Archive by Author | katecpeck

Consensus Transcriptions, or, What Is Our Hard Work Doing?

We’re 10 months into Decoding the Civil War, and some people may be wondering when they’ll see some fruits for their extensive (and greatly appreciated!) efforts. Well, we have published two of the ledgers to the Huntington Digital Library (3 and 24), and we hope to have another one later this week.

But how do we get from the mass of data to the finished transcription?

It is a bit like sausage making. Our clever DCW developers take all of the data from your transcriptions, run the data through an algorithm, figure out what the most common text for each and every word is, and then uses those most common words to create the consensus text.

Take this page, for example:

april 18 - mssEC_24_087 - demo of consensus transcription.jpg

The text returned to us from the consensus algorithm was:

23 Di 23 Aug 1130am 30am axis Byron will Corps will will Come to alexandria. I cannot yet decide as to Belgrave Corps new Yoke will be sent to replace Barnard as soon as possible but just now we Have no time to make the Exchange we bought are momentarily Expecting handsome war near Warrenton and every a vessel must be immediately sent discharged for your youth sign applause Eleven back Mes Wash 7th for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as promptly as possible the first China China velsmay & third & fourth Cuba stanhope now at nasty signed applause gertrude gertrude

This may look like a bit of a mess, but consider the transcription that we had before DCW:

 

That’s a big old empty spot, in case you were wondering. Once we receive this data, Project Leader Mario E. and I do a quick scan of the text, in order to correct obvious errors and identify words that might require further investigation. So, looking at that same text, we might come up with this:

23 Di 23 Aug 1130am 30am axis Byron will Corps will will Come to alexandria. I cannot yet decide as to Belgrave Corps new Yoke will be sent to replace Barnard as soon as possible but just now we Have no time to make the Exchange we bought are momentarily Expecting handsome war near Warrenton and every a vessel must be immediately sent discharged for your youth sign applause Eleven back Mes Wash 7th for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as promptly as possible the first China China velsmay & third & fourth Cuba stanhope now at nasty signed applause gertrude gertrude

Some of the issues that pop up are merely a result of volunteers spacing the words in a variety of ways – obviously some people typed “1130am” while others typed “11 30am”. Others require a more critical examination of the text, such as the end of the first telegram, where “Eleven back Mes” is reinterpreted as “Eleven a M”.  And still other, like that misplaced “a” in the middle of the text, are accurate, if odd, parts of the transcription.

The transcription as it appears in the Huntington Digital Library looks like this:

Fr Di 23 Aug 11 30 am
for axis Byron Corps will
come to Alexandria I cannot
yet decide as to Belgrave
Corps new Yoke will be
sent to replace Barnard as
soon as possible but just
now we Have no time
to make the Exchange we <deletion>caught</deletion>
are momentarily Expecting handsome war near
Warrenton and every a vessel must
be immediately sent discharged for your
youth signed applause Eleven a M

Wash 7th
for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as
promptly as possible the first China <unclear>velsmay</unclear>
& third & fourth Cuba <insertion>NY</insertion> Stanhope
now at nasty signed applause gertrude

We can’t guarantee that our interpretations are correct, but we hope to provide a faithful transcription of the text as it appears on the page. And we no longer have that big old empty spot, but rather usable, hard data. That is some pretty sweet fruit!

Save

Grant’s “Former Bad Habits”

mssEC_03_037 - grant has resumed his former bad habits - red_mtn.jpg

St Louis 1 PM 4th  Recd Mch 4 ” 62
No fifty three Andes a rumor
has just reched me that since
the taking of Fort Donelson Grant
has resumed his former bad habits
if so it will account for
his neglect of my often repeated
orders I do not deem it
advisable to arrest him at present
but have placed Genl C F
Smith in command of the expedition
up the Tennessee R I think Smith
will restore order & discipline I
hear unofficially but from a reliable
source that our forces took possession
of Columbus this morning – the enemy
falling back to Island number ten
& N Madrid – I am expecting official
telegram hourly Alden Clear road windy

It’s bad enough when rumors circulate about you at work, but when the boss starts listening to them, you may be in trouble! Although the arbitraries used here (“Andes” and “Alden”) are part of a codebook that we no longer have, it is a pretty safe bet that this telegram’s sender is General Henry Halleck, who briefly relieved Grant of command in March of 1862. We know from published copies of this telegram that the recipient was George B. McClellan. Andes is so frequently seen in the telegrams from 1862, even ones otherwise written in clear, that it seems to have become a shorthand for McClellan. We are hoping to reverse-engineer some of the missing codebooks by comparing telegrams in the Eckert ledgers with those in the Official Record, so this message helps us on our way: Alden=Halleck. Check!

Thanks to Zooniverse volunteer red_mtn for pointing this telegram out!

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What Did He Do?!?

mssEC_30_408 - I will never forgive you.jpg

12 Nov 4
Columbus Nov 4
Maj Eckert
I will never forgive you
for what you did at Baltimore
David

There are many tantalizing glimpses into peoples’ everyday lives during the Civil War lurking in the Eckert ledgers, but this one has been teasing me for months. One of the benefits of having access to all of the ledgers is that I can go hunting through the nearby pages for related messages, but in this case I was unsuccessful. It’s unclear who David was or what on earth happened in Baltimore, and I can only hope that some eagle-eyed transcriber is able to catch what I’ve missed!

