Without a doubt, it is the United States civil war, a war fought on its own soil, by its own people, is its bloodiest conflict yet. It is also the most consequential. From the abolition of slavery, to preventing the secession of the Confederate states, there is no war that has shaped the so-called “greatest nation in the world”.

With such a heavy reputation, it comes to no surprise to everyone that the American Civil War is the most studied and most written about conflict in the United States. Books about and relating to the subject are numerous. From educational topics on the rhetoric and propaganda of the era to some novels that explore life before, on, and after the war i.e. Francis Dutch’s Book about Civil War called Can’t Hobble the Elephant is one of the fine examples of US Civil war novel. It is a story of Josh O’Donnell, a former Union army, who is on the run form that very said army as he struggles to deal with his past that oh so want to catch up with him.

When speaking of written works, during the Civil war however, there can be no better source than the newspaper. The American Civil war came at a time when industrial warfare was at its dawn. As such communication tools like telegraphs, mass printing of newspapers and pamphlets were at their full force. During the civil war, American journalism found its apotheosis.  In fact, among the legacy of the unfortunate conflict was the modern mass-circulation of the daily newspaper, the national illustrated weekly newspaper, and reader’s compulsion for consuming both. However, despite these technology, a gap was seen in how the North and South were able to access these media.

The railroad and the telegraph were instrumental to the rapid reporting done during the Civil War. If the railroad allowed for faster mobilization of ground forces in the battlefield, the telegraph was just as fast in reporting and publishing the results of news from these battlefields. This technologies, along with the advancements of printing presses allowed for the printing of hundreds of newspaper for circulation. News outlets like the New York Tribune even used these very same railroads to deliver their papers for circulation. In fact, their national weekly edition achieved a circulation of more than two hundred thousand. This fast and updated circulation of information, empowered readers to consume newspaper in a way not unlike how the modern day consumes social media. In fact, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. in an 1861 article in the Atlantic wrote about this new compulsive news habit: “..only bread and the newspaper we must have, whatever else we do without.”

Along with the evolution of the written new is the proliferation of propaganda. You are sure propaganda is to follow, after all, it and war are bedfellows. When one comes, the other is not far behind.

Though not as potent as how Leni Riefenstahl, Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis utilized it, propaganda during the American Civil War was put into great use. Even before the war broke out, the propaganda machine of both the North and the South were already churning messages that emboldened their cause to the masses. The content of these propaganda was mostly about the ideals and principles of both sides. These allowed the people to grow that patriotic feeling. In the North, these messages leaned heavily on an anti-slavery rhetoric. Newspapers, pamphlets and almanacs like the American Anti-slavery Almanac were instrumental in propagating these messages. In the time leading to the breakout of the war, these messages became the raison d’être for many to enlist in the war.

Most of the South’s propaganda meanwhile focused more in repugnant views. Not that the North don’t have its faults, but the South took mudslinging propaganda to the next level. Their messages focused on how African-Americans were unfit to serve as soldiers and that only the Whites should be able to lead them. Their belief in this propaganda was so hard that they ever only enlisted black slaves when they were backed into a corner. Even then, they did so reluctantly. One Confederate politician was even quoted as saying “ If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong,’. 

In the end, the Union won the propaganda wars. Their messages were more sophisticated and innovative due to having access to more raw materials and they used a lot. Among their innovations in the art of propaganda was the use of envelopes to widen their messages.  Through images, drawings, and wood block paintings, they widened their reach to even the house wives and children of the Union. These messages emboldened the soldiers to uphold their principles and they fought ferociously, for a better and more united nation.

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