New book sheds light on historic Atlanta Daily Intelligencer reports of the Civil War

"The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War," is a new book by historian Stephen Davis and journalist Bill Hendrick that examines stories from April of 1861 through April of 1865. Journalist Bill Hendrick pictured here. (Courtesy of Bill Hendrick)

 From its first publication in 1849 until the founding of the Atlanta Constitution in 1871, the Atlanta Intelligencer was the city’s most important newspaper. “The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War,” by historian Stephen Davis and journalist Bill Hendrick, is a recent book that examines newspaper articles, editorials and related stories from April of 1861 through April of 1865.

Bill Hendrick spent 45 years as a reporter, the last 30 some years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk more about the book.

Interview highlights:

An archeological find sheds new light on Atlanta’s Civil War history:

“In 1994, a shell was discovered when the old Rich’s store downtown was torn down and they called in a bunch of archeologists,” recounted Hendrick. “Among the things that they found was an old shell fired by Sherman and in a well, or a cistern, they found a bunch of artifacts from Atlanta during the Civil War period. Having an interest in archeology, I ran down there and I gathered information, did a story and then I went up to the Atlanta History Center where Franklin Garrett… came down and he showed me things and he said, ‘This is part of the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer,’ which I had never heard of…. ‘There are probably shells and artifacts all over the place,'” Hendricks said. “It was like going back in time. This stuff had been there for well over a hundred years.”

Looking deeper into the Atlanta Intelligencer newspaper and how they spun the war:

“I was interested in how the newspaper got the information and put it together on a daily basis, and frankly they had a hard time doing it,” said Hendrick. “We read four years’ worth of microfilm, which just about made me go blind… Everything was biased. The Intelligencer, just like Northern newspapers, which I’m studying now for another reason, there was no such thing as objectivity as we tried to have during my career, and as newspapers try to have today. Even in a story that was a news story, it wasn’t all correct and many times, if it was bad news, it was either ignored or lied about.”

He added, “For example, I think the Battle of Gettysburg, which was a tremendous loss for the South, it wasn’t even mentioned in the Intelligencer until four or five months later, and then the editor of the Intelligencer put a note at the bottom saying, ‘We get most of this information from Northern newspapers and from official reports and this probably isn’t true. We probably actually won.'”

How the Intelligencer revealed common attitudes toward slavery:

“What they called ‘slave marts’ were reported usually on the front page, and African-Americans were referred to in the same way that somebody selling livestock would report on livestock. It’s amazing how propaganda can make people think certain things. We saw the same thing in the 2020 presidential election. We saw the same thing just recently. They reported what they wanted people to think and the propaganda worked.”

“I’m trying to get somebody who’s fairly young and smart to write a book on why so many people on both sides, but especially the South, why they fought. I mean, it’s hard for me to believe that they were fighting for slavery, because they didn’t [all] own slaves. So they had been propagandized to believe that the Southern Cause was the same cause that the victorious Americans had in the Revolutionary War, and it’s pretty amazing to see. And if you read this, when you don’t have the internet or any other TV, radio, any other source of information, it’s pretty easy to see. People were propagandized to believe this nonsense.”

“The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War” by Bill Hendricks and Stephen Davis is out now and available to purchase here.