“The Prophet Russell Coming Out at the Little End of the Horn”

April 12, 1862

artist unknown

“The Prophet Russell Coming Out at the Little End of the Horn”

Anglo-American Relations; Civil War, Press Coverage; Journalists/Journalism; Wars, American Civil War;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Great Britain;

No caption

This unsigned Harper's Weekly cartoon contrasts the opinions of William Howard Russell, war correspondent for the London Times, upon entering and leaving the United States.

Born and educated in Ireland but thoroughly Anglicized, Russell joined the staff of the London Times in 1843 and became the world's first war correspondent when he covered the Crimean War (1853-1856).  He added to his experience and fame by reporting the Indian (Sepoy) Mutiny of 1858, the American Civil War (1861-1862), and later, the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and the Zulu War (1879).

When an armed conflict between the free North and slave South seemed likely in early 1861, London Times editor John Delane shipped Russell off to America.  He arrived on March 16 as a celebrity journalist whose influence was sought by Unionists and Confederates.  The initial reaction of Americans to Russell is reflected in right-side caption of the cartoon, "By George!! they treat a fellow like a prince in this Yankeeland! you know." 

Although his editor believed that Southern independence was inevitable, Russell had an aversion to slavery and, at a St. Patrick's Day dinner in New York City, urged the preservation of the Union.  Contrary to most of his British or American contemporaries, Russell understood that if a civil war began, it would be a lengthy bloodbath.  New Yorkers were not pleased with his first letter published in the London Times which essentially accused them of being oblivious to the impending crisis.

Russell journeyed to Washington, D. C., as tensions mounted over the Confederate threat to Fort Sumter, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  On his first night in the capital, he dined with Secretary of State William Seward, who desired to use the journalist to convince Britain and France not to recognize the Confederacy.  The next day, Seward introduced Russell to President Abraham Lincoln, who described the London Times as the world's second most powerful force, behind the Mississippi River.  While staying at the Willard Hotel, Russell also met with Confederate sympathizers who emphasized the irreconcilable differences between the regions.

On April 13, Russell headed for the South as the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.  From Norfolk, Virginia, he traveled by train through North Carolina to Charleston, then on to the temporary Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, where he met President Jefferson Davis.  In his published reports, Russell despaired that the Southern hatred of the North was so great as to make reunion impossible.  The Confederates were surprised by his strange suggestion that they become British subjects, but they were infuriated by his critical descriptions of slavery.  

By late June 1861, Russell had gauged the negative reaction of Americans to his London Times correspondence:  "I am told I am very unpopular with the North & in New York.  I can't help it.  I must write as I feel & see & I believe I may have the consolation accorded to the impartial of finding myself still more unpopular in the South."  

After traveling by steamboat up the Mississippi River, Russell took a train across the North, reporting on the deficient armaments and inferior physique of the Union volunteers compared to the swashbuckling Confederates.  He also lambasted the American press which he believed was responsible for the sectional conflict.  On July 21, 1861, Russell was late for the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas, Virginia) and missed most of the fighting.  That did not prevent him from filing a story on the "cowardly route" and "scandalous behavior" of the retreating Union troops.  His dispatch to the London Times provoked a firestorm of criticism in the Union press.

As his harsh depiction of slavery had made him persona non grata in the Confederacy, so after Bull Run Russell found his access to Union military and political figures closed.  He was subjected to harsh abuse in the American press, and his editors in London harped on his growing expense account.  Finally, on April 9, 1862 (a week after this cartoon appeared on April 2), he sailed for London.  The cartoonist demonstrates how the cigar-smoking, hard-drinking Russell (characteristics shared with most American reporters) had shrunk in stature during his American sojourn.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Prophet Russell Coming Out at the Little End of the Horn”
July 14, 2024

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