Embedded reporters with Northern armies often influenced elections as in the case of the 1863 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. They fed stories to the Cincinnati Commercial in opposition to the Democratic candidate, writing that soldiers “detested the “nasty little traitorous imposter and gambler of sedition.”
Thus inspired, and with the help of General Rosecrans, the men cast over nine thousand absentee votes for the Republican candidate versus two-hundred fifty votes for the Democrat.
Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants
“Making heroes was in some respects a natural preoccupation for the correspondents. The country fidgeted over the morning papers impatiently, looking for the one man with the ready answer or short cut which would bring a quick return out of the national investment in man power, energy and cash.
In an age of open frontier, Americans were used to fast results, to things that got done. They could not accept then – in fact, they never did learn to accept – the notion of a war to be won by long and bloody campaigns of strangulation. The faith in the coming of a “genius” who would carry matters through with one master stroke died hard.
The reporters who became barkers for these “geniuses” were no more gullible than most, but their position made their errors more damaging. Besides, in flattering officers for personal or political motives, they were depressing their newborn profession to the hurdy-gurdy-playing levels of army “public relations.”
Always ready with a sneering word, the Chicago Tribune, in 1862, wrote that much of the laudatory writing of the war was emitted by “army correspondents, with bellies full from the mess tables of Major Generals . . . the dissonant few being swallowed up like Pharaoh’s lean kine by the well-kept bullocks who form the majority.”
Most of the correspondents were apparently as willing to state political opinions as a party guest with a comic monologue to perform. They could not avoid the emancipation question if they tried . . . the Democratic journals acridly pointed out, the Negro was “chin capital” for the Republican press. In that press, the Negroes were painted as a band of brothers, knit by a universal desire for legalized freedom.
[But a] good many conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs. An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that.
[He assured readers that] the Negroes did “not wish to remove to the cold and frigid North. This [Southern] climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.”
As a matter of fact, many officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition. They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two Negro youths who blacked their boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.”
(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 240-243)