- Marketing the Blue and Gray: Newspaper Advertising and the American Civil War by Lawrence A. Kreiser Jr.
In Marketing the Blue and Gray: Newspaper Advertising and the American Civil War, Lawrence A. Kreiser Jr. builds on his previous work in Civil War history to bring a broad understanding of the experience of the war as embodied through print culture and consumption. In particular, the book expands on the work of Alice Fahs on the popular culture of the war years. Drawing from a substantial cache of newspaper research, Kreiser argues that merchants commercialized the war by attempting to link their products with wartime events, personalities, and headlines. In so doing, these merchants “broadened participation in the contest” (p. 171).
In six chapters, Kreiser examines the reciprocal relationship between the Civil War and advertising. Chapter 1 suggests that merchants couched consumption in patriotic terms during the war. Especially in the South, advertisements situated shopping as a political activity, one that demonstrated support for the Confederate cause. Advertisers were also quick to appropriate war-related headlines and themes, including criticism of the draft and references to Ulysses S. Grant. Next, Kreiser turns to the products that capitalized on the experience of war, including published histories of the war, maps, images of military officers, and medicinal goods. Publishers and printmakers advertised such products as offering a better understanding of the war and its participants, while patent medicine manufacturers exploited soldiers as potential customers. Chapter 3 examines advertising during the presidential elections of 1860 and 1864. Advertisements helped gauge the political atmosphere, rally support for candidates, and facilitate political gatherings, often by promoting the sale of election-themed popular culture, such as medals and pins. In these ways, ads “helped the parties to reduce their platforms to easily remembered slogans and to build a sense of political community,” while merchants commercialized the candidates, parties, and even the president’s assassination (p. 87). Here, Kreiser demonstrates the impact of advertising as a political tool and thus expands our understandings of the function of ads beyond the commercial sphere. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 examine military recruitment, slave notices, and additional product sales, respectively. In a particularly illustrative discussion, Kreiser shows how the antislavery press helped black Americans “make the transition from slavery to freedom” (p. 135).
This book shines in its impressive array of primary source research. As Kreiser points out, the commercialization of the war took place on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and the appearance of war-related themes in advertisements provided the public with an opportunity to participate in the war effort through consumption. Yet the book overlooks important work in this area, particularly that of T. H. Breen and Joanna Cohen, both of whom argue that consumer citizenship transformed life in the decades before the war. Reflecting [End Page 483] on these arguments would allow Kreiser to connect his work to a longer history of politicized consumption, enabling him to show continuity or change in the Civil War years and thus deepening his contributions to the histories of consumption and advertising. Likewise, recent work in the history of advertising, such as Wendy A. Woloson’s scholarship on the Jacksonian era and Joseph M. Gabriel’s work on patent medicines, would again deepen Kreiser’s discussion and strengthen his contributions to these literatures. These criticisms notwithstanding, the author has compiled an expansive and illustrative picture of newspaper advertising during the Civil War. In arguing that advertisements helped facilitate the expression of political identities through consumption, the book maps important paths for future research and thus merits a wide readership among historians studying the nineteenth-century United States.