As Mississippi anticipated war in 1861, its primary method of getting information suffered several nearly fatal blows. Among the hundreds of men who volunteered for militias and military companies were the bulk of the state’s newspaper publishers, writers, and printers. The state’s official newspaper, the Jackson Mississippian, reported that by midyear two-thirds of the state’s professional newsmen had gone to war. A second severe handicap hit the state’s newspaper industry even harder: Mississippi had no paper mills at the outbreak of the Civil War. Newspaper publishers depended on paper supplies from Alabama and Georgia, and as the war progressed, paper became more difficult and much more expensive to obtain, rising to ten times prewar prices by 1862 alone.
It is difficult to establish exactly how many newspapers were published in Mississippi when the state seceded on 9 January 1861. An early twentieth-century researcher, using information from the census, set the number at seventy-three, but later surveys have documented only thirty papers, a mere fifteen of which remain available for research in archives and libraries.
The state’s most influential newspaper in 1861 was the Mississippian, published by fire-eating secessionist Ethelbert Barksdale until shortly after the war began, when he sold the paper to F. T. Cooper and A. N. Cooper. By 1863 only a few Mississippi towns had access to newspapers. Jackson and Vicksburg each had two papers, while Natchez, Meridian, and Canton had one apiece. In each paper, reliable news was scarce. The papers reported news of battles as best they could, receiving dispatches by telegraph transmissions, which were expensive and unreliable. In March of that year, Jackson’s Daily Southern Crisis merged with the Mississippian for “business reasons.” That summer, with the end of the three-month Siege of Vicksburg, Union forces seized both of that city’s newspapers. The Vicksburg Citizen had been publishing on the back side of wallpaper, since no other paper was available, but the publication’s final issue, dated 2 July, remained defiant: “The great Ulysses—the Yankee Generalissimo, surnamed Grant—has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on Saturday next, and celebrating the 4th of July by a grand dinner and so forth. . . . Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook rabbit is ‘first catch the rabbit.’ &c.” However, the final item in that edition of the paper, printed in the lower right corner and dated 4 July, was added by Union troops after they took the city: “Two days bring about great changes. The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit’; he has dined in Vicksburg, and he has brought his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. . . . This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.” In addition, Union forces took over publication of the Natchez Courier and destroyed the offices of the Canton Gazette.
The Mississippian alone escaped Union control, moving some of its equipment to Selma, Alabama. The paper continued to cover local news in Jackson and to distribute within the city, even though its editorial offices were in Meridian and its press in Selma. In 1864, however, even the Mississippian began to agitate for peace. Only once did the Confederate government complain about a Mississippi newspaper. In January 1865 the Meridian Eastern Clarion published a false report about the location of Union forces, resulting in a warning from the Confederacy about alarming citizens unnecessarily. No further action was taken.
Mississippians first learned of a report that Robert E. Lee had surrendered from a headline in the 12 April 1865 Vicksburg Daily Herald and received the official news on 18 April from the Natchez Weekly Courier. On 15 April the Herald reported the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in an official dispatch from US secretary of war E. M. Stanton. Early the next month the Herald told its readers, “Return to your homes and become quiet and peaceable citizens. . . . The strong arm of government has taken hold of you and checked you in the mad career of your folly and saved you from utter ruin.”
- John K. Bettersworth, Confederate Mississippi: The People and Policies of a Cotton State in Wartime (1943)
- Nancy McKenzie Dupont, “The Gathering Tempest: The Role of Mississippi Newspapers in the Secession Crisis, 1860–1861” (PhD dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, 1997)
- William David Sloan and James Glen Stovall, The Media in America: A History, ed. James D. Startt (1993)