Tag Archive | abrahamlincoln

Gettysburg, November 19, 1863



12:40 P.M. Harrisburg July 4, 1863
For G. G. Meade The glorious success of
the army of the Potomac has
electrified all I did not believe
the army of  the Potomac could
be whipped when fought in a
body Unquestionably the rebels have fortified
the passes in south mountains such
information was given me a week
ago from Gettysburg signed D.N. Couch hot

Such was the telegram sent by General Couch on the victory by the Union Army of the Potomac when it was clear that the battle at Gettysburg was won. It did indeed electrify all, and Gettysburg became one of the defining battles of the United States Civil War. It also became the site of commemoration, beginning with the dedication and consecration of the Nation Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. It was on this date that Lincoln delivered these famous lines:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become a touchstone in American Memory. It still has the power to evoke strong emotions of loss and hope. But Lincoln’s words, and those spoken by others on that November day in 1863, were not to be the only monument to the soldiers who fell on the fields and hills of Gettysburg.

After the Civil War, monuments began to be erected at Gettysburg in honor of the various units who had fought there. Among the images available online at the Huntimonument_honoring_the_90th_pennsylvania_infantry_2nd_brigade_2nd_division_1st_corpsngton Digital Library are a set of photographs that depict monuments at Gettysburg taken by photographer William H. Tipton. Some were elaborate, such as the one honoring the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry, is in the form of a shattered tree trunk, with a cannon ball lodged in the heart of the tree at the top, the bark peeled away. Others were very simple like that of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry which is a large puddingstone boulder on top of a carved base. These monument_honoring_the_20th_massachusetts_infantry_3rd_brigade_2nd_division_2nd_corpsphotographs were collected as keepsakes by a veteran, Lindsey M. Gould. They provided him a touchstone, no doubt, to those he fought with and those who died.

Let us take a moment, then, to reflect on this anniversary of the consecration of hallowed ground at Gettysburg. Let us reflect on Lincoln’s words. Gettysburg did electrify the Nation in 1863. Let that spark electrify you today.

Mechanics of Telegram Traffic, Getting from A to B

By Daniel Stowell, Director and Editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In response to a query from one of our fantastic volunteers, crmiller211, and prodded by my colleagues Mario Einaudi and Kate Peck, I am going to explain the process of telegram traffic. I am focusing on how message X went from A to B the best I understand it, based on the research I did for the article (see p. 4-8) that walks through the process of decoding a telegram. In terms of actual mechanics, I fear I am no expert on the operation of the telegraph keys themselves.  There are active historical reenactors of the United States Military Telegraph that might be able to address some of those issues.

Message going from A to B. Let’s start with Lincoln, as that’s my guy.

Lincoln writes out a telegram, sometimes on Executive Mansion stationery (1).  If he wants it sent secretly, he writes “Cypher” at the top.  Notoriously bad speller, that Lincoln.  He gives it to Eckert or someone in the telegraph office or has it sent by trusted secretary to the War Department a block from the Executive Mansion.

Abraham Lincoln to Godfrey Weitzel

Abraham Lincoln to Godfrey Weitzel, 12 April 1865, RG 107, Entry 34: Records of the Secretary of War, 1789-1889, Telegrams Sent and Received by the War Department Central Telegraph Office, 1861-1882, Vault, National Archives, Washington, DC.

A cipher telegrapher at the War Department takes Lincoln’s telegram and rewrites it in a grid form (2), perhaps substituting arbitraries as he (almost always men, although I know there were exceptions, but I don’t think at the War Department) does so.  He also likely writes out a separate copy on a slip of paper in transmission order based on the route cipher used (3).


Telegram from Lincoln to Weitzel, in code, Thomas T. Eckert Papers, mssEC 18, p. 323, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


If you’re keeping count, that means that there are already three copies of the telegram in Washington.

A telegrapher sends the message, let’s say to General Weitzel in Richmond, Virginia.  As I understand the process, the telegram may have to be intercepted and re-transmitted along the way, depending on the distance, but I’ll skip over that issue for now.  My understanding is also that at least on some messages, the receiving telegrapher repeated back the message to the sender, either in sections or in its entirety to insure correct transmission.

In Richmond, a telegrapher writes down the letters/words as received (4).  A cipher telegrapher then takes that sheet and arranges the words in a grid form according to the route cipher, perhaps substituting clear words for arbitraries as he does so (5).  Then, the telegrapher writes out the message in a clear form for General Weitzel (6).

By my count, that’s at least six copies of the telegram between Lincoln and Weitzel at a minimum, three in Washington and three in Richmond.  This total does not include the possibility of correspondence logs that at least some governors, generals, and others kept of all incoming and outgoing correspondence, which would add additional copies.

