The Media at the Tip of the Spear

Due largely to the first widespread availability of the telegraph, through which breaking stories could be transmitted to the presses in moments, the debut of the American war correspondent occurred during the Civil War. From their beginning, American war correspondents have frequently “embedded” with the troops on whom they reported. General Grant, for example, allowed his favorite New York Herald reporter to travel with his entourage, and even used him as a personal messenger. Reporters proved an important component of the war effort for both the North and the South. Papers on both sides proved willing providers of propaganda to rally citizen support. Southern papers exaggerated Northern casualties, refused to acknowledge Confederate defeats, and characterized Union troops as drunken foreigners. Northern papers ignored Union difficulties in drafting troops and racism in the Union Army, and downplayed Union defeats.