Friday, October 21, 2011

The Port Royal Expedition and the New York Times

America's Armed Forces and the New York Times have not had the best of relationships over the years (see the Pentagon Papers and more recent spat over leaked e-mails from the National Security Agency to the newspaper).  It is possible that the sour relationship began not in the 1960s, but rather the 1860s. 

In September and October 1861, Flag officer Samuel Du Pont began assembling a fleet of warships, transports, and ground troops in Annapolis and Hampton Roads in preparation for a major offensive in South Carolina.  The offensive's goal was take the excellent natural harbor of Port Royal, South Carolina and make it a base for the newly established South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. 

As the engraving illustrates, the fleet was huge (94 ships) and in sight of the southern shore of Hampton Roads where any Confederate solider could see it.  Nonetheless, Du Pont was furious when he saw this headline in the October 23, 1861 edition of the New York Times:

The article printed not only the number of ships in the fleet, but also the names of the ship's commanding officers and the names of regimental commanders.  The fleet cleared Hampton Roads on October 25.  Whether through the article or their own intelligence efforts, Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin telegraphed his generals in South Carolina "the enemy's expedition is heading to South Carolina."

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