Blue and Gray in Black and White: Newspapers in the Civil War

Article excerpt

Blue and Gray in Black and White: Newspapers in the Civil War. By Brayton Harris. (Washington, D.C., and London: Brassey's, c. 1999. Pp. xii, 365. $29.95, ISBN 1-57488-165-5.)

In addition to being the most important source of information for Americans in both the North and South, editors and reporters for Civil War newspapers consciously sought to shape public perceptions of how the war was being conducted and thus attempted to advance specific political agendas. Although certain aspects of the Civil War press have attracted attention from scholars, there is unfortunately a glaring need for a major, comprehensive study of how newspapers operated during the war. In Blue and Gray in Black and White: Newspapers in the Civil War, Brayton Harris seeks partially to fill this void by providing "a guided tour of highlights [of the war] as covered by, and at times influenced by, the press" (p. ix).

Harris starts out well. The first few chapters of the book provide excellent descriptions of the emergence of major figures and how the state of transportation and communications technology shaped the operations of publishers and correspondents. The rest of the book, however, consists mainly of vignettes and anecdotes. William Howard Russell's experiences, the intrigues of editors and correspondents, clashes between generals and newspapers, and government efforts to restrain the press are interesting subjects, to be sure. Yet Harris leaves the reader wanting more in the way of analysis of the Civil War press. There is little discussion, for example, of the ways in which the press's adherence to a romantic vision of warfare--including climactic battles decided by grand assaults on entrenched defenders--shaped public expectations of particular generals or campaigns. …