I’m a retired U. S. Air Force officer, former Human Resources Manager with a global company, and currently an educator.  I developed an interest in the American Civil War while a college student.  Since then I’ve collected books, videos, CDs, and magazines about the Civil War.  I’ve participated in internet discussions, attended conferences, read the blogs of others, and discussed the war with historians.  I’ve learned quite a bit on this journey and have developed an appreciation for more than just the Civil War, but the entire history of the United States, because to really understand why the war came about you have to understand United States history from colonial times to the outbreak of the war, and to understand the war’s legacy you have to understand United States history from the end of the war to the present day.

All the opinions I publish in this blog are my opinions only and do not reflect the views of the United States Government or any other entity.


  1. Mr. Mackey: Can you please refer me to a source on Prof. Gallagher’s view re O.O. Howard at Chancellorsville? ‘twould be most helpful, this week, especially. … “Gary Gallagher’s assessment was that Howard had behaved very well during the fighting.” ,,, Clint Schemmer, cschemmer@gmail.com

    1. That came directly from Chuck Teague’s presentation. He didn’t give a source in it.

  2. Thank you, sir. I enjoy your posts.

    1. Thank you very much.

  3. Very interesting. How many Union ancestors do you have that fought in the War? Do you have any information on their service?

    1. I don’t have any Union ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

  4. Sorry, I guess I asked the wrong question.
    How many confederate ancestors do you have that fought in the war?

    1. No need to apologize. I also don’t have any confederate ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

  5. Hi Al, perhaps I made a mistake assuming you still are located in Virginia, but I was looking for you today, yesterday now, special Battle of Brandywine Station battlefield tour.

    1. Hi Mike. No, I’m not in Virginia anymore. Yesterday I was at Gettysburg for the first battlewalk of the year. Troy Harman did a walk on the 11th Corps on the First Day.

      1. It was a most excellent tour and they will do it again. Except for the ticks, highly recommended.

        1. This appears to be a banner year for ticks. Presented as a public service: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYijKB9o7B0&feature=youtu.be

  6. Barb Branco · · Reply

    Dear sir, Thank you for your very informative paper concerning the “Burning of Columbia”. I am a very proud descendant of Capt. William H.H. Goodrell who was there at Columbia S.C. during this period of the Civil War. My great, great grandfather was credited with capturing the South Carolina flag off the capital building and replacing it with the US flag. There are so many conflicting reports of the tragedy that occurred because of the fires. I was very glad to read your account that reiterates what he had written in the 1870’s as he recalled the incident.

    1. You’re very welcome, Ms. Branco. Has his account been published?

  7. Barb Branco · · Reply

    Sir, While on the website “Chronicling America” and typing in “William H. Goodrell”, I was able to find a newspaper article from The Memphis Daily Appeal dated Sat. Sept.20, 1873 (Image 2). It was a letter written by William that was his recollection of the fires. There is also another letter written by Major Kennedy who was with him when they entered the city. Generals Sherman and Belknap had requested their stories. It seems these men were answering questions for years.

    1. Thanks. I found the letter and will read it right now. I see there is also a letter from Sherman and one from Belknap along with these.

  8. Mr. Mackey: I stumbled across your blog in the course of my research about by 3rd-great-grandfather who served in the 123rd Illinois, part of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. Someday I would like to plan a visit to the various Civil War battlefields he fought on, especially Perryville and Chickamauga. My question for you is, are there expert tour guides available for hire at places such as these? I would really like to make the most of my visits at these places. You seem like the kind of person who might have some advice for me…Thanks.

    1. Hi. Perryville is a State Historical Park. I would recommend contacting the park manager. His email address is at this website:
      You can also get more information about the park at that website, including maps. It talks about group tours of ten or more people, but the park manager may be able to put you in touch with someone who can guide a smaller group. I think you’ll also find this website useful in learning about what happened: http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/perryville.html
      A good book to get is Ken Noe’s Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle.

      The website for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is here: http://www.nps.gov/chch/index.htm
      Since it’s part of the National Park Service, there are a number of free ranger-led tours available. The website should have the schedule. Some battlefields, such as Gettysburg and Antietam, have licensed battlefield guides associated with them. These are independent contractors not affiliated with the National Park Service. They drive your car around the battlefield and give you a personalized tour for a fee. I haven’t heard of any LBGs at Chickamauga/Chattanooga, but that might be a question to ask the park. There are a number of books available on Chickamauga. There is a US Army War College Guide available in paperback, as well as Peter Cozzens’ book, This Terrible Sound, and a book of essays called The Chickamauga Campaign edited by historian Steven Woodworth. You can also download this National Park Service book: http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/civil_war_series/10/
      You may also find this website helpful: http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/chickamauga.html

      I hope that helps.

