Archive by Author | hilokid

Buckner Goes Down

mssEC_01_065 - convicting gen buckner.jpg

Louisville 6 PM. 19th  Feb 20 62
Indus Ocean Buckner was indicted for
treason in Louisville some time since
a writ has been sent to
Cairo for him great feeling here
against him I advised Gen Halleck to
hold in military custody & send
to Ohio until you directed otherwise
our friends say he would be
mobbed here signed Ingress lord how
I would rejoice in hanging him

In February 1862, after capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Ulysses S. Grant turned his efforts towards Fort Donelson, not far away, on the Cumberland.  Grant’s persistent efforts, on land and by water, over five days led to the unconditional surrender of the 12,000-man garrison, led by Simon Bolivar Buckner — a catastrophe for the South. “Lord how I would rejoice in hanging him,” noted the operator three days later in this message. After five months of writing poetry in solitary confinement, however, Buckner was exchanged for Union Brigadier General George McCall, promoted to Major General, and ordered to join General Braxton’s Army of Mississippi.

Pressed by the Press

mssEC_34_111 - pressmen deciphering danas code.jpg

5.30 P.M. Chattanooga, Oct. 11, 1863
9 A.M. Oct 11th to Eckert
the dispatch disclosed was the first
one of Sept 20th Gen R.S. Granger explains
that being very anxious for news
he went with Gen’l Gillen to
the telegraph office. as my dispatch
was passing through ” some portions
of which were guessed out by
the operator ” the person
who guessed out the dispatch was
Mr. Smith who informed us at
the time it was mere surmise
as he had no Key to
the Cipher It is rather curious
however that the agent of the Assd Press
at Louisville in a private printed circular
quoted me as authority for reporting
the battle was a total defeat while
Horace Maynard repeated in Cincin.
the entire second sentence of the
dispatch. If practicable send
me a cipher whose meaning no
operator can guess out.
CA Dana

The media, as it’s now called generically, has been accused of many sins, especially in recent months. Telegrams were always at risk of interception and deception. Sometimes, though, the enemy didn’t intercept the messages, but rather, the press — in the case of this telegram, the Associated Press. The AP, which had been founded in 1846 by five daily newspapers in New York City to share the cost of sending news about the Mexican-American War, soon found itself reporting on another, larger conflict, and was hungry for news. After revealing that the AP had attempted to decipher an intercepted missive (and garbled it in the process, “guessing it out” the original sender incorrectly), Charles A Dana asked Thomas Eckert to “send me a cipher whose meaning no operator can guess out.”

Say What?!?

mssEC_05_213 - message received is confusing - sarahtheentwife

4 PM  New York 7. Nov 1862
Genl H W Halleck Genl-in-chf
there appears to be some mistake
in transmitting or translating your message
I dont understand whether there ten
thousand troops or transports at Ft Monroe
or the troops only or merely
transports for ten thousand the message
says the latter do you wish
me to come to Wash or
to go direct from here to
Ft Monroe N P Banks Maj General
Answer to Astor House

If you’ve ever suffered through reading an incoherent text message because of some ham-fisted correspondent, you’ll relate to General Banks’ frustrations in making sense of one telegram in the Fall of 1862. The shorthand used in telegrams was sometimes insufficient to clearly convey a message. “There appears to be some mistake in transmitting or translating your message,” Banks wrote to Captain Halleck. At issue was whether there were 10,000 troops at Fort Monroe, or simply sufficient transportation for 10,000 troops — a big logistical difference.

Thanks to Zooniverse user SaratheEntwife for pointing this telegram out.

Prophetic words


3.10 P.M. Harrisburg July 1, 1863
For Gen. Meade I shall try
and get to you by
tomorrow morning. A reliable gentleman
and some scouts who are
acquainted with the country you
wish to know of. Rebels
this way have all concentrated
in direction of Gettysburg and
Chambersburg. I occupy Carlisle. Signed
D.N.Couch great battle very soon

It’s well known that Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the war, and that casualties were staggering, with each side suffering more than 23,000 deaths in the course of the three-day battle that raged between July 1-3, 1863, in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Every conflict has its opening intrigues, and clues to its impending size or effect, because planning and strategy are essential aspects of war. Generals on the Union side knew that a hard rain was about to fall. Yet, the final four words of this telegram from General Crouch to General Meade are truly chilling. They are added after Crouch’s sign-off, almost as an afterthought: “Great battle very soon,” it closes.

Zooniverse volunteer dawnoftheundead noted this message and ended their comment with “wow.”

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head


Weather during the Civil War was a constant topic — addressed by soldiers writing in their journals, or more practically, writing home — concerned about their crops or their leaky roofs or the condition of the roads. But the rain, wind, snow and temperature were of special interest to the telegraph operators, because weather could dictate war strategy, and added an extra dimension to the conflict. The Eckert telegraphs include reports on downed lines, weather preventing repairs, and affecting the supplies required by operators in the field. More generally, weather figured enormously in the conflict. “Weather fair moonlight” noted in the telegraph above would have been essential information. Conditions were everything. A snowy field made it possible to approach other troops more quietly, but it also made them much easier to spot at a distance. Rain, on the other hand, could keep dust from rising in the distance and thus give an advantage. Rain-swollen rivers could require lengthy detours. Forest fires could consume bodies lying in fields after bloody conflicts. Provisioning troops in the field was often influenced by the weather, too; food, clothing, and gear could be rendered useless, or made essential, depending on the weather.