Dramatic battles and political events also kept the northern eyes of the press and thus the public focused eastward. The Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg for example were dreams for media personnel. The media covered these battles for months, drawing on the will of the eastern population for more stories of the battles fought so nearby. Antietam, in September of 1862, in particular drew the attention of the country and the world in the press and beyond. Although the Battle of Antietam was not a lopsided victory for the Union cause, it did give the Lincoln administration the victory it needed to announce the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
The Proclamation was a public relations gold mine for the north. Whether Northerners detested or revered its mandate, everyone had an opinion on it, and it captured the interest of the public in both the North and the South. Papers from France and Great Britain covered the story, as did all the major papers in the north and south. The Proclamation, the Battle of Antietam and its 23,000 casualties, coupled with the mid-term elections helped keep the focus of the war in the east. This is a fact that truly would not change until the Confederate siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee from late September 21st 1863- November 26th 1863. (Click here for a map.)
Another contemporary media factor that greatly impacted how the northern population viewed the eastern theater’s primacy was the importance of wartime photography. Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan traveled to many of the eastern battlefields as the battles were raging or had just been completed. These three men brought their work back to New York City and Washington D.C., displaying the horrors of war for all to see. Something to note though is the fact they were not covering the entire war. These men were limited by their equipment, which was hard to move since it was fragile and quite cumbersome. Because of this difficulty in travel, they did not venture far from their studios, but they still managed to capture some of the most famous photographs in American military history. Naturally though, because of their geographic limitations, the scenes of horror they brought back to the civilian population were almost solely of the eastern theater of fighting. Many horrific battles took place in the west, but relatively little photographic evidence exists of these battlefields until after the war, and almost none exists of western battles themselves.
Also fueling the eastern media focus was the beginning of the heavy use of telegraph lines within the eastern coast of the United States. Prior to the war the east had a much greater amount of telegraph lines. As the war progressed the mileage of lines was increased by the United States Signal Corps, while the Confederate telegraph lines dwindled as more territory was captured by the Union effort. These telegraph lines allowed both the newspapers and civilians to have a greater and more up-to-date understanding of the progress of the war in the east.
War time newspaper and periodical accounts were not the only literature dealing with ongoing conflict, as some individuals actually wrote histories of the war while it was still in progress. The first biography of Stonewall Jackson appeared in 1863, shortly after his death. The Army of the Cumberland and put their Provost Judge John Fitch to work as the siege of Chattanooga was taking place. Fitch wrote Annals of the Army of the Cumberland. The 726 page book covers the Army of the Cumberland from its conception to the Siege of Chattanooga. The book was meant to tell the army’s tale and raise money for a monument at Stones River and charitable donations in the future. The book highlights the best of times in the army and is essentially a public relations piece following the debacle at the Battle of Chickamauga.
Another interesting wartime work came from an anonymous author. He called himself “An English Combatant, Lieutenant of Artillery of the Field Staff.” His book is entitled Battle-Fields of the South from Bull Run to Fredericksburg: With Sketches of Confederate Commanders, and Gossip of the Camp. The work itself only focuses on the Eastern Theater of the war and curiously is published in New York City in 1864. The work is centered on much of what was to come for the post-war literature of the war: Lee and Jackson and their daring maneuvers in Virginia.
Post-war literature was as influential as war time accounts at shaping the way Americans remember the Civil War. The writings of veterans following their protracted and often traumatic experiences at war began to mold the post-war national consciousness for many Americans. William Swinton became the early sounding board for the all things regarding the Army of the Potomac. Among Swinton’s most famous works is Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. The Army of the Potomac for many in the north became a cottage industry. In 1867 Swinton published a book entitled The Twelve Decisive Battles of the War: A History of the Eastern and Western Campaigns, in Relation to the Actions That Decided Their Issue. Swinton was one of the first and only authors for a great length of time to examine both major theaters of the war. Swinton named the twelve following battles as being the most significant:
(As titled and ordered by Swinton)
- Bull Run
- The Monitor and the Merrimac
- Five Forks
The list includes six battles from the east and six from the west, and the selections are very astute. Swinton chose five of the bloodiest battles of the war: Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Wilderness, and Murfreesboro. Many of the selections are of battles that helped change the tide of the war, including Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Nashville. Of Swinton’s major works this is by far the most balanced, since many of his other works focus entirely on the east and on the Army of the Potomac, to the exclusion of the Western Theater whose importance he cited in this work.