As a newspaper reporter, Bill Hendrick traveled Europe and Latin America to cover stories. When he decided to write a book, however, he looked no further than the Atlanta History Center.
Hendrick camped out for six months at the center in Buckhead, pouring over microfilm to research how The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, one of Atlanta’s most influential newspapers at the time, wrote about the Civil War.
The Intelligencer building was on Whitehall Street in downtown Atlanta, next to a railroad depot. The newspaper was a weekly publication from 1849 to 1854, when it became a daily. When Gen. William T. Sherman marched through Atlanta, The Intelligencer was the only paper to survive.
Hendrick, with historian Stephen Davis, co-authored “The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War.” It’s a study on how the city’s newspaper narrated the war’s events, how the paper got the facts right (or wrong) and how editorial columns reflected a pro-Confederate point of view.
The Intelligencer was one of 105 daily and weekly newspapers in Georgia during the Civil War. Editor John H. Steele used wired messages and letters from soldiers as sources, sometimes printing falsities as facts. The newspaper was notable for its staying power while other publications suffered from inflation, enemy occupation in nearby cities, employees leaving to join the army, and lack of materials.
During his 40-year career at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writing about business, science and health, Hendrick chased assignments on the Civil War. But don’t call him a history buff – he says the term is demeaning.
“I did as many Civil War stories as I could, every time I had a chance. Frankly, editors probably considered me a little difficult because I asked so much,” said Hendrick, who left the AJC in 2008.
Hendrick and Davis were having lunch one day when the topic of writing a book came up. Davis has written at least four books on battles and outcomes of the Civil War.
“I told Steve I was going to write a book someday about the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, the main paper in Atlanta from 1859 till 1871. He said, ‘Let’s do it together,’ and knocked out a proposal in two days,” recalled Hendrick.
They each brought strengths: Davis knew about battles and strategy and Hendrick knew about journalism and human interest.
“I really wanted to find out what Atlanta was like during the Civil War, and how newspapers worked in the days before typewriters,” Hendrick said. “I had procrastinated for 15 years, and I’d still be procrastinating if not for Steve.”