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REV: Crosspost from H-South: Astor on Ellis, _The Moving Appeal_

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  • Amos J Wright
    fyi...the _Memphis Daily Appeal_ was published in Montgomery for a time during the war.. ajwright@uab.edu ... From: H-NET List for the Southern Association for
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 14, 2004
      fyi...the _Memphis Daily Appeal_ was published in Montgomery for a time
      during the war..

      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-NET List for the Southern Association for Women Historians
      [mailto:H-SAWH@...]On Behalf Of Jennifer McDaid
      Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 7:48 AM
      To: H-SAWH@...
      Subject: REV: Crosspost from H-South: Astor on Ellis, _The Moving

      Published by H-South@... (September 2004)

      B. G. Ellis. _The Moving Appeal: Mr. McClanahan, Mrs. Dill, and the
      Civil War's Great Newspaper Run_. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2003.
      ix + 677 pages. Includes bibliographic references and index. ISBN

      Reviewed for H-South by Aaron Astor, a-astor@...,
      Department of History, Northwestern University

      _The Civil War Paper Chase_

      For four long Civil War years, a bizarre triangle including an alcoholic
      editor, a corrupt bookkeeper, and America's only female daily paper
      editorial writer published the _Memphis Daily Appeal_ in five Southern
      cities. The "Bible of the Confederacy" served the Southern populace
      through the Civil War's end, defying the fate of other Confederate
      dailies upon Union occupation. Confederate dailies typically faced two
      choices when their host cities faced Union capture: shift editorial
      opinion or shut down. The editor of the _Appeal_ chose a third option:
      evacuate to another Confederate-held city. The newspaper's odyssey from
      Memphis, to Mississippi, to Georgia, to Alabama, and finally back to
      Georgia marked the precarious nature of newsgathering for an
      information-starved Confederate population. Its printers struggled to
      dismantle a massive, $10,000 steam-driven Hoe press, place the apparatus
      on multiple rail cars, and reassemble the mammoth device under pressure
      from Union guns no fewer than five times. Yet its travails also
      reflected the internal conflict and chaos that accompanied Southern
      society's ultimate and complete collapse. From Memphis to Grenada,
      Mississippi, then on to Jackson, Atlanta, Montgomery and finally
      Columbus, Georgia, the _Appeal_ recorded the final desperate burning of
      cotton bales, wholesale looting by the citizenry and soldiery alike, the
      free distribution of whiskey among both invading Union soldiers and
      straggling Confederates, and the desperate resolve of local patriots
      eager to carry the fight another day.

      Barbara Ellis' _The Moving Appeal: Mr. McClanahan, Mrs. Dill, and the
      Civil War's Great Newspaper Run_ is more than just a story about a
      newspaper or an editor. It is a biography of a media phenomenon. This
      thoroughly researched, highly readable narrative traces the _Memphis
      Daily Appeal's_ arduous journey across the South, providing a unique
      perspective on the Civil War. Ellis, a former journalism professor at
      McNeese State University in Louisiana, provides readers with a
      compelling study in nineteenth century journalism, an extensive analysis
      of Deep South military operations, and an intriguing account of the
      lives of some extraordinary personalities. Thanks to an acrimonious suit
      between rival claimants to the paper after the Civil War, the author had
      access to volumes of private correspondence and internal documents.

      The first five chapters detail the origins of the _Appeal's_ main
      principals. John Reid McClanahan was a financially risk-averse protege
      of Jackson, Tennessee newspaper editor Jesse McMahon. As a young
      newspaper carrier for McMahon's _Truth Teller and District Sentinel_
      McClanahan "learned which headlines to shout that would fill his
      pockets. He learned that carriers also took the initial brunt of public
      reaction to the news" (47). Moreover, his early exposure to the great
      national newspapers like Horace Greeley's _New York Tribune_ and James
      Gordon Bennett's _New York Herald_ introduced McClanahan to the
      importance of type-setting and styles, as well as the art of editorial
      bombast. Both of these traits, in addition to punctual delivery of the
      daily product, served McClanahan well through the very end. McClanahan
      also learned the importance of blunt diction. Indeed, one of Ellis' most
      poignant observations about McClanahan's editorship was his attention to
      receptivity. Mindful of a relatively illiterate population in the
      antebellum South, McClanahan wrote in a style that would enable "parlor
      and tavern orators to make the rafters ring when they read his work
      aloud" (52). He also recognized the importance of "pass-alongs;" many
      people reading the newspaper did not pay for it, but advertisers were
      willing to pay a premium for access to free readers (1, 512n). Moreover,
      he made sure to include numerous local interest stories that veered far
      away from formal politics and appealed to men and women of all social
      and economic classes.

