. In short, Coopersmith’s chief argument is that Civil War “newspapers, in exposing these various points of friction, enable us to see the war as the complex and divisive affair that it was”.

The Harper's Ferry insurrection--The U.S. Marines storming the engine house--Insurgents firing through holes in the doors / from a sketch made on the spot by our special artist.

The Harper’s Ferry insurrection–The U.S. Marines storming the engine house–Insurgents firing through holes in the doors / from a sketch made on the spot by our special artist.

Coopersmith divides Fighting Words into six sections–“Why They Fought,” “Confronting the Enemy,” “The Emancipation Proclamation,” “Points of Crisis,” “The Confederacy Undone,” and “Endings and Beginnings”–each of which he further subdivides into two or three chapters apiece. Each section of Coopersmith’s work employs newspaper accounts and images to outline the war of public opinion as it occurred over matters that played important roles in the Civil War.

Battle of Antietam, Maryland--Burnside's division carrying the bridge over the Antietam Creek, and storming the Rebel position, after a desperate conflict of four hours, Wednesday, September 17 / from a sketch by our special artist, Mr. Edwin Forbes.

Battle of Antietam, Maryland–Burnside’s division carrying the bridge over the Antietam Creek, and storming the Rebel position, after a desperate conflict of four hours, Wednesday, September 17 / from a sketch by our special artist, Mr. Edwin Forbes.

In presenting his evidence, Coopersmith demonstrates the centrality of popular attitudes regarding various issues, including slavery and emancipation, the nature of battle, and relationships between soldiers and civilians. Coopersmith also shows how news of military victories or defeats and reports of enemy behavior in friendly territory influenced the views readers had regarding the progress of the Civil War as well as how such stories affected overall morale on the home front.

The war in Virginia--Capture of three Rebel guns, near Culpeper, by General Custen's cavalry brigade, Sept. 14 / from a sketch by our special artist, Mr. Edwin Forbes.

The war in Virginia–Capture of three Rebel guns, near Culpeper, by General Custen’s cavalry brigade, Sept. 14 / from a sketch by our special artist, Mr. Edwin Forbes.

Regarding the issues of slavery and emancipation, Coopersmith argues that the high number of reports and stories related to these subjects confirms the argument that racial slavery was a fundamental issue during the war in both the North and the South. Such validation, based on evidence from contemporary newspapers, reveals that assertions regarding slavery as the central cause of the war are not simply fabrications that have originated in the imaginations of biased historians as some adherents to the Lost Cause would have people believe.

Invasion of Maryland - General Meade's army crossing the Antietam in pursuit of Lee, July 12 / from a sketch by our special artist, E. Forbes.

Invasion of Maryland – General Meade’s army crossing the Antietam in pursuit of Lee, July 12 / from a sketch by our special artist, E. Forbes.

Part 6 of Coopersmith’s Fighting Words, “Endings and Beginnings,” is arguably the most interesting portion of the book as it deals with the legacy of popular opinion concerning the Civil War. In covering the surrender of Robert E. Lee, Coopersmith uses newspapers to foretell the coming of the Lost Cause and argues that despite having defeated the Confederates on the battlefield, “pacifying the entire scope of Southern public opinion would be another matter entirely” for the Union.

Scene of soldiers in Civil War battle and scene of men working in metal shop.

Scene of soldiers in Civil War battle and scene of men working in metal shop.

He also turns to Southern papers to demonstrate that following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, “many [Southerners] indeed reacted … with relief, gladness, and even feelings of joyous retribution”. In this final section, Coopersmith also employs excerpts from popular papers to deal with the political legacy of the contest and the failures of Reconstruction, concluding his book by writing, “Slavery had torn the United States apart and plunged the North and South into a bloody and highly controversial civil war. The legacy of slavery would prove no less brutal, tragic, and divisive for the nation”.

The war in Georgia -- Reconnoissance of a detachment of national troops and sailors from the gunboat Western World, beyond Fort Jackson, Savannah River -- Expedition fired on by the Rebels / from a sketch by our special artist. The war in Virginia ; The U.S. steamer Wyandank, dismounting and removing guns from the Rebel batteries at Cockpit Point, on the Potomac River, March 11 / from a sketch by Mr. V.O. Traynor, quartermaster of the Wyandank.

