(February 27, 1831–December 12, 1872)
Jon L. Wakelyn
As wartime editorial page editor of the Richmond Examiner and early historian of the Confederacy, Edward A. Pollard became one of the South’s most important political and military propagandists. In his wartime editorials this peevish and peripatetic aristocrat vigorously criticized the new nation’s leadership actions. For Confederate leaders he was little more than an opinionated and wrongheaded journalist. For others, especially Confederate legislators, Pollard’s perpetual attacks on the high command’s abilities, motivation, and decisionmaking skills became useful weapons in internal leadership struggles. President Jefferson Davis (q.v.) believed that Pollard’s attacks on him undermined the war effort. Thus, at least for its participants, Pollard’s sharp pen contributed to the story of Confederate success and failure.
In addition to his newspaper editorials, Pollard became the first historian of the Confederacy. Beginning in 1862, he began to write the history of the war. Each year thereafter, to the mortification of the Davis administration, he published another volume on the previous year’s wartime activities. Thus Pollard was able to put his personal stamp on Southern motivation, actions, and leadership qualities. Alas, for the veracity of history, Pollard’s efforts have set a standard for future historians’ understanding of those events. Because he had been an eyewitness to events in Richmond, historians have ever since relied on that journalist for much of their judgment on the Confederacy’s great leaders. What motivated this leader who had so welcomed the Civil War and so loved the South and slavery to wield his pen as a weapon of destruction against the Confederacy? To understand the seeming contradictions between his love for the South and his acquired hatred for Confederate leadership, Pollard’s troublesome and often misunderstood life requires reconstruction.
To grasp the essence of Pollard’s life requires perhaps more than in most leaders an understanding that place was central to his life. His roots in Virginia meant so much to him because in his later life he became a rootless wanderer.