      1. Thank you so much!

        1. You’re very welcome. Best of luck enjoying retracing your relative’s route.

  9. Rosemary Kubera · · Reply

    Honorary Doctorate…. seems appropriate….who could disagree?
    ……My Dad was Army Air Corps man……
    Looking forward to reading your blog… happy to find good Cvl War site.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I think I would have to disagree on the honorary doctorate at this time, though. There is still much to learn.

  10. marc panero · · Reply

    I recently discovered your blog (it is so much more than that). I wish to thank you for the time and trouble you take which keeps us informed of all aspects of the civil war. I, somewhat like you. am a student of the war, but I live on the west coast, and am not able to visit civil war battle fields as much as I would like. Your insights and postings of video links are a joy. I visit your site daily. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. Keep up the study.

  11. Doug Murray · · Reply

    [Not published by request of the commenter]

    1. Thank you for your comments, Doug.

  12. Mr. Mackey,

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed your blog so far. I discovered it when looking up the ownership of Fort Sumter and your links helped me a great deal. I’ve since been reading several other posts and found them informative as well as well written. I’m still rather new to this field, having only really started reading up on it in the last six months (I majored in classical history and Greek litterature) so I’m always on the prowl for more sources and good writers. This fits both of those.

    I like the atmosphere you try to maintain and very much appreciate the civil tone you strive for.

    You’ve certainly acquired a new reader today.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Mr. Paulsen. I’m gratified to know that I could be of assistance in some small way.

  13. Rosemary · · Reply

    Hi, Mr. M.
    Have you seen video of Bruce Levine, interview by Mass. Law School dean on Levine book “Fall of House of Dixie” – two parts on youtube. Really interesting, I didn’t see it posted here tho maybe I missed it… anyway, you’d like it. Best wishes, R

    1. I haven’t seen this yet. Thanks.

  14. Rosemary · · Reply

    Not been to Gettysburg since my “Civil War awakening” (slept through the trip back in high school)… I’ve been listening to Carol Reardon talks and realize your blog photo has you with pup Sandy at one of the PA monuments. Pretty sweet,.

    1. Sallie. 🙂 She was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry. Sallie is a great example of why you have to get out of your car on the battlefield. If you stay in your car you’ll never see her, because she’s on the side opposite the road.

  15. Of interest though completely different: part of our culture commerated Gettysburg last November…. or….. Yankees did Gettysburg on a football Saturday (Dixie not an isssue 🙂 )
    PS I’m not an alum…. really,

  16. PS: yes, the Hokies beat them this year… eh…. One day the Golden Flashes WILL RISE
    Also: video ends at 10 minutes in..

  17. Oh, pleeze… she gives me Ohio State, I mean OHIO STATE! and its Marching Band for cripes sake… ugh… a guy runs a blog and gets all kinds of ….
    I would not offer a regular marching band thing, good sir. These guys rarely stay still.. they make stick figures of soldiers march across the field to Battle Cry of Freedom…. they make a horse rear up.. and shoot a cannon at the opponent’s goal post (hey – maybe it was Virginia Tech?)
    I respect going with no comment… I mean …10 minutes of one’s life for Ohio State is a lot to ask unless a paycheck is involved.
    Yet self-proclaimed students of the Civil War, imo, ought not confine themselves to dead guys, crazy guys, and the boys from ivory towers.
    Schmaltz is part of it. In 2066 someone is going to present a paper on this kind of stuff.
    Just sayin’ …..

    1. Please don’t think I don’t appreciate the contribution. Brooks and Kevin both highlighted it last year, so I didn’t think much more needed to be said about it.

  18. ah….. makes sense….

