Ranks and Columns: Armed Forces Newspapers in American Wars

By Alfred Emile Cornebise | Go to book overview
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1 Beginnings: The Revolutionary War and Beyond

These are the times that try men's souls.

-- Thomas Paine

During the Revolutionary War, newspapers played a major role in stimulating colonial resistance to the British. Although some were Tories, most newspapermen strongly supported the rebellion and engaged in considerable propaganda activity and agitation on its behalf, greatly aiding in the development of revolutionary ideology. They kept citizens informed about the exciting issues of the day, and provided accounts of military operations. However, there were noteworthy lapses because of the hazards of wartime reporting and publishing. This period witnessed a rapid growth in both the numbers and circulation of newspapers, though there was much fluctuation, and many of the papers were shortlived because of the dislocations and shortages of the times. To be sure, many of the details are missing; the available records of the press during this era are spotty at best.

For example, it is impossible to say when troop papers originated in the American army. Apparently there were only a few during the Revolutionary War, and not much is known about them.1 In any event, there was no pressing demand for troop papers because civilian sheets, at least partially, filled the needs of the men in the ranks. These often published letters from soldiers engaged in battle, as well as official communiqués of General George Washington and other commanders. Appeals for recruits appeared, as did lists of deserters, to assist in appropriate action or condemnation. So did poetry, often of a patriotic nature, as well as stirring songs and essays, emphasizing the ideological aspects of the conflict. Eager, mettlesome civilians, in articles and letters, used the newspapers

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