The war in Georgia — Reconnoissance of a detachment of national troops and sailors from the gunboat Western World, beyond Fort Jackson, Savannah River — Expedition fired on by the Rebels / from a sketch by our special artist. The war in Virginia ; The U.S. steamer Wyandank, dismounting and removing guns from the Rebel batteries at Cockpit Point, on the Potomac River, March 11 / from a sketch by Mr. V.O. Traynor, quartermaster of the Wyandank.

Fighting Words is a fine addition to the historiography of the Civil War as it sheds light on a topic that is generally lost in the shadow of weightier tomes devoted to battles, campaigns, and military biography. This is not to say that a recounting of the Civil War as it was fought in the daily press is more important than the war waged on the battlefield, where men paid the price of the contest with their lives; it is simply an effort to recognize that the war occurred beyond the battlefield as well.

Campaign in Maryland - Gallant charge of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry over the enemy's breastworks, near Falling Waters, July 14 / from a sketch by our special artist.

Campaign in Maryland – Gallant charge of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry over the enemy’s breastworks, near Falling Waters, July 14 / from a sketch by our special artist.

The Civil War was fought in parlors and taverns, it was fought in courtrooms and the halls of Congress, and it was fought on the pages of daily newspapers. And “although millions of men participated personally in the fighting, and countless numbers of civilian – particularly in the South – endured its hardships directly, most Americans experienced the Civil War on a daily basis not through combat but by reading about it in the papers”. Coopersmith does an excellent job of relating this experience in Fighting Words, and students of the Civil War would do well to devote some of their time to reading this book.

Ovation to Lieutenant General Grant at the Cooper Institute, New York, on the evening of June 7 - Grant saluting the audience

Ovation to Lieutenant General Grant at the Cooper Institute, New York, on the evening of June 7 – Grant saluting the audience

Witness to the Civil War : first-hand accounts from Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper  compiled by J.G. Lewin and P.J. Huff ; edited by Stuart A.P. Murray ; foreword by James G. Barber  New York, NY : Collins, c 2006  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 226 p. : ill. (some col.), maps ; 29 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 219) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Uncle Sam saying to Ulysses S. Grant, "Hold there! Hold there, General! I have tolerated your abuses of your office long enough. ..." Grant replying "March those legislators out. I am going to have my way in this matter. ..." On the ground lies a paper, "We are in the midst of a revolution tending fast to the concentration of all power in the hands of one man."

Uncle Sam saying to Ulysses S. Grant, “Hold there! Hold there, General! I have tolerated your abuses of your office long enough. …” Grant replying “March those legislators out. I am going to have my way in this matter. …” On the ground lies a paper, “We are in the midst of a revolution tending fast to the concentration of all power in the hands of one man.”

For four bloody years, the Civil War ravaged America. Those at home could only imagine the sights and events overtaking their husbands and sons, fathers and brothers who were under arms.

Andrew Johnson holds a leaking kettle, labeled "The Reconstructed South", towards a woman representing liberty and Columbia, carrying a baby representing the newly approved 14th Constitutional Amendment.

Andrew Johnson holds a leaking kettle, labeled “The Reconstructed South”, towards a woman representing liberty and Columbia, carrying a baby representing the newly approved 14th Constitutional Amendment.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was a primary source of information during those dark days. The reporters and artists who traveled with the armies were eyewitnesses to events, great and small, for their captivated readers. Sometimes the news was sensational. At other times it was tragic. But it was always eagerly sought after.

Assassination of President Lincoln - the murderer leaping upon the stage, and catching his spur in the flag which hung before the president's box

Assassination of President Lincoln – the murderer leaping upon the stage, and catching his spur in the flag which hung before the president’s box

Here are the accounts, in pictures and stories, of those first wartime journalists. Here are their reports from the front lines. Here is the Civil War’s news as originally presented to loved ones at home. Here you will find images of the battles, the leaders, the camp life, and of the soldiers who gave their all for North and South.

The killing of Booth, the assassin - the dying murderer drawn from the barn where he head taken refuge, on Garrett's farm, near Port Royal, Va., April 26, 1865

The killing of Booth, the assassin – the dying murderer drawn from the barn where he head taken refuge, on Garrett’s farm, near Port Royal, Va., April 26, 1865

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