The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War by Writers and Reporters of the New York Times

In This Review

The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War by Writers and Reporters of the New York Times

Edited by James M. Mcpherson
St. Martin's, 2004
432 pp. $35.00
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War reporting has been much in the news, and this collection of New York Times reports from the Civil War shows the timeless nature of many of today's controversies over war coverage. The Times consistently mishandled important developments in the Civil War, with Union defeats (such as Bull Run) minimized and dubious battles hyped into triumphs. The news environment of the Civil War was surprisingly similar to the current one. Telegrams and instant bulletins of late-breaking stories gave New Yorkers up-to-the-minute accounts of distant battles; a leading Confederate newspaper, The Richmond Enquirer (the Al Jazeera of the Civil War?), was widely available and widely read in the North. Many of its bulletins were reprinted in the Times and are usefully quoted here. As is almost always the case, vision improved with hindsight. The last item included in McPherson's selection, the 1889 obituary for Jefferson Davis, is one of the best short statements ever written about why the Confederate president and his cause failed and deserved to fail.