The Richmond Examiner, Virginia Peninsula, Longstreet & Hill
The story has always been the number one priority of newspapers since the beginning. As long as a reporter smells a story, concern for the damages the story leaves in its wake, should never enter the mind. John M. Daniel, the editor of the Richmond Examiner made an art out of the free press by rattling the cages of many among the hierarchy of the Confederacy. There probably had been none, however, the likes of what ran shortly after the Battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia in late June 1862. This story would forever damage the relationship between two Major Generals in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Daniel had joined himself to the staff of General Hill as the army was concentrating along the Virginia Peninsula in May. Finding himself impressed with the division commander, his stories began to run as if the Virginian was winning the war all by himself. According to the Examiner, at Mechanicsville, Hill alone took on Federal numbers four times his own size, and at Frazer's Farm, the Confederate Army had committed no other troops to the fight other than Hill's Division.
Major General James Longstreet did not find Daniel's articles amusing at all. Calling Major Gilbert Moxley Sorrel to his tent, he handed the officer a written rebuttal which he wished to be signed by his adjutant and published in the Richmond Whig. Although signed by Sorrel, Longstreet would answer for it, as that he did not wish his junior officer to openly challenge a superior. It ignited a prideful war between both divisions. General Hill refused to have any further communication with Major Sorrel and thus stated in writing. After three attempts to get Hill to comply with orders, Longstreet sent Sorrel to Hill's tent in dress uniform and placed him under arrest.
In the midst of correspondence exchange between the two division commanders, Hill demanded satisfaction and challenged Longstreet to a pistol duel. General Lee had had about enough, and interceded between the two, considering their military expertise far more important to him while they remained alive, than to have the two attempting to kill each other.
In mid July, General Hill shot off a short note to General Robert E. Lee requesting to be relieved under the command of General Longstreet. With problems now arising in Northern Virginia for Lee's soldiers, and the Army of the Potomac sitting docile about Fortress Monroe, Lee defused the current situation by quietly transferring A. P. Hill to the division under Thomas J. Jackson. The eccentric Hill would move north with Jackson to arrest the new threat marching out of Washington.
The free press of the south, especially that of John M. Daniel and the Richmond Examiner was good at stirring up trouble in Virginia. It exercised no biased between military and politician, all were potential targets. It simply did what the press does best; its only care is to drive up the sales at the newsstand.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com