Finally, a few observations:

  • An “ordinary” telegrapher could send or receive an encoded message, so long as he did not have access to the code books, but only a cipher telegrapher could encode and decode the messages.  The number of such telegraphers was kept to a minimum by design.
  • Neither Lincoln nor Weitzel would have known the exact nature of the cipher, though Lincoln certainly knew and requested that messages be sent in cipher, as did generals, governors, etc.
  • My guess is that intermediate forms of telegrams were destroyed to cut down on clutter and prevent any “leaks” of information that Confederate agents could use to try to decode the cipher.  In a camp setting, they were likely burned, and perhaps even in cities like Washington and Richmond they were burned as well.  Severely restricting access to the code books was essential to the cipher’s success.
  • If I am right about the above, it would explain the absence of many intermediate forms in the historical record.  The transmission order telegram copy we have for the Lincoln-to-Weitzel telegram about which I wrote is quite rare, perhaps not destroyed because it came at the end of the war.
  • My guess is that the Eckert telegram books are either:
    • Texts 2 (sent) and 5 (received) in the scenario above; or
    • Correspondence log copies of all telegrams that were sent and received that were entered in books, perhaps at the end of each day.



October Surprise: 1864 Edition

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

In an era of increasingly high-stakes elections, when, as we are told, the greatness and even very survival of the United States of America and the future of the Republic are at stake, many of us turn to opinion polls, stats, and election betting odds. We also anxiously look at the historical precedent, partly for guidance, and partly to reassure ourselves that things had in fact been worse and the nation was able to overcome even greater adversity.

However unusual, fateful, or unprecedented this election season may be, it has nothing on the campaign to re-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Even under ordinary circumstances, re-election of a sitting president was in the mid-19th Century a near impossibility.  After all, no President had won a second term since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

And the circumstances were anything but ordinary. There was no precedent for a presidential contest conducted in times of “actual armed rebellion,” amid the mounting toll of death and destruction and in a nation fractured and mired in despair.The unprecedented war-time emancipation provoked a bitter backlash; even the President’s supporters accused him of waging an abolitionist crusade and labored to convince him “cancel his abolition Proclamation.”

In addition, the new federal income tax and military drafts caused wide-spread protests and even riots. And a growing anti-war sentiment split the major parties, bringing the already bitter partisanship to fever pitch. Finally, tens of thousands of eligible voters, the enlisted men fighting on many a bloody battlefield, were away from their districts. None of this bode well for an increasingly unpopular incumbent.

Yet the stakes could not be higher. The Democratic candidate, General George B. McClellan vowed to restore the Union under “the old Constitution,” with the states free to allow property in men, while Abraham Lincoln pledged to continue to fight for a nation without slavery.  Although Lincoln’s party dropped the name word “Republican,” which many despised as synonymous with abolitionism, and adopted the name of the Union Party, it made the national abolition of slavery the centerpiece of its platform.

The conventional wisdom points towards the fall of Atlanta on September 25 as the turning point in the election. However, the outcome of the campaign was unclear until days before the nation went to the polls on November 8, 1864.

In the absence of public opinion polls, the anxious American public watched the betting odds (most of which favored McClellan). State elections offered another closely watched indicator. Due to the rolling electoral timetable, there were a number of state elections scheduled to take place prior to the Election Day.

In August, the Democratic candidates for minor county offices and the judge of the court of appeals won in Kentucky, in spite of the martial law established in the state. On September 6, Vermont voted in the Union Party candidate for governor and all of its candidates for Congress. Maine followed suit, scoring “a great victory for the Union cause.”

The most important were Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania where the state elections were in October. The results of the elections in the “October states” had correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential elections in 1856 and 1860.


On October 11, Thomas T. Eckert, charged with monitoring telegraphic communications from the wards and districts, took his place at the telegraph in his office. He entered the dispatches in his own letterpress books rather than the ledgers of the United States Military Telegraph. Those same letterpress books now constitute part of the Huntington’s Thomas T. Eckert papers.

Although the elections in Indiana and Ohio brought clear victory to the Union candidates, the dispatches from Pennsylvania were troubling. The telegraph in Eckert’s office tapped out the results: “Dist. Dauphin Co. Harrisburg 233 Dean Maj. Dem gain 140”; “Returns from two thirds 2/3 of Allegheny Co. indicate a Union Majority on the house vote of Seven Thousand two Thousand additional as confidently expect from the army vote; Nothing yet from Lawrence or Fulton.”

In the end, the Union Party did carry the election in Pennsylvania, but by far fewer votes than expected. If it hadn’t been for western Pennsylvania, which gave the Union ticket a 15,000 vote majority, Lincoln’s party would have been defeated.

Two days later, Lincoln walked over to Eckert’s office. As the two men pored over the data, Lincoln grabbed a telegram blank and began tallying up numbers. Indiana and Ohio were placed in the “Union Vote” column. Pennsylvania, however, went to the “Copperhead,” or McClellan’s column. Lincoln also expected to lose his home state of Illinois as well as New Jersey, New York, and all the border states of Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware. This would bring Lincoln’s tally to 117 electoral votes to McClellan’s 114.


Abraham Lincoln’s tabulations for the upcoming 1864 election. HM 2032, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Then Eckert reminded him that he could also count on Nevada and its 3 electoral votes. On September 7 the constitution of Nevada, which outlawed slavery, was overwhelmingly approved by the state voters. Nevada brought Lincoln’s total to 120.  The margin was less than reassuring.

