Hodges: Newspaper on wheels: The Chattanooga Daily Rebel

Hodges: Newspaper on wheels: The Chattanooga Daily Rebel

July 21st, 2013 by By C. Anthony Hodges, D.D.S. in Opinion Columns

Franc Paul was looking for an opportunity. The 30-year-old was serving as clerk of the Tennessee Senate when Nashville was evacuated in February 1862 and Gov. Isham G. Harris ordered him to remove Tennessee's archives to Chattanooga for safe-keeping. Now that the task was accomplished, Paul found himself a man without a job.

Prior to the war, Chattanooga had two newspapers, the Confederate-leaning Advertiser and the Union-leaning Gazette. War closed them and mid-1862 saw Chattanooga without a source for news. Paul saw his opportunity. He got the idea that Chattanooga was the "very point at which to establish a journal for circulation in the army."

He had printing experience, having once worked for well-known East Tennessee editor, "Parson" Brownlow. He got encouragement from James Warner, a merchant who had moved to Chattanooga in 1853 and had served as mayor in 1861. They had worked together at a Nashville newspaper, and Warner, knowing the city's need for news, encouraged the undertaking.

Paul obtained the printing plant of the Advertiser and on Aug. 1, 1862, the inaugural issue of the Chattanooga Daily Rebel hit the city's streets. Fortunately for Paul, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was concentrating his army in the area, giving the Rebel a ready audience. Initially, it cost 10 cents a copy with a month's subscription being $1 in advance. No subscription was taken for longer than a month.

The pages of the Rebel were a mixture of local matters, advertisements, military matters, and news obtained from other widespread newspapers (a common practice of the time). Thus a typical issue might find liberal quotation from the London Times, New York Times, or Richmond Enquirer alongside notices for the hire of slaves; advertisements for Chattanooga schools such as Aldehoff's and the Cumberland Church; local residences available on the market; coal for sale by a Running Water firm; and other news and business notices of a 19th-century city.

Official Confederate military communications also would be found, such as the need of the quartermaster for men to unload cars and wagons; notification to travelers and citizens that they could not travel or trade within Chattanooga without permits; notices to sick and wounded soldiers returning to the army on where to report; and a thousand other details of running an army stationed in a city.

In November 1862, Paul moved the paper into the backrooms of the Bank of Tennessee in the 500 block of Market Street. By winter, the Rebel had become the favorite journal within the Confederate Army of Tennessee, enjoyed quasi-official status with the military, and had a large civilian audience.

Paul printed 8,000 copies per day and claimed he could have sold twice that number if sufficient paper had been available. He also noted that he could not fill the subscriptions for the Rebel as fast as they came in. He hired Henry Watterston as chief editorialist and the 22-year-old's fiery editorials were countered by the humor of Albert "John Happy" Roberts. Writing under the pseudonym "Mint Julep" was a young Middle Tennessee soldier, Todd Carter.

When the Union army bombarded Chattanooga in August 1863 from Stringer's Ridge, the office of the Rebel was a special target and on the Aug. 25 the newspaper boasted it was the last "public institution" remaining in the city, "every other is on the wing ... we are left alone in our glory." In its final Chattanooga issue, a single sheet "war bulletin" on the Aug. 30, the Rebel noted that the Yankees were shelling town, saying: "Crash came a shell over the roof, struck a Chattanooga hog in its side, and sent him squealing to the happy hunting ground." That night the Rebel evacuated the city on the Atlanta bound train. For the first time in 13 months Chattanooga was without a source of news.

The Chattanooga Daily Rebel was not done. It would print a daily issue with few interruptions until April 1865. Usually operating from a railroad car that could move as necessary with the army, the Rebel, retaining "Chattanooga" on the mast, published issues from Marietta, Ga., Atlanta, and Griffin, Ga. and finally moving to Selma, Ala. where its presses and files were destroyed on April 2, 1865.

An unknown person printed a final issue April 27, 1865, noting the war was ending which "diffused a general feeling of joy and hope throughout the community." Chattanooga's "newspaper on wheels" passed into history.

For information visit www.chattanoogahistoricalassoc.org or call LaVonne Jolley at 423-886-2090.

C. Anthony Hodges, D.D.S. is a board member of the Friends of the Park.