BookChat: TheAtlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War by Stephen Davis and Bill Hendrick

I was pleased to spend some time recently with a new book co-authored by my ECW colleague, Book Review Editor Steve Davis: The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War (co-authored by Bill Hendrick). I took some time to chat with Steve about his recent work.

CM: What was the Intelligencer?  

SD: The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer was arguably the most influential Atlanta newspaper during the war. A close runner-up was the Atlanta Southern Confederacy.

BTW, “Intelligencer” is not a familiar word today, but back then newspapers named themselves this way—meaning, “we’ll inform you.”

CM: How important was the newspaper in its time compared to other southern newspapers?

SD: A few other Confederate newspapers were more influential: the Richmond dailies (there were five of them, enough to form their own press association), the transplanted Memphis Appeal (quoted as far away as by the New York Times), and a couple of the Augusta papers. But as the voice of wartime Atlanta, which by the start of 1864 was the Confederacy’s second-most important city, it is unparalleled. BTW, the Southern Confederacy didn’t survive the war.

CM: How might it compare to some of the well-known northern newspapers of the time, like the New York Times or New York Herald?

SD: We don’t pretend that the ADI ranked with the often-quoted New York papers. One difference: the Yankee papers employed “special” correspondents in the major theaters. For most of the war, the ADI had none with the two main Confederate armies. In 1864, though, “290” reported from Johnston’s army. Also, “Clio” sent dozens of letters from Richmond during 1862-64. Notably, even though scholars have deduced that “Shadow” of the Mobile Advertiser & Register was Henry Watterson, we still haven’t learned “Clio’s identity.

CM: A recent newspaper article described your book as a “microstudy” of a newspaper. That compares to, say, a microstudy of a battle: it’s an in-depth, up-close examination. How does that kind of look at the Intelligencer help us better understand the war? (As a personal note, I thought that was a wonderful description, particularly as expounded upon by Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center.)

SD: “Microstudy” of the ADI is the way we describe our work. The scholarship of Confederate journalism is still juvenescent; we count books devoted to a single Confederate newspaper easily on the fingers of one hand.

We’ve got more than 500 pages, but we could have gone longer. Our publisher, University of Tennessee Press (bless their hearts), actually asked us to shorten our original MS; I painfully pared down 37% of my first draft.

And as we say, reading the ADI today helps us see what its readers learned about the war, and how the paper displayed its out-and-out Confederate partisanship.

CM: Newspapers of the time were known as being pretty partisan. Did the Intelligencer have a particular slant? How did that impact the picture of the war it shared with readers?

SD: Pretty partisan indeed. Any Civil War newspaper, Northern or Southern, was known first for its editorial partisanship, and second for its factual reporting.

Incidentally, we’re struck that historians speak of “Confederate newspapers,” not “Federal” ones. This is partly a temporal device, denoting the four years of Southern independence. But it also bespeaks the strident patriotism seen in the Intelligencer and elsewhere in the war-torn Confederacy.

CM: Is there anyone you came to better appreciate in the book’s cast of characters as you worked on the book?

SD: John Steele, editor for much of the war. When Chris Howland of America’s Civil War asked me to contribute a short piece on a notable wartime Atlantan, I chose Steele.

CM: What got you interested in this topic in the first place?

SD: What got me interested? A few years ago, when I saw that the University of Tennessee Press had published Ford Risley’s study of the wartime Rome Courier in its “Voices of the Civil War” series, I thought, “hmmm, I could do that.” So we pitched our idea for a similar book on the ADI to UTP, and we’re delighted that it clicked.

CM: What haven’t I asked you about the book that I should have?

SD: What are some gems we picked up reading the ADI? Look at our recent column in America’s Civil War. Editor Chris Howland gave us eight illustrated pages, enough to include six sidebars. My fave is the one about the little Atlanta girl who cried in a tableau presented by the Girls’ Academy shortly after Sumter. The play required someone to hold the United States flag. One turned it down; “it is no longer the flag of my country.” Another did, too. Finally, a little miss stepped up, but did so tearfully, declaring, “I hope I am not bringing shame upon my family.”

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