Much as we may admire General Sherman’s military skills, it would be a mistake to endorse his crabby, self-serving attacks on the press (“The New Sherman Letters,” July/August).
After an initial shakedown period the hundred-odd war correspondents for the North accepted reasonable restraints on where they might go and what they might report. Even in the war’s early days, their lapses of security never cost the Union a major battle, much less a campaign. Some of them were killed, and a larger number captured. A few reporters brought in valuable intelligence gathered in forays between the lines, and one —Henry Wing—brought an anxious Lincoln the first news that Grant’s army was safe after the Battle of the Wilderness.
And why were the correspondents there? Because, in the words of the New York World (February 27, 1862), “This is a people’s war. … They have a right to know how their war is conducted.” No military bureaucrat would ever willingly admit to mismanagement. It was much easier to hide incompetence behind a veil of “security.” Reporters know this, and as one of them put it, their duty was not just to “applaud valor and merit” but also “to point out abuses and blunders that would not otherwise be reached.” Those were good words in the 186Os. And they still are.