Archive by Author | marioeinaudi

Take up the Challenge



Today, April 17th, 2017, marks the first day of a two-week challenge, a challenge for not only our current volunteers but for all who would like to join in. The goal is a simple one: complete 10 ledgers in Decoding the Civil War between April 17 and May 1.

Our volunteers have been doing yeoman’s work turning out 200 classifications a day (a classification is equal to a page of transcription). However, we have fallen behind where we had hoped to be at this stage of our project. Thus, the challenge and the selection of 10 ledgers. We need roughly 425 classifications per day, a bit more than double our current number. We can do this and it will help get us back toward the long-term goal of having the majority of ledgers finished by June.

But why accept the challenge? The canard is often repeated that libraries and archives are dead, or if not dead, then they are simply morgues for outdated material. Our work, all our work, has demonstrated that active collaboration, research, and discovery are vital. Remember that the work that is being done on Decoding the Civil War brings together resources from four institutions — The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; North Carolina State University; and the Zooniverse with its team at the University of Minnesota — and the hard work of over 3,000 volunteers. There is also the generous backing of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The collaboration of these groups has brought back to life telegrams from the Civil War, presenting the United States Civil War to the world in a continuous stream, not neatly packaged and organized.

Finally, Decoding the Civil War has created new and exciting paths of research—paths that have been cleared by the hard work of the citizen archivists, who have generously volunteered countless hours to this collaborative project. A hearty Thank You to them!

Starting today, let us see what new paths can be carved and cleared. To keep track of our progress we will be resetting the statistics page to reflect only the ten ledgers in the challenge. The numbers will not be set to zero as some work on the chosen ledgers has already be done. Rather, the numbers can be used as a base line to mark progress going forward. And we, as well as you, will be able to see the number of classifications per day clearly. Come back to our blog daily to see updates and new posts.

Go to our Decoding the Civil War project website, register as a new volunteer, or dive in!

Let us continue to prove that our work is vital! Take up the challenge: 10 ledgers in 2 weeks!



Pictures Please! Telegraph Operators


Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection

Ever wonder what the telegraph operators of the United States Military Telegraph looked like? In earlier posts we have shown the men who ran the USMT,  Anson Stager and Thomas T. Eckert, and even one of the few women operators, Louisa Volker. But what of the other operators? The above image is a popular photograph of the men in the USMT, taken in June of 1865. It was reproduced in the 1911 edition of The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 8, Page 363, which provides the following identifications:

“…The members of the group are, from left to right: 1, Dennis Doren, Superintendent of Construction; 2, L.D. McCandless; 3, Charles Bart; 4, Thomas Morrison: 5, James B. Norris; 6, James Caldwell; 7, A. Harper Caldwell, chief cipher operator, and in charge; 8, Maynard A. Huyck; 9, Dennis Palmer; 10, J.H. Emerick; 11, James H. Nichols. …”

There is a variant of this image at the Library of Congress:


Richmond, Virginia. Military telegraph operators

Identification is, from left to right: James Caldwell, J.H. Emerick, Charles Bart, L.D. McCandless, Thomas Morrison, James B. Norris, A. Harper Caldwell, Dennis Doren, Dennis Palmer, Maynard A. Huyck, James H. Nichols.

Pulling from these two images we get these close up of the operators:

Charles Bart

A. Harper Caldwell

James Caldwell

Dennis Doren

J.H. Emerick

Maynard A. Huyck

L.D. McCandless

Thomas Morrison

James H. Nichols

James B. Norris

Dennis Palmer

Finally, there is this image, which we have used in several posts, of Thomas T. Eckert with a few of his operators in 1864:


There is no identification given, save for Eckert. But now some of the other men are identifiable, including A. Harper Caldwell immediately behind Eckert, and Dennis Doren to Eckert’s left, staring at the camera. Behind Doren, in profile, is J.H. Emerick. But the other three men? Time and others will possibly identify them.


Thanks to Zooniverse users OlEnglish and absoluteforth for the idea of connecting a few faces to a few names.


The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 90: Top (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49337)

The Library of Congress: Richmond, Virginia. Military telegraph operators, Digital ID: (digital file from original neg.) cwpb 03642 Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Col. Thomas Eckert and telegraph assistants, 1864, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Two, page 55: Top (photCL 300, vol. 2, UDID 49424)

If the Boot Fits…..

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


On April 24, 1865, as John Wilkes Booth and David Herold – pursued by the combined forces of the regular police of Washington, D.C., the military police, the United States Secret Service, the Bureau of Military Justice and officers and soldiers stationed at around Washington – huddled at Robert Garrett’s farm and the grieving New Yorkers thronged to the City Hall to pay the last respects to the slain president, Robert Murray, the United States Marshal of the Southern District of New York telegraphed to Washington.


James E. Taylor Collection, photCL 300, vol. 1, p. 94 (UDID 49341), The Huntington Library

Murray reported: “I have the order for the boots in Booth’s own hand writing. They answer the description of those found & are unquestionably the same will bring the order & the maker to Wash. with me this evening – The right Boot has a pocket inside of the leg for pistol.”

This would be the footwear discovered on April 21, 1865 in the possession of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Maryland physician and an acquaintance of Booths.