      If McClanahan was the no-nonsense editor who disdained prolixity and the
      arts of high finance, bookkeeper Benjamin Franklin Dill and his wife
      America Carolina Dill were profligate speculators. But Carolina's
      editorial combativeness, in particular, would serve the _Appeal_ well.
      In the 1850s, Carolina Dill demonstrated her propensity to rankle the
      local Baptists who wanted to gain control of the University of
      Mississippi at Oxford. Dill's exposure of this scheme earned her the
      everlasting disdain of Oxford's Baptist community (which still continues
      to this day). While B.F. Dill remained in the cash office for the
      duration of the _Appeal's_ life, Carolina migrated into the role of
      assistant editor. McClanahan would remain the public face of the
      _Appeal_, but Dill's imprint was unmistakable. Indeed, as Ellis points
      out, women regularly controlled the printing operation of newspapers,
      though most historians relegate the role of women to footnotes.
      "'Assisting' in the print shop usually meant doing everything except
      pulling press handles: writing, editing, setting type, dickering with
      vendors, selling and collecting advertising and subscriptions, and
      especially minding the 'counting rooms'" (32). But Carolina accomplished
      more than most "newspaper wives." Carolina Dill would remain a dominant
      force at the _Appeal_, despite the increasingly hostile relationship
      between herself, her husband, and McClanahan.

      The remainder of the book details the war career of the _Appeal_. Ellis
      outlines the arduous process of dismantling, transporting, and
      reassembling the Hoe press on the eve of Union invasion. She also
      highlights the increasing importance of such a "national" newspaper for
      the Confederate cause. Each time the _Appeal_ moved to a new city
      McClanahan had to ensure the editor of the existing daily paper that he
      would refrain from commenting on local affairs. The _Appeal_ was still
      the _Memphis Daily Appeal_, even if it was published in Mississippi,
      Georgia, or Alabama. As such, the _Appeal_ established a formidable
      reputation for both news accuracy and nationalistic editorial fervor.
      The _Appeal's_ numerous contacts on the battle fronts -- including
      future newspaper luminaries like Henry Watterson -- made the _Appeal_
      indispensable for Confederate and Union troops alike. Indeed, Ellis'
      discussion of anonymous war sources is one of the most intriguing
      elements of this book. Throughout the war, though especially during
      Sherman's Atlanta campaign, pseudonymous sources reported back the
      activities of Union and Confederate troops. McClanahan maintained
      troublesome relations with all of these men for a number of reasons that
      still resonate with war journalists today. Were they giving away secret
      information to opposition readers? Were they painting an unduly
      pessimistic picture of the battlefront? Were they giving a reliable
      version of the truth or did they try to impress readers with
      sensationalist nonsense? War correspondents were regularly fired and
      rehired over failure to adhere to McClanahan's rigorous standards.

      _The Moving Appeal_ offers a unique perspective on the war. But it has
      its limitations. For one, Ellis offers little insight into why
      McClanahan switched from being a steadfast Unionist in pre-war Memphis
      to becoming a champion of secession. The _Appeal_ had regularly
      lampooned fire-eating secessionists like Yancey and called for adherence
      to the Union through early December 1860. Ellis comments that by
      Christmas 1860 "McClanahan joined millions . . . and threw in his lot
      with the secessionists" (116). Yet historians of Tennessee have stressed
      that secessionist sympathies were far from universal, especially before
      the fall of Fort Sumter. [1] Indeed, Shelby County even voted against
      secession in a February plebiscite. Ellis does not seriously address the
      intra-Tennessee struggle over secession -- other than mentioning that
      McClanahan downplayed a Union torchlight parade in Memphis -- which
      rendered Tennessee the last state to join the Confederacy. It seems
      unlikely that McClanahan had so little to say about the reluctance of
      other Tennesseans to follow the secessionist course.

      If the book missed some intriguing political quandaries, it also glossed
      over some social questions. Slavery, for example, is rarely discussed,
      either as a political or social issue. It seems rather unlikely that
      McClanahan's opinions regarding slavery were limited to stereotyped
      hatred of Yankee abolitionists. Indeed, detailed discussions of slavery
      typically dominated the editorial columns of Civil War-era Southern
      newspapers; it is doubtful that the _Appeal_ would have differed in this
      respect. Other questions regarding Civil War-era Memphis society receive
      little attention, including relations between the large Irish population
      and native born whites. Historians would likely find McClanahan's (and
      Ellis') insights regarding the breakdown of Southern society more
      intriguing than the litigious quarrel between the heirs of McClanahan
      and Carolina Dill following the mysterious post-war deaths of McClanahan
      and B.F. Dill (which occupy an entire chapter).

      Nevertheless, _The Moving Appeal_ is an invaluable contribution to the
      study of nineteenth century journalism, and a compelling narrative of
      the Confederate homefront. Scholars who rely upon newspapers as sources
      will learn much about the mechanics of news production. Most
      importantly, historians of the Civil War gain an intriguing perspective
      of the Confederacy's rise and fall from one of the South's most notable,
      resolute and enigmatic propagandists.


      [1]. See Stephen Ash, _Middle Tennessee Transformed, 1860-1870: War and
      Peace in the Upper South_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
      Press, 1988); or Daniel Croft, _Reluctant Confederates: Upper South
      Unionists in the Secession Crisis_ (Chapel Hill: University of North
      Carolina Press, 1989). Both of these books deal with other sections of
      Tennessee. However, they both make clear that while western Tennessee
      was the most pro-secessionist, that sentiment was not universal even

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