  19. Hi. I have been enjoying your recommended links very much. Thanks for posting! I think I found something you might like. “Great Battles of the Civil War” presented by Allan W. Howey … it is part of 2013 series presented by Dayton, Oh area university and public library re Lincoln… Speaker is very good. You probaby have heard him … but I’ve mined your video archive and didn’t see this talk included…

    1. Thanks for the video. He should probably update his lecture, though. 🙂

  20. Me, again.
    You are the only person in the world who I can share my videos with… My circle just isn’t into the Civil War.. no matter how many great stories I can tell…. anyway,,,, Here is a Tim Smith vid that might be new to you. It was a Smith talk that got me into the CW in the first place. …. The intro for this vid is kinda drippy.. but once Tim comes on, it is great. This is about Gttysburg civilians.

    1. Thanks again. My cat listened for awhile but then he decided he wasn’t interested in Gettysburg civilians. I, however, watched the whole video. Thanks for contributing.

  21. ‘Fraidy cat no doubt couldn’t stand upcoming part where Tim tells of enterprising civilians who, confronted with thousands of starving soldiers, invented Feline Stew.
    He’ll like this one …. if he’s not German:

    1. Thanks, Rosemary. I’ve adjusted the link to the beginning of the playlist so that someone clicking on it will start at the first lecture.

      I did a small Gettysburg Battlefield tour with Christian in 2013. I think what I’ll do is separate the Civil War talks that I haven’t featured yet and make posts of them. The Perspectives in Military History series is terrific. I’ve attended several of them.

  22. Mark Welsh · · Reply

    I’m searching on info in my family tree and came across a Steven Blevins of Ashe, North Carolina that was killed 1 July 1863 at Gettysburg. He was born in 1832. Wondering if we’re kin or you have more info? He was married to Jane Mink born in 1836 also from Ashe. By the way, I’m an Air Force veteran also. 🙂

    Mark Welsh
    Shelbyville, Tennessee

    1. Sorry, I don’t have any more information on him.

  23. Marc Panero · · Reply

    I really enjoy your website. I have posted here before. But I feel I am becoming a student of the “Student of the American Civil War”. You do not know how much I enjoy your postings, and how many hours I spend watching and reading them. Thank you so much for the time and care you spend to keep up the site.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m very happy to hear you find the posts enjoyable.

  24. Willie McBain · · Reply

    I guess I feel dumb after reading your well-constructed post of the question on the following question. At lunch last week I gravely pronounced that if Abe Lincoln had merely been a better lawyer — better able to bring two opposing sides together — we might have avoided the Civil War long enough for mechanization to make slavery obsolete.

    The topic was the battle flag business and the general reluctance of some to forget the war. I have no dog in the hunt except it seems a little stupid from both sides. Do you have an opinion about how long slavery might have survived as an institution if there had not been secession and war? Okay, slavery was booming at the time. At some point surely it would have failed. Or would it have?

    1. Thanks for the comment and question. The idea that slavery was on the way out and would be obsolete is a very popular notion. I’ve found that popular notions need to be questioned, because many times they aren’t right. This is one of those times. The historical record is clear on a number of facts. First, slavery was incredibly profitable wherever it was tried. Second, the institution of slavery was remarkably resilient. Third, it survives in some forms to the present. Fourth, people were willing to sacrifice everything to preserve it. Regarding mechanization, we need to remember that mechanization makes labor more efficient, not unnecessary. Mechanization of agriculture hasn’t eliminated the need for agricultural labor. That’s why we still have armies of migrant workers. Additionally, an enslaved person can perform any type of labor.

      I don’t think it’s impossible that legal slavery could have survived through the 20th Century, even to the present. Imagine a society where the free are a leisure class, with that leisure being built on the backs of enslaved people. Does it remind you of an episode of Star Trek? It should. Sci Fi explores possible outcomes.

  25. Mike Rogers · · Reply

    Al – I found the Jefferson reference I mentioned when we were talking the United States “are” or “is”. It’s in Bernard DeVoto’s Course of Empire on page 403. “Or more simply, this: after 1803 the phrase “the United States” in Jefferson’s writing, usually plural up to now, begins increasingly to take a singular verb.”

    This is at the end of a section in the book about the Louisiana Purchase and he ties the notion of a continental nation to Lincoln’s 1862 message to Congress.

    1. Thanks for checking on it, Mike.

  26. John Heagney · · Reply

    Just discovered your blog while researching reasons for secession. In St. Louis Mo. (my home town) a flurry of letters to the editor regarding the fate of an early 20th century Confederate monument included 3 or 4 spouting the neo-Confederate view that the war was about a lot more than slavery, tariffs were the primary cause etc. Thank you for your work in gathering together the messages of the various southern secession conventions outlining the reasons for their actions.

