Editor’s note: Stephen Davis and Bill Hendrick are coming out with their new book, The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War (University of Tennessee Press). Here’s a story based on their text.
In late September, President Davis was traveling through Georgia, en route to visit Hood and his army south of Atlanta. On September 23, when he stopped in Macon, he was asked to give a speech. It was pretty boiler-plate: the people should resolve to crush Sherman, rally to the cause, continue their patriotic sacrifices.
But then came this: “It has been said that I abandoned Georgia to her fate. Shame upon such a falsehood….Miserable man. The man who uttered this is a scoundrel.”
Davis spoke from prepared remarks, and his speech was widely reprinted in Confederate newspapers. The Georgia press in particular buzzed over the President’s “scoundrel” remark.
Since then, historians have, too.
Linda Crist, editor of the Jefferson Davis Papers, thinks it may have been either Jared I. Whitaker, owner of the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, or John H. Steele of the ADI. In writing about the Macon speech in Civil War Times Illustrated (October 1980), Michael B. Ballard guesses it was Steele, the Intelligencer editor, or perhaps Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown.
They’re close. Steele took a three-week absence (ca. September 5-26) from his paper, which was being published in Macon. Taking his place was associate editor I. E. Nagle, who in an editorial appearing on September 6 accused the president of indifference to the military situation in Georgia and the Southwest. Nagle piled on in another piece two days later. “MR. DAVIS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FAILURES IN THE WEST,” proclaimed the headline of his editorial appearing on the 8th. Then, on the 13th, referring to Davis’ failure or inability to send Hood reinforcements, Nagle accused Davis of telling Georgia’s “suffering women and children” that “Georgia must defend herself.”
John Steele gave his associate carte blanche to pen his editorials, but when he returned to the office, he felt compelled to address the kerfuffle. He did so rather obliquely, affirming that the author of these articles was “a writer for this paper”—which could only have been Dr. Nagle.
The study of Civil War journalism is still juvenescent. As George Rable put it in his Damn Yankees (2015), “the whole topic of the Civil War-era press deserves much more study.” This is particularly true of Confederate newspapers. The more we keep reading ‘em, the more we will continue to learn. The story of I. E. Nagle and Jeff Davis is a fine example.
Bill and Steve’s article, “ ‘Cerulean Abdomens’ and More: The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War” will appear in America’s Civil War. Watch for it in the July issue, available in early May.