Latest news from secessia: Soldier-printers and the rebel grapevine line

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Today, we understand the phrase “grapevine telegraph” to be a code word for the underground communication networks that connected slave communities in the South. But the term appeared repeatedly in Northern newspapers and soldiers' language during the Civil War as a derisive motif for the unreliability of Confederate news. Union soldiers took up this motif in the dozens of regimental and occupation newspapers they printed on abandoned Southern presses, deploying it to contest the meaning and interpretation of the “news” during the war. In printing their own humorous “grapevine” news, Union soldiers relied on their knowledge as printers and typographers to poke fun at and undermine the triumphant tones of the Confederate presses they seized as they marched through the South. Their labor as printers played a key role in controlling information in the South, as they harnessed the materials of the printing press to transform the fake news of the grapevine telegraph into news of Union occupation. Moreover, soldier-printers' typographic interventions and their identity and fraternity as typographical laborers revise the customary “Bohemian Brigade” image of the Civil War correspondent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-42
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Periodicals
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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