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War with Mexico!

America’s Reporters Cover the Battlefront

Tom Reilly

Edited by Manley Witten

November 2010
360 pages, 7 illustrations, 6 x 9
Modern War Studies
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1740-1, $39.95

book cover imageAmerican war reporting came of age with the Mexican War, just as our nation’s newspapers were gaining new prominence through the headline-hawking “penny press.” Indeed, the Mexican War was the first to be comprehensively reported in the daily press, with at least thirteen full-time correspondents covering the military campaigns conducted south of the border.

Tom Reilly highlights the synergistic relationship between battlefield reporters and the rise of modern commercial journalism, providing riveting eyewitness accounts of the war and new insights into the press’s profound impact on national politics and perceptions. With editorial assistance from Manley Witten, Reilly reconstructs the efforts, methods, lifestyles, achievements, and failures of America’s first war correspondents, the brutal campaigns they covered, and the journalistic system in which they functioned.

Giving ample and vivid voice to the reporters themselves—including George Wilkins Kendall of the New Orleans Picayune, James L. Freaner of the New Orleans Delta, William C. Tobey of the Philadelphia North American, John Warland of the Boston Atlas, and Jane McManus Storms of the New York Sun—Reilly reveals how they braved the dangers of combat, witnessed the horrors and heroics of war, cultivated sources, and ultimately wrote it all down for distribution back home. At the same time, as Reilly makes clear, they sometimes juggled facts as they saw fit, representing viewpoints of every political and social stripe and often glorifying events with nationalistic fervor.

Reilly tracks the transmission of wartime reports by boat, horseback, and telegraph from the battlefields and army camps to readers in American cities—where big news often meant an “extra edition” to be hawked by the growing armies of newsboys. And, more generally, he provides an excellent overview of the condition of American journalism in the mid-to-late 1840s—particularly newspapers in New Orleans, which were crucial to the overall coverage of the war.

While there have been a great many books written on the Mexican War, this is the first to tell its history through the eyes of the reporters who covered it on the ground—at no little risk to their own lives—and to show how that effort signaled the emergence of newspapers as an important force in American life.

“Presenting a fresh approach that will appeal to more than just military historians, this is arguably one of the most important works ever to have been published on the Mexican War and one that will remain unsurpassed for years to come.”—Richard Bruce Winders, author of Mr. Polk’s Army: The American Military Experience in the Mexican War

“A welcome, engaging, and important study of American wartime journalism in its infancy. Reilly and Witten chronicle the resourcefulness, tenacity, and ingenuity of the professional and amateur journalists whose tireless efforts kept the American public informed of events from the nation’s first foreign war.”—Timothy D. Johnson, author of A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign

TOM REILLY was a professor of journalism at California State University, Northridge, and was the founding editor of Journalism History. He died in 2002. His former student MANLEY WITTEN teaches in the School of Communication at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

 

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