On the main Election Day, Lincoln won with 55% of the popular vote, re-elected with 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21. In the end “Little Mac” carried only Kentucky, New Jersey, and Delaware.

A little more than three months later, on January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States and to ban slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Do I Detect a Hint of Sarcasm?

mssEC_01_148 - mcclellan drawing lincolns excellencys attention - cropped.jpg

McClellans 5th 4 PM June 5 62
For A Lincoln May I again invite
Your Excellencys attention to the great
importance of occupying Chattanooga & Dalton
by our Western forces The evacuation
of Corinth would appear to render
this very easy The importance of
the move in force cannot be
exaggerated signed Andes

Little Mac was certainly gung-ho for others to move. While bogged down in his own offensive in Virginia, McClellan is urging Lincoln to push Halleck south from Corinth to Chattanooga and Northern Georgia. As Halleck responded, “Preparations for Chattanooga made five days ago, and troops moved in that direction. Mitchel’s foolish destruction of bridges embarrassed me very much, but I am working night and day to remedy the error, and will very soon re-enforce him.”

The lack of bridges and railroad stymied Halleck’s progress. But this message is really about Little Mac. He must have been feeling pressure to move and sought to focus Lincoln and Stanton elsewhere.

Lincoln Nominated to Second Term

mssEC_27_436 - lincoln nominated for second term.jpg

230 P June 8
Baltimore  June 8
Maj Eckert
2 PM Lincoln just
nominated by acclamation
Great joy
W.D. Gentry
Opr Union Com

It’s hard to believe that Lincoln ran a presidential campaign in the middle of such overwhelming events, but I suspect he had slightly less fundraising to do than candidates today. Without the instantaneous news delivery that we have now, folks in the telegraph offices must have been among the first to know when stories like this broke. There are extensive records of the military telegraph preparing for the election, and we’ll post more as we draw closer to November.

Abraham Lincoln and the Telegraph

photCL_40_19 cropped.jpg

By Daniel Stowell, Director and Editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Abraham Lincoln was fascinated with technology, with how things work.  He is the only American president to have held a patent—for an inflatable device attached to steamboats to lift them over shoals in the western rivers.  It was natural, then, that he would take an interest in the revolution in communication technology introduced by the telegraph.

Lincoln’s first recorded use of the telegraph dates to the summer of 1848, when he attended the Whig National Convention in Philadelphia.  After the convention bypassed its favorite son Henry Clay for Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor, Lincoln telegraphed the editor of the Whig newspaper in Springfield, the Illinois Journal on June 9, 1848:  “General Taylor has received the nomination of the Convention for President of the U. States.  A. Lincoln.”  While a letter would have taken days to reach its destination, Lincoln’s telegram arrived in Springfield forty-five minutes after he sent it from Philadelphia.  It would have been transmitted and retransmitted along a likely circuitous route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Alton, and Jacksonville.  The telegraph line to Springfield had been completed only weeks before Lincoln sent the telegram.

Over the next dozen years, the reach of telegraph lines extended throughout the nation.  By the time of the presidential election in November 1860, Lincoln could sit in the telegraph office in Springfield and receive telegrams from states across the North, relaying the results of the election.  When in the early hours of November 7, telegrams from New York indicated he would receive that state’s electoral votes, he told his supporters, “I guess there’s a little lady at home who would like to hear this news,” and walked the few blocks to his home.

As President, Lincoln made extensive use of the telegraph to confer quickly with governors of the loyal states in the critical process of raising and equipping soldiers to defend the Union.  His ability to confer with governors in distant states such as Ohio and Illinois quickly allowed him to maintain the firm support of Republican and even most Democratic governors.

His most important use of the telegraph during his administration was to confer with generals, especially in the western armies, but increasingly even with the Army of the Potomac.  By 1863, Lincoln could communicate with his commanders in the field almost in real time.  Such access allowed him to become a much more active commander-in-chief.  During the first year of his presidency, he used the telegraph sparingly, but when a telegraph office was established in the War Department, the building just west of the Executive Mansion, Lincoln spent many hours there.  It became a secondary cabinet room and command post.  During major battles, Lincoln spent anguished hours reading the latest dispatches, agonizing over Union setbacks, and rejoicing in triumphs.

photcl 300 v 1 p 87 - army telegraph.jpg

Telegraph lines began following advancing Union armies, so that by the summer of 1862, Lincoln could communicate with the Army of the Potomac in the peninsular campaign and with occupying Union forces in Nashville, Tennessee.  During the peninsular campaign, telegraph lines ran down the eastern shore of Maryland and across the Chesapeake Bay via a submarine cable to Fortress Monroe.  From there, the army strung telegraph lines to the advancing headquarters of the Army of the Potomac as it moved up the peninsula toward Richmond.

Telegraphic communications allowed the President to encourage and cajole reluctant commanders to follow up victories to crush opposing forces, most famously with General George B. McClellan after Antietam and General George G. Meade after Gettysburg.  The telegraph also allowed him to respond more quickly to appeals for clemency, to prevent soldiers from being shot for desertion or other offenses.

By the winter of 1865, telegraph communications had expanded even within Washington.  When the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on January 31, 1865, presidential secretary John G. