Friday, March 20, 2015

Editor's note: Covering Stoneman's Raid

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
     There were no reporters* embedded with Stoneman's Raid, and if there had been, they would have had no way to file stories, since Gen. Stoneman was usually operating deep in enemy territory without telegraph connections. 
     However, northern papers did have war correspondents covering the armies of Grant and Sherman. For example, here is The New York Times' story on the Confederate capture of Gen. George Stoneman during Sherman's 1864 siege of Atlanta. (The clipping is below. The text comes from a digital scan, which is a wonderful new tool for historians, though not flawless, as readers will see.)
     As a major general, Stoneman was the highest-ranking officer the Confederates ever captured. He was held in relative comfort in Macon and Charleston, compared to the appalling conditions at the Andersonville prison that he was trying to liberate when he was caught. Two months later, Stoneman was freed in a prisoner swap negotiated by Sherman. 
     News moved slowly back then. Stoneman was captured July 31, 1864, and it was 10 days later before The New York Times had the story, datelined from Nashville Aug. 9 and signed by a reporter named Handel. The second half of the story is a breathless letter dated Aug. 3 from Lt. Col. R.W. Smith, who escaped when Stoneman was captured.

     As we follow the progress of Stoneman's Raid, remember that his army was not usually concentrated in one place. To surprise and overwhelm the enemy, his troops were in almost perpetual motion, rarely pausing to camp for more than a few hours. If one brigade napped, another might leapfrog them. Stoneman liked to march overnight and attack at dawn.
     On the road, his 4,000 mounted soldiers could stretch 10 miles. On April 5 in Virginia, he unleashed simultaneous raids nearly 100 miles apart. On April 11 in North Carolina, he attacked six locations at once. So if our datelines don't always correspond to where the news is happening, you can blame Stoneman.
     Careful readers may also notice a few occasions that the date within the story is not exactly 150 years ago. This happens with a few stories that I considered timeless, and I took the liberty of rescheduling them so they would not be lost behind breaking news the same day. For example, so much happened on March 28 in Boone and Patterson that I've spread the stories over four days. To avoid confusion, out-of-sequence stories generally do not have datelines.
     * Though there were no reporters assigned to Stoneman's Raid, the cavalry included at least one future newspaper editor (Ohio Capt. Frank Mason) and a couple of experienced printers. Pennsylvania Capt. Henry Weand kept journals so rich that I commissioned him as the unofficial war correspondent for The Stoneman Gazette. You'll find excerpts from his journal in many of our stories.
      The raiders published their own little "extras" on confiscated presses in Salisbury, N.C.; Spartanburg, S.C.; and Athens, Ga. I was delighted to find this special edition of Southern Watchman.

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