Booth showed up at Dr. Mudd ‘s house in the wee hours of April 15, with a broken left fibula. Mudd splintered Booth’s leg and let him sleep in a spare bedroom. When questioned about the incident, Mudd denied any knowledge of the identity of the man he was treating. He did produce a boot that he said he had cut off the man’s leg. The officer who arrested Mudd turned down the top of the boot to see the name “J. Wilkes” written in it.

The Bureau of Military Justice, in charge of gathering witnesses and securing evidence for the upcoming trial, had ordered to locate the manufacturer, in order to establish that the boot indeed belonged to Booth.  The order was issued by Brevet Colonel Henry Lawrence Burnett (1848-1916), Judge Advocate of the Army’s Northern Department who had been assigned to lead the investigation on April 22.

Murray seems to have done his job well. It took him less than a day to locate the manufacturer, one Henry Lux of 745 Broadway, New York. Lux later testified at the trial that found Dr. Mudd guilty of conspiring to murder President Lincoln. Mudd escaped the death penalty, by a single vote. Sentenced to life in prison, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869.

Thank you BettanyMacc for this find!


The Pencil-Pushers Are Going To Love This — Update!


2 PM  Richmond 130 PM May 17
1 PM 17th for Secy War = I learn
that Vance was started for Wash this
morning under guard = The rebel War
Dept records Eighty one boxes weighing ten
tons will leave this evening sig
HW Halleck

An update to the post from last December regarding the ten (10!) tons of Confederate records shipped to Washington. Those records were originally shipped to the Federal War Department, were eventually transferred to the National Archives, and now are part of Record Group 109 War Department Collection of Confederate Records. This wonderful connection was made by Lucy Barber, Deputy Executive Director, National Historical Publications & Records Commission, National Archives. It is wonderful in two ways. First, it shows the importance of primary sources; this telegram – which doesn’t appear to be in the OR – illustrates the early provenance of Record Group 109. Second, it is due the generous grant by the NHPRC, that this telegram was transcribed. Without their support Decoding the Civil War would not have got off the ground.

As stated so correctly in the original post on this telegram: Go out and hug a records manager or an archivist today.



Ledgers with Transcriptions!

Today is an exciting day! Today is a day to say thank you to our volunteers and the research team for all their hard work! Today we added the first two ledgers with consensus transcriptions to the Huntington Digital Library!

The ledgers are mssEC 03 and mssEC 24. While small in terms of the number of pages in each, 74 and 100 respectively, their addition to the digital library is extremely important. After six months of hard work transcribing, we can start to show the fruits of our joint labor. This first fruit is the result of Phase 1, the initial full transcription of all the ledgers and letterpress books. It is wonderful to see and proves that this was the correct platform for these materials. The transcriptions created by our volunteers are incredibly clean and accurate. Here is page 38 from mssEC 03 showing the transcription next to the image of the page:


A search was done for “merrimac” and the word was found 17 times in this ledger; three times on this page alone. We are so pleased with the quality of the data being produced.

Thank you to all who have made this possible, from the staff at Zooniverse, the research team, and especially our dedicated and wonderful volunteers. All that hard work is paying off handsomely. Thank you.

Rotation Tool! Huzzah!

All of us, researchers, programmers, and our volunteers, have been waiting for this day for a long time. We have all encountered a few pages with writing running South to North, or even North to South, rather than West to East. The transcription process is difficult enough with adding side-winding text. Our able volunteers have suggested a number of very clever work-arounds, but a rotation tool would make it that much easier.

In addition a rotation tool would prevent this:


This is a transcribed page plotting all the attempted lines–most run pretty straight, a testament to our able volunteers, but a few are quiet wonky. In addition the data returned is all over the map.  The rotation tool will fix this issue as well, linking the line to the correct transcription.

Finally, the new rotation tool will enable us to load in the last of the Eckert material: copy books. More on these for our next post. Right now, at this moment, let us say thanks to our fantastic programmers at Zooniverse for creating this incredibly valuable new tool.

Now go forth and transcribe!


Iron Clad Turtles


230 PM 25th Memphis Apr 24th 1863
From Millikens Bend April Sixteenth 6. P.M
via Memphis twenty fourth for Secy of War
Vicksburg Batteries will be run tonight
about 9 oclock – fleet will consist of
Six Iron Clad Turtles namely “Benton”
“Mound City” “Carondelet” “Louisville” “Pittsburg” &
“Dekalb”, besides “Lafayette” Iron Clad and
“Genl Price” heavy armed ram. Adml Porter
has intended to take “Tuscumbia” Iron
Clad also, but has concluded to
leave her in Yazoo. Transports consist
of “Henry Clay” and “Forest Queen”
side Wheel Steamers and “Silver Wave”
stern Wheel having twelve barges in

While looking over  the consensus data I spied the phrase “Six Iron Clad Turtles.” Turns out this is the start of a three page missive from Charles A Dana (one with the telegram tail “nothing worth mentioning here”). Dana is not talking about children’s pets, red sliders, yellow bellied sliders, or box turtles, nor is he talking in code for a Monitor class vessel. No, he is using the term to describe the river gunboats that were built in Union ports along the Mississippi. It is apt as they kind of do look like snapping turtles (not a pet), albeit with heavy guns:


James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Three, p. 49, United States Civil War, Huntington Digital Library.

I should note that that “heavy armed ram” that joined the iron clad turtles, named General Price, was also not a mythical creature conjured by Dana:


James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Three, p. 49, United States Civil War, Huntington Digital Library.

Definitely not a male sheep OR a turtle. Nor a pet.