    Regarding your ground rules governing “Comments” I try to refrain from moving the furniture in a house I do not own. Allow me to especially endorse rule 9.

    May Sallie live forever and keep up the good work

    1. Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

  27. I’ve recently discovered your work, as well. And I can’t thank you enough for all of the work you’ve put into this. Especially, your cite work.

    I’ve been lurking for about a month, but I have to break my silence. I’ve found references to the 1860 census showing around 30% of slave state families owned slaves. But, for the life of me, I can’t find it in the source. Do you have a direction you could point me in?

    1. Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to comment. You can estimate the percentage of slave-owning families in each state for any year, but some years the estimate is less reliable than others. If you look at the results of the census in some years you’ll see number of slave owners in a state as well as the number of households [households = families] in the state. We know that only one person in a household could be the slave owner, it’s a simple matter of dividing slave owners by households and multiplying the quotient by 100% to get the percentage of slave-owning households. In other years the number of households isn’t available. Then we have to make an assumption to come up with an estimate. We can assume a household consists of an average of 4-5 people, so we divide number of free people by either 4 or 5, whichever we want to choose for the estimate, and that gives us an estimate of number of families, then proceed as above, realizing it’s an estimate based on an assumption regarding the average number of people in a family. We should always qualify our statements based on that estimate with that assumption. This source says they’ve computed the percentages based on the 1860 Census, though I haven’t verified their numbers at this point.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply.

        I’ve found that site, too. I also found this from the Library of Virginia: http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/php/state.php

        Lots of sortability!

        Again, thank you so much for all the work you’ve done.

  28. As a serious amateur scholar of American history, and Civil War history in particular, (as well as an USAF veteran myself), I’m so pleased to have discovered your blog site. Excellent! I bookmarked it for frequent future visits.
    In a time where many wonder where are the vaunted heights to which the internet was predicted to rise, your site is a terrific example. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words.

  29. You have a great site here, and I enjoy your perspectives. I am the descendant of UNION veterans of the War of the Rebellion, and I was born in …… Gettysburg. Love your work.

    (I don’t know if you’re a wrestling fan as well as a football fan, but it was nice to watch my Nittany Lions wrestle your Hokies. I believe there is also a home-and-home football series between the two schools in the next decade. Should be fun.)

    1. Thank you very much for the comments. Yes, if I recall correctly the series is somewhere around 2021 or 2022.

  30. bob carey · · Reply

    I don’t know where else to place this on your blog but Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service.

  31. Mr. Mackey, thanks for your posts. They are informative, well written, and well documented. I always enjoy reading them.

    I’m currently writing a novel about women in the ’50s South struggling to come to grips with the changing South; faced with the problem of reconciling their loyalties to their community, their personal needs, and those of their family with their growing awareness and discomfort.

    In researching the topic, it became clear that in order to understand the origins of the civil rights struggle, I needed to understand Reconstruction. Although I grew up in the South at that time, and consider myself well informed, I was embarrassed to find that all I really knew about Reconstruction was what my family told me: that it was bad. I’m finding researching reconstruction a bit overwhelming. Sources vary widely in their interpretations and the books are long! I’m looking for a “primer” that will give me reliable information, but won’t require me to get a degree in Civil War History! I enjoyed the video of Eric Foner at the Historical Society 2017 symposium. Any other suggestions?

    Here are my social links:
    blog: http://www.realsouthernwomen.com
    Facebook: A Southern Breeze
    EMAIL: sanderlmc@icloud.com

    I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
    Louise Canfield

    1. Thank you for your comments, Ms. Canfield. If you look to the right side of the blog page you’ll see a section called “Categories.” If you click on “Reconstruction” within that section, you will see links to all the posts I’ve made dealing with Reconstruction, which includes videos and book reviews. There are a number of very good books that cover the Civil Rights Era, including Taylor Branch’s books [Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68, and The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement] and Jason Sokol’s There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975. One should also have an understanding of life for African-Americans throughout the United States, so Leon Litwack’s North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 is good for understanding the discrimination and problems African-Americans faced in the free states before the Civil War. There are many other books, of course. 🙂

  32. Josh Mohel · · Reply

    Mr. Mackey,

    I tried using the search function for this blog but wasn’t able to get really cogent results for what I was after. Do you have any organized tagging or listing of your critique of the so called “heritage” movements with articles arranged sequentially by date?

