Tag Archive | 1862

Roundabout News from New Orleans


Capture of New Orleans, Farragut passing the forts by night. Jay T. Last Collection, priJLC_PRG_002017.


On this day in 1862 Admiral Farragut and his fleet of 24 gunboats, a bevy of mortar boats, and 15,000 soldiers arrived at New Orleans. The fleet had fought past, under the cover of darkness on the night of the 24th/25th, both Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. As Kate noted in her post last July, news of military advances often came from local newspapers as well. It this short telegram to Secretary of War Stanton, John G. Tucker relays Rebel news from Richmond that a single Federal naval vessel had passed Fort Jackson:

april_25_mssEC_02_081_news of NO

Fort Monroe. Apl 25th 10PM. Recd Apl 26th
Hon Stanton We have received the Richmond
dispatch of this morning which states
that a Federal gunboat had succeeded
in passing Ft Jackson below New Orleans but
they rebels state they regard it
of little importance as they had
other defenses to be depended on
No other news of interest from
any quarter J G Tucker – – –

Wildly incorrect reporting. New Orleans laid unprotected, and after prolonged negotiations surrendered; the forts surrendered on April 29. On May 1st Federal forces under General Benjamin Butler entered the city, relieving Farragut’s troops. Even though the news via Richmond was erroneous, Stanton undoubtedly knew of the coming attack. He could infer then that the attack had been successful. Roundabout news, filtered and misleading, can still be very insightful.

Reverse Engineering Lost Codebooks


Apl 21 1862
Andes Your dispatch of the nineteenth
was received that day Fredericksburg is
evacuated and the palate destroyed by
the rampant & a small part
of Anthons command occupies this side
of the Sabel opposite the town
He proposes moving his whole force
to that point signed Berlin good

Let it never be said that no good comes from spending time on Twitter! As I was scrolling through Decoding the Civil War’s feed I came across a handwritten copy of a telegram from Lincoln to McClellan, and I asked myself whether we might have a copy in the Eckert Collection as well. It turns out that we do, it’s a lightly coded version, and Project Leader Mario had already done some initial work on it for the folks developing education modules based on the Eckert materials. He had determined, in fact, that the message was sent in a code that has not survived (as far as we know).

By using the original message we can start to reconstruct this missing codebook, which may help us decipher other messages in the future. So far we have learned:

Andes = McClellan
Palate = bridge
Rampant = enemy
Anthon = McDowell
Label = Rappahannock River
Berlin = Lincoln

It may not seem like much, but it’s a start! Thanks to   for inspiring this blog post!

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.

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.

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!


The Mystery of Colonel Amgangil – Solved?!

mssEC_15_037 - colonels behavior is quite disgraceful.jpg

Perhaps you remember the case of the curiously named “Col Amgangil”, who was being decried in a previous post? What with the other aspects of my job, I don’t have much time to devote to tracking down the interesting little tidbits that crop up fairly regularly. Fortunately, rock star historian Daniel Stowell decided to tease out this particular quandary (as well as help me realize that I transcribed the date incorrectly – oops!). He posits that “Amgangil” is a mangling of “Anisansel” referring to Henry Anisansel, a French-Swiss music teacher who served in the Union’s 1st West Virginia Cavalry Regiment (originally the First Virginia Cavalry, a “loyal Virginia” regiment). The name is also spelled, confusingly, “Anisanel”, “Annisansel” and “Amsanzel” at times, confirming that the 19th century was not the pinnacle of regularized orthography!

The Colonel was accused of cowardice or misbehavior before to enemy for his actions at Bloomery Gap, West Virginia, by General Lander. The skirmish occurred on February 14th, but by the 27th Anisansel was already acquitted of wrongdoing at a court martial. I asked Stowell if that kind of speedy turnaround was common and he answered that it was not, but it may have been a result of concerns at the highest levels of command that breakdowns in discipline among the officers of the volunteer army could seriously hinder the Union’s success. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton responded to Lander’s request for advice strongly, noting that “Cowardice in an officer exhibited on the field of battle should receive the swift punishment of death.”

Other evidence of Anisansel’s travails has survived, including the telegram that he sent to Governor Pierpont of West Virginia, reporting on the start of his trial, and an account of the Bloomery Gap incident based on reports and trial records is detailed in Frederick W. Lander: The great natural American soldier, by Gary L. Ecelbarger (2000). Given both Lander and Stanton’s unforgiving attitudes, how did Anisansel fare? Accounts demonstrate a reluctance on his part to join battle with the enemy at Bloomery Gap, but the star witness for the prosecution was laid up in a hospital in Cumberland, and Anisansel was able to point to a hernia that had ruptured in a fall on the road as a mitigating circumstance. He was found not guilty without having to call any witnesses. In a twist of fate, it was actually his commanding officer, F.W. Lander, who would die soon, succumbing to pneumonia on March 2nd, only a few weeks after the trial ended. Anisansel would later resign from the army, in August of 1862.

There are so many ways that the results of Decoding the Civil War will augment our understanding of the U.S. Civil War, and we are only scratching the surface at this point. Thanks to Daniel’s help, we now know that “Humboldt” was an arbitrary for Lander in one of the codebooks that has not survived in our collection. Given his early death, Lander was probably dropped from most of the later codes, but by using contextual clues like this we hope to be able to reconstruct those lost ciphers.

I’m Not Sure of His Name, But He’s in Trouble

mssEC_15_037 - colonels behavior is quite disgraceful.jpg

Feb 16 62 1130 AM
Humboldt Col Amgangils conduct is very
disgraceful Remove him at once from
his command I will advise Secy
of War to drop him from
the rolls Release the young boys
on their parole send prisoners to
Camp Chase notifying Comdg officer Has
Muhlenberg started if not hold him
until I can communicate with Anthon

As far as I can tell, Amgangil is not a real name, but it’s also not one that I have come across in working with coded messages or ledgers. This appears to be in an early cipher, 6 or 7?, access to which we do not have. Equally frustrating is that this message doesn’t appear to be in the OR. A great challenge, as several of our volunteers have pointed out, in transcribing messages in cipher is that they lack the logical context that we rely on as readers. Whoever he was, Colonel Amgangil caught the attention (and ire) of his superiors, and seems to have been headed for a world of hurt.