Cover image for The most fearful ordeal : original coverage of the Civil War
The most fearful ordeal : original coverage of the Civil War
McPherson, James M.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xii, 420 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Added Author:
Added Uniform Title:
New York times.
Format :


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E464 .M8 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It was a war that shaped America more than any other in our history since the Revolutionary War, and its effects were perhaps even more far reaching. More lives were lost and more domestic property destroyed than in any other conflict in which this country has been involved. More, in fact, than in all other past struggles combined.

Much has been written about the Civil War since its conclusion nearly a century and a half ago; those five bloody years have proven a seemingly inexhaustible source and inspiration for films, novels, documentaries, and works of history. We are drawn to the period, and return to it ceaselessly, for we have come to acknowledge the war as the crucible in which the nation's identity was forged by fire, defining what the country was and what it would become. Harpers Ferry, Fort Sumter, Bull Run,Antietam, Gettysburg, Appomattox, Ford's Theatre - far more than names or places, they are epic moments in a drama of courage, sacrifice, and profound change.

But what was it like to have been there? To have watched John Brown hang and Pickett charge and Lee surrender and Abraham Lincoln assassinated? The Most Fearful Ordeal contains The New York Times 's original coverage of these and other crucial events of the Civil War, offering today's reader history as it was first being transmitted, via the newly invented telegraph, by reporters and other eyewitnesses on the scene. Here are the accounts that people at the time would have read as these events were unfolding. Indeed, the coverage provided by The Times and other newspapers was their only connection to what was happening. Every word was pored over, every article read again and again. "The American flag has given place to the Palmetto of South Carolina" - -so begins, with ominous solemnity, the coverage of the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., declared that August, when his son and namesake, the future Supreme Court justice, prepared to depart for Virginia, "We must have something to eat and the papersto read."

Here are the legendary figures and events as they first appeared in print, giving readers history's first draft: urgent, alive, reporting the passions and tensions of the moment, raw and unpolished. Often the words and events that have endured the longest in our national memory (such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address) received only brief note, and occasionally there are 0mistakes in initial assumptions (believing that Bull Run was a major Union victory rather than a catastrophic defeat).

With introduction and notes by Pulitzer Prize - winning Civil War historian James McPherson that puts each major event and dispatch into historical context, The Most Fearful Ordeal is enhanced by period photographs and maps that explain the strategies behind the major battles. Most of all, it brings to life the fearful days, and makes the Civil War a vivid presence in this new century.

Author Notes

The New York Times is the winner of 89 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The New York Times is based in New York City, and has 16 news bureaus in the New York region, 11 national news bureaus and 26 foreign news bureaus.

The New York Times has a 12-month average circulation, which includes 1,131,400 circulated weekdays and 1,682,100 on Sundays.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The format of depicting a war through coverage by war correspondents is now effectively applied to the American Civil War in this collection of New York Times articles on major events from John Brown at Harper's Ferry to Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. Noteworthy is the amount of rumor, innuendo, and downright fancy that even the best correspondent could spread when one couldn't find a satellite relay even in an sf magazine, and considerable was the effect of that state of reportage on public opinion and individuals' states of mind. The presentation of complete articles allows a clearer notion of what good journalistic prose then constituted, and editor--and magisterial Civil War historian--McPherson's annotations again confirm his ability to throw light on any aspect of the war. A browser's and buff's well-sorted treasury. --Roland Green Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

If journalism is the first draft of history, Civil War journalism is a very rough draft indeed. This anthology of New York Times articles from the era amply catalogues the profession?s many shortcomings and its few strengths. Included are reports from most of the major battles and campaigns, along with coverage of war-related political and domestic events like the Emancipation Proclamation, the New York City draft riots and Lincoln?s assassination, and commentary by historian McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom. The Times battle dispatches demonstrate the blinding effects both of the fog of war?the paper regularly inflated Confederate numbers by a factor of four and announced the death of Stonewall Jackson 10 months ahead of time?and of a fog of bias that rarely distinguished between facts and Union propaganda. Coverage of the disastrous Union defeat at Chancellorsville, for example, extols Northern generals? ?brilliantly audacious? leadership, celebrates an insignificant night skirmish as ?the most grand and terrific thing of the war? and spins the battle as ?in our favor, but not decisive,? while a dispatch from Gettysburg concludes with Christ summoning the Union dead to Paradise. More reflective are the pieces on slower-moving events off the battlefield, including a terse and moving narrative of John Brown?s execution, mordant accounts of the death-bed vigil over Lincoln and the grim procession to view his body, and a trenchant obituary of Jefferson Davis analyzing the Confederate president as the embodiment of the South?s failed society. Although such flashes of insight and perspective are rare, the collection as a whole illuminates the volatile, jingoistic climate of public opinion that the war engendered. 60 b&w photos, 6 maps. (June.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Of the big three Northern newspapers at the outset of the Civil War (the New York Times, the New York Tribune, and the New York Herald), only the Times reflected President Lincoln's brand of moderate Republicanism and early measured conciliation toward a rebellious South. Despite the paper's general balance, numerous reports of military engagements and ancillary newsworthy occurrences contained gross errors, exaggerations, false information, bias, and jingoistic declarations telegraphed from the front by meddlesome "special correspondents" who continually ran afoul of Union generals; their all-too-informative columns were frequently discovered in rebel camps. Collected here are those and other dispatches, which readers will recognize as the first imperfect drafts of history, reports that molded public opinion and undergirded the morale of Northern readers. The major battles are covered, as are key events, including Lincoln's assassination and the obituaries of the conflict's four major protagonists: Lee, Grant, Davis, and Sherman. Pulitizer Prize-winning historian James McPherson's brief introduction and headnotes add a modicum of historical context. Brief biographical sketches of the Times's major reporters would have added immeasurably to this compilation. After all, this study might have revealed as much about the correspondents who covered the war as the war itself. Recommended for all Civil War collections.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. vii
Part 1 1859-1861p. 1
Uprising at Harper's Ferryp. 3
Execution of John Brownp. 10
Lincoln Electedp. 24
South Carolina Secedesp. 32
Fort Sumterp. 55
Battle of Bull Runp. 79
Part 2 1862p. 91
Fort Donelsonp. 93
Monitor vs. Merrimacp. 111
Battle of Pittsburgh Landingp. 125
Capture of New Orleansp. 139
Battling for Richmondp. 150
Second Battle of Bull Runp. 170
Antietamp. 183
Emancipation Proclamation (Preliminary)p. 206
General McClellan Dismissedp. 210
Fredericksburgp. 214
Part 3 1863p. 223
Chancellorsvillep. 227
Emancipation Proclamation (Final)p. 225
Death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jacksonp. 234
Vicksburgp. 236
Gettysburgp. 244
Draft Riots in New York Cityp. 259
Gettysburg Addressp. 268
Part 4 1864p. 271
Battle of the Wildernessp. 273
Petersburgp. 278
Battle of the Crater at Petersburgp. 284
Fall of Atlantap. 292
Part 5 1865p. 295
Abolition of Slaveryp. 297
Occupation of Richmondp. 300
Surrender at Appomattoxp. 308
Assassination of Abraham Lincolnp. 320
Abraham Lincoln's Funeralp. 360
Inauguration of Andrew Johnsonp. 344
John Wilkes Booth Killedp. 363
Trial of Assassinsp. 369
Conspirators Sentencedp. 382
Four Assassins Hangedp. 383
Part 6 Obituariesp. 395
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)p. 397
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)p. 400
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889)p. 406
William T. Sherman (1820-1891)p. 410
Indexp. 413