    Do you also have any posts where you give an overview of your take on the question?

    Thanks and sorry if I’ve just missed the tools to find it…

    1. Look on the right side of the page and scroll down until you see the word “Neoconfederates” and click on that.

      You can also search by typing “heritage” into the search box and hit “Enter” on your keyboard. Other terms to search: “SCV,” “Sons of Confederate Veterans,” “UDC,” “United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

  33. TheGuy445 · · Reply

    Hi there Al. I just discovered your blog. So far I love all the content you post. Have you ever thought about making a series (like the one you did with fort Sumter) discussing undoubtedly the most debated and controversial topic of the civil war: the causes of it and debunking typical neo Confederate arguments such as “only a few southerners owned slaves” “they fought for their homes and families” “then why was the emancipation proclamation released two years after the war started?” Etc, just like you did with Fort Sumter.

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you’re enjoying your visit here.

      Check this out: https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/the-extent-of-slave-ownership-in-the-united-states-in-1860/
      Also look for a series I did on “A Book With No Credibility.”

  34. TheGuy445 · · Reply

    Oh Al, you have GOT to see this and make a blog post on it:

    1. Maybe, but right now I’m not motivated to spend any time on him.

  35. John Poulsen · · Reply

    have a question.I am new to reading on Grant and want a good starter book and an easy read.Would the newer books By Ronald C. White,Ron Chernow or the older work By Mcfeely be a good place to start?

    1. Mr. McFeely’s book is beautifully written and won the Pulitzer Prize, but I don’t think he understood Grant at all. I haven’t read Mr. Chernow’s book, so I can’t comment on it. I enjoyed Mr. White’s book; however, I think the best book to get is Brooks Simpson’s Triumph Over Adversity: Ulysses S. Grant, 1822-1865 and the soon-to-be-published Fruits of Victory, which will cover Grant from the end of the Civil War to his death. If you’re looking for a short introductory volume, go with Josiah Bunting’s Ulysses S. Grant. Edward G. Longacre’s General Ulysses S. Grant: The Soldier and the Man is an easy read, though I have to disagree with his conclusions about Grant and alcohol.

  36. Rex0680 · · Reply

    Hi Al. You mentioned that you are a retired US Air Force Officer.

    First, I want to say thank you for your service.

    Second, I’m going into the services myself and love learning about this kind of history. However, (and sorry if this sounds outright ignorant and stupid) would you say that even in old conflicts such as this one, are there still useful tactics and strategies to take away from and apply them to today’s modern warfare?

    I guess you can say my question doesn’t just apply to the civil war. I could ask the same thing about the revolutionary war, Napoleon, and perhaps even ancient warfare as well with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think there are plenty of lessons to be learned from history, even ancient history, but we have to remember the past is an alien nation to us. They did things differently in the past, and their viewpoints and experiences are quite different from ours. So we have to temper the lessons we try to draw by not trying to take something out of the past and think it will fit nicely into the present. Experience is a good teacher, and in studying the past we are studying the experiences of those who came before us. We learn why one thing might not work in one situation but work in another situation. We learn how various leaders got things done in different situations. A study of history is very useful for the military officer.

      1. Rex0680 · · Reply

        Thanks for the input. It’s funny because right after I posted that comment I watched a civil war trust video that mentioned that Coalition forces during the Gulf War used tactics that were inspired by Grant’s Vicksburg campaign.

        What book(s) would you recommend for best understanding the tactics and strategies of the Civil War?

        1. Look for:
          Earl Hess, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat
          Earl Hess, Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War
          Earl Hess, In the Trenches at Petersburg
          Earl Hess, Trench Warfare Under Grant and Lee
          Earl Hess, Civil War Infantry Tactics

          Joseph Harsh, Confederate Tide Rising
          Joseph Harsh, Taken at the Flood
          Joseph Harsh, Sounding the Shallows

          Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, et al., How the North Won

  37. Theguy445 · · Reply

    Hi Al,

    I heard James m McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is the best “unbiased” book regarding the entirety of the civil war. Do you think this is true?

    Also, what are the best “unbiased” books/bios on Robert e Lee?

    1. Every person has a bias of some type. McPherson’s book is one of, if not the best single volume treatments of the war.
      You won’t find any account free of bias of some type.
      The three best books on Lee are Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man, Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography (4 volumes ), and Emory Thomas, Lee.