It can’t have been too bad though, for only a few days later he sent a telegram to Eckert that ended:

mssEC_30_429 - I will never forgive you follow up.jpg

Hope to see you Saturday
David

On Illegal Leaks and Fake News

By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

photcl 300 v 1 p 92 - NY_Herald_in_the_Field.jpg

New York Herald in the field, August 1863, James E. Taylor Collection

By the time the Civil War broke out, news had become a saleable commodity, with the New York Associated Press (AP) acting as the leading broker that enjoyed a close relationship with the Lincoln administration. President Lincoln dispensed with the practice of relying on newspaper editors and instead used AP as the news conduit. The flow of news, however, was tightly controlled by the War Department: AP received only information that had been cleared by military censors.

Although the system overall worked reasonably well, there were glitches which resulted in loud scandals. In June 1862, Charles C. Fulton, the head AP agent in Baltimore and the editor of the Baltimore American, was arrested for publishing an unauthorized account of the Seven Days’ Battles which the War Department considered a serious leak of military intelligence.  Following public outcry, Fulton was released after forty eight hours and immediately published an account of his ordeal, much to the delight of Confederate and the Union opposition press.

On the morning of May 18, 1864, two morning New York newspapers published an AP wire asserting that President Lincoln issued a proclamation ordering the draft of 400,000 into the Union Army. The news, which indicated that the Union side was losing the war, crashed the New York stock exchange sending stock prices tumbling down and raising the gold. The news, however, was fake, planted by two gold speculators well familiar with AP’s delivery system. This “bogus proclamation” incident became the only known instance when Lincoln actually issued an order to suppress the newspapers.

photcl 300 v 1 p 91 - A_group_of_four_men_stand_around_a_horsedrawn_cart_looking_at_newspapers.jpg

Newspaper cart, November 1863, James E. Taylor Collection

As seen in Eckert’s letterpress books, on August 1, 1864, AP again found itself in a predicament. On July 31, Fulton transmitted to New York a report which he had received from a source in Fortress Monroe. The first part of the report, which contained the news of the loss of the Battle of the Crater of July 30, had been cleared by William Bender Wilson, the head of the Baltimore office of USMT.  However, Fulton tacked on an additional bit of news:  his Fortress Monroe source also “says Gen. Grant has arrived from City Point at 9 a.m. & was met at Ft. Monroe by President Lincoln who arrived from Washington at 10 o’clock both embarked on the Baltimore & after going in direction of Cape Henry steamer returned towards Norfolk there avoiding all interruption during interview at 3 p.m. President returned to Washington. General Grant returned to army.”

This meeting was not supposed to be publicized. A private meeting with the commander of the Union army coming on the heels of the shocking loss of the battle of the Crater could be seen as a sign of panic. As soon as Eckert got wind of the report, he ordered Daniel H. Craig, AP general agent, to suppress the news.

According to Craig, it was too late, as he had already sent out Fulton’s report “all over the country fifteen minutes before the order to suppress it came to hand. We are now trying to suppress it but I have no idea we shall necessarily.” He also tried to minimize his role in the leak: “There is intense excitement & anxiety here & all over the country & the substance of the news was undoubtedly known to Wall St. an hour before we got our own report and that is always the case when there is important news.”

 


Sources:

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 91: Center right (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49338)

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 92: Top (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49339)

Hooray For Us!

It’s always nice to earn recognition for your achievements, so we were thrilled to learn that we were 2nd Runner Up in the Public Engagement category of the Digital Humanities Awards! The nominees included projects from Mexico, Japan, Spain, Italy, and France, in addition to the English-speaking countries, so we were in excellent, and diverse, company.

Thanks to everyone who voted, and everyone who has participated in Decoding the Civil War in the last nine months!

military_band_fortress_monroe

The Cook’s Deserted!

mssEC_30_405 - cook deserted.jpg

Hd Qurs A Potomac
Nov 3.
Maj Eckert.
The Cook I hired in place of
Henry Bowman discharged has
deserted us. Will you please
send some one (1) to see
George Taylor Colored No 11.
Four & half st. between Md
avenue and C. St & ask him
if he can send a good cook
here We need one (1) badly.
Please answer.
A.H. Caldwell

It’s bad enough when one of your comrade-in-arms goes AWOL, but when it’s the cook?! Tragedy!

We’ve Been Nominated!

It’s always nice to have your hard work recognized, so we are very excited to be nominated for a 2016 Digital Humanities Award in the category Best Use of Digital Humanities – Public Engagement! It’s a pleasant development, though not entirely surprising considering the enthusiasm that Decoding the Civil War volunteers have shown on the talk boards, on this blog, and on Twitter.

Our transcribers’ commitment to the project has helped us retire 43% of the 12,921 pages of telegrams and codebooks from the Thomas T. Eckert papers. Due to their effort, we have already been able to share full transcriptions of two of the ledgers (ledgers 3 and 24), with more coming soon! The raw consensus data has let our research team pinpoint telegrams that are being incorporated into new educational materials. Gems have also been found by our volunteers, as can be seen in some of the posts on this blog.

This has been a team effort and a great collaboration. We are happy and grateful for the nomination, but the early success of this project has been a great reward already delivered. So thanks to all our volunteers, our research team, and all those who have supported us!

Now vote! Voting ends February 25, 2017!

UDID_49424_crop_Eckert_PH