A preposterous, controversial, infuriating, and disarming band of rogues and heroes—the Civil War newsmen—are
insightfully profiled by journalist Perry (Arrogant Armies, 1996), one of their latter-day own.
Modern American journalism emerged from the Civil War: Perry makes it clear that, thanks to the telegraph and the
importance placed on breaking news and scoops, the conflict was the first instant-news event. Peeling away the layers of prose
and posturing, Perry draws upon his experience as a newspaperman to show—for better or worse—what made reporters tick. They
were pompous and arrogant, highly inventive, they lied and cheated, they got the story wrong more often than they should have,
and they drank too much: in short, "They did a lot of things reporters are still doing today." But they were also, Perry admits,
worthy war correspondents—some of them even admirable. We are afforded fascinating glimpses of the news process from the
inside, with both overviews (why James Gordon Bennett's Herald said what it did compared to Horace Greeley's Tribune) and
intimate tales (correspondents filing thrilling reports of battles "witnessed" 200 miles behind the lines, the reporter who kept Grant
from drinking himself to death, and how European correspondents covered the action). Perry is particularly taken with the work
of Charles Carleton Coffin of the Boston Morning Journal and Whitelaw Reid of the Cincinnati Gazette. Reid he liked for his
careful writing, penetrating details, and willingness to call officers on their errors; Coffin was a sharp, dramatic writer who
"probably knew as much about making war as most of the generals." Both are represented here, as are a good dozen more, by
excellent selections of their dispatches—all of which, despite their antiquated style, ring with urgency and dire circumstance.
An utterly engaging exposition of the war correspondent's work—rotten to sublime—same as it ever was these 150 years