  38. Jessica Sams · · Reply

    Hello Mr. Mackey,
    Do you have a resource page/bibliography to accompany your article on William Mack Lee? I found your piece to be one of the best break downs and debunks out there.


    1. Thank you. The links in the post will take you to the sources.

    2. Thank you. The links in the post will take you to the sources.

  39. Al Mackey, Just wondering, Did you ever wish that you had pursued a career as a professor of history? Could you picture yourself on stage with Gary Gallagher, Carol Reardon, and Edward Ayers?

    1. No. I thoroughly enjoyed and am very proud of my career in the military. It would have been nice if I had had an opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in history during my time in the military, but that would have been icing on the cake.

  40. Benjamin Bagnes · · Reply

    I love your Blog, I have found many great links and information here. I am wondering if you know of any talks or discussions concerning claims that Abraham Lincoln used the military to coerce or ballot stuff to win elections?

    1. Thank you for the kind words. There’s little to no evidence of using the military to ballot stuff or coerce. Some soldiers were deployed to protect polling places from disruption by confederate sympathizers. In the majority of cases they were not near the polling places but camped nearby. And the confederates were indeed plotting with some Northern Democrats to disrupt the elections.

      You can see books on the 1864 election.

      I’ve reviewed some of them in the past:




  41. Al, what is your educational background? Did you study history or politics?

    1. Yes on both. I have a BA in Political Science with a minor in History and a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

  42. Patrick Alford · · Reply

    Thank you.

  43. John Brown · · Reply

    I have been trying to research the origin of the infamous statistic that Abraham Lincoln was personally responsible for shutting down 300 newspapers during the course of the U.S. Civil War. As far as I can tell, he only directly ordered the shutting down of two newspapers — The New York World and the Journal of Commerce.

    Does anyone know the origin of this statistic?

    Also, do we know the actual breakdown of the causes that resulted in these newspapers closing down? Whether they were shut down by members of Lincoln’s Administration, or by the actions of his generals, or by pro-Republican mobs, or just by natural forces of attrition that arose due to the U.S. Civil War?

    1. Lincoln was not personally responsible for shutting down more than just a few newspapers. The number usually comes from counting every newspaper that either was closed or had an edition suppressed, no matter if it was for an hour, a day, or a week. I don’t know of any that were permanently closed.

      James G. Randall deals rather effectively with the newspaper situation in his book, Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln.

      According to Randall, “A striking fact concerning the subject of journalistic activity during the Civil War was the lack of any real censorship.” [p. 481]

      The fact is that military secrets were published by newspapers: “The location of Grant’s guns secretly placed against Vicksburg in 1863 was published; his proposed concentration upon City Point in July, 1864 was revealed; Sherman’s objectives in his Georgia march and the disposition of his various corps were proclaimed; full details concerning the land and sea expedition against Wilmington, NC, in December, 1864, were supplied. Northern newspapers practically functioned as Confederate spies in Union camps, for copies of these journals were easily obtained by Southern generals.” [pp. 486-487]

      In the case of shutting down newspapers, Randall tells us, “Where the activities of a newspaper produced too grave a menace, it sometimes happened that the newspaper itself was ‘suppressed,’ which usually meant that by military action its publication was temporarily suspended. Cases in which this drastic method of press control was applied were fairly numerous, although it is also true that throughout the war the most flagrant disloyalty was suffered to continue in many prominent papers.” [p. 492]

      “When one contemplates the full result of a loose policy toward newspapers during war, the case for some form of news control becomes a convincing one. The American Civil War presents a significant field for study in this connection, for the double reason that a period of remarkably keen journalistic enterprise coincided with a time of laxity in the matter of press control. Acting under no effective governmental restraint, the newspapers of the North, though in many ways deserving of admiration, undoubtedly did the national cause serious injury by continually revealing military information, undermining confidence in the management of public affairs, and giving undue publicity to the virtues of ambitious generals and the sensational features of the war.” [James G. Randall, “The Newspaper Problem in its Bearing Upon Military Secrecy During the Civil War,” American Historical Review, Vol XXIII, No. 2, January, 1918, p. 303]

      Randall details several instances where Northern newspapers revealed highly sensitive military information regarding movements of troops, objectives, locations of guns, types of defenses, size of troop formations, etc. Indeed, Robert E. Lee found the Northern newspapers to be lucrative sources of valuable information he could use militarily.

