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BOOK REVIEWS A Radical View: The "Agate" Dispatches of Whitelaw Reid, 1861-1865. Edited, by James G. Smart. (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1976. 2 vols. Pp. 516. $20.00.) Whitelaw Reid was one of the premier correspondents of the Civil War. Only twenty-four when he reported his first military action in western Virginia for the Cincinnati Gazette, Reid quickly became known for his accurate, descriptive and sometimes critical accounts of minor and major battles. His dispatches on Shiloh and Gettysburg were superlative efforts, widely reprinted. He became the Gazette's Washington political correspondent in 1862 where he became friends with most of the leading Radical Republicans. In later years he was editor of the New York Tribune, Vice Presidential candidate on the unsuccessful 1892 Republican ticket, and Minister to France and Great Britain. Using the pen name "Agate," Reid wrote scores of articles for the Gazette, and the thrust of these two volumes is the "radical" writings of Reid from 1861-1865. Smart, who helped organize the Reid papers in the Library of Congress, selected a ten percent sample , representative of the topics treated in the "Agate" dispatches. These articles covered a wide variety of subjects, from battles to Washington politics, press censorship, the plight of the blacks and the early Reconstruction period. For clarity, description, insight and "inside" news, Reid's dispatches are unsurpassed. Although politically partisan, Reid was surprisingly detached and objective in the majority of his reporting, far more so than most of his journalistic colleagues. Reid's articles—whether written while the smoke of a battle was clearing or while the hot air generated by Congressional debate was drifting away—contained two important elements. First, most of them were based on personal observation and/or verification by two or more sources. Thus, his correspondence is highly accurate by Civil War standards. Second, he dealt heavily in analysis, particularly in his political reporting. And his point of view in that analysis was generally "radical." His strong views on immediate emancipation; his bare toleration of Lincoln; his friendships with Chase, Wade, Stevens and others; his view of the South as a "conquered province"; his belief in strict, legislatively-directed Reconstruction —all demonstrate his Radical leanings. 361 362CIVIL WAR HISTORY It is here that one might find fault with Smart's Introduction. While constantly referring to Reid as "radical," Smart never defines the term. Nor does Reid. Thus, the sophisticated reader will have little difficulty noting the radical point of view; the person with less background will. The Introduction also suffers from too little biographical information on Reid, especially after 1865. It seems only fair to let the reader know that Reid's views became more and more conservative. As C. Vann Woodward has pointed out in his introduction to Reid's After the War: A Tour of the Southern States, 1865-1866, by 1870 Reid was "deploring the rash efforts of radicals in behalf of the Negro and sympathizing deeply with the bitter Southern resentment" (p. xx). Smart's Introduction also raises questions about his sample selection process. He notes that all "Agate" dispatches in the Reid Collection were checked against the articles in the Gazette. Were there any differences between what was written and what was printed? Were there any articles written but not printed? If so, why? The Notes preceding the various sections are of marginal value. On important subjects such as "The Struggle for the Negro" and "Reconstruction"—where Reid's radical leanings could be pointed out and put into perspective—there are scant three or four-sentence introductions. This lack of perspective pervades the book. In many instances, Reid will make a reference to some event or situation and the reader is left dangling because no explanation has been included. For example, in one dispatch he refers to Lincoln's "letter to Greeley" in the National Intelligencer (Vol. I, 215). Surely a brief footnote is in order explaining that this was in response to Greeley's controversial "Prayer of Twenty Millions" letter to the President. The weak Introduction and Notes, and the absence of explanatory footnotes, detract from the usefulness of the book. But, the student and historian will find Reid's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 361-362
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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