      But revealing sensitive information was not the only problem with newspapers. Randall tells us, “In the North, however, during the Civil War, there were many powerful papers whose malignant attitude toward the administration amounted to disloyalty and active sympathy with the enemy. The utterances of such papers as the New York World and Daily News, the Baltimore Exchange, the South, the Maryland Daily News, the Columbus (Ohio) Crisis, and the Chicago Times were so vicious that suppression or the arrest of their editors seemed but mild forms of punishment. The publicity which these papers gave to military information was as pernicious as in the case of the ‘loyal’ or ‘administration’ press, and there was the added vice of deliberate purpose to undermine the government’s plans. In such sheets the whole conflict was denounced as a ‘Black Republican’ war, governmental measures were characterized as tyrannous attempts to overthrow civil liberty in the North, the President was referred to as an imbecile or despot, and the secessionists were applauded. While continually denouncing the attacks on the ‘freedom of the press,’ their unrestrained abuse was itself the best evidence that such freedom had been allowed to proceed to the point of shameless license.” [“The Newspaper Problem,” AHR, p. 316]

      Randall extracts some writings from the Chicago Times, the Baltimore Exchange, and the Indianapolis Sentinel, and then comments, “One can easily imagine the effect of such language upon that public morale which is so essential for the support of armies in the field; and yet the above extracts are not examples of the worst utterances that may be found in the newspapers of the time, but rather of the daily tone of many powerful journals. They are representative of the sort of injurious journalism which the administration regularly tolerated, while instances of governmental repression directed against newspapers were but the exception.” [Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, p. 489]

      Newspapers were suppressed for brief times and a few editors were briefly jailed. For example, Randall tells us of the case of Edmund J. Ellis, editor of the Boone County Standard, Columbia, Missouri, who was charged with “the publication of information for the benefit of the enemy and encouraging resistance to the Government and laws of the United States.” He was found guilty and banished from Missouri. [Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, p. 491]

      Randall also tells us, “Among the newspapers subjected for a time to military ‘suppression’ were the Chicago Times, the New York World, the New York Journal of Commerce, the Dayton (Ohio) Empire, the Louisville (KY) Courier, New Orleans Crescent, the South of Baltimore, the Maryland News Sheet of Baltimore, the Baltimore Gazette, the Daily Baltimore Republican, the Baltimore Bulletin, the Philadelphia Evening Journal, the New Orleans Advocate, the New Orleans Courier, the Baltimore Transcript, the Thibodaux (LA) Sentinel, the Cambridge (MD) Democrat, the Wheeling Register, the Memphis News, the Baltimore Loyalist, and the Louisville True Presbyterian.” [Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, pp. 492-493]

      Regarding the overall situation, Randall tells us, “A study of the various instances of governmental repression in the case of newspapers will reveal not so much that the penalties were excessive in view of the offense committed as that the means were ill adapted to the end desired. Popular pressure, rather than governmental repression was, after all, the most effective method by which the journals could be kept within bounds. … Viewing the whole period of the war, and taking account of all parts of the country, it appears that the actual governmental interference with the freedom of the press was comparatively slight, and that voluntary restraint or popular pressure had far greater effect in keeping improper material out of newspapers than official repression. … There was during the war no real suppression of opinion.” [“Newspaper Problems,” AHR, pp. 322-323]

      As Randall tells us, “In seeking a just interpretation of the question of press control during the Civil War, one must balance the immediate and practical considerations, of which the executive branch must be ever watchful, with the constitutional and legal phases of the subject. When powerful papers were upsetting strategy by the revelation of military secrets, discrediting the Government, defaming the generals, weakening the morale of soldier and citizen, uttering disloyal sentiments, fomenting jealous antagonism among officers, and clamoring for a peace which would have meant the consummation of disunion, even the most patient administration charged with the preservation of the Union by war, would have been tempted to the use of vigorous measures of suppression.” [Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, p. 505]

      Here’s Lincoln’s stated policy on suppression:

      “Under your recent order, which I have approved, you will only arrest individuals, and suppress assemblies, or newspapers, when they may be working palpable injury to the Military in your charge; and, in no other case will you interfere with the expression of opinion in any form, or allow it to be interfered with violently by others. In this, you have a discretion to exercise with great caution, calmness, and forbearance.” [Lincoln to John M. Schofield, 1 Oct 1863, Collected Works, Vol 6, p. 492]

      For a more recent study, see Harold Holzer, Lincoln and the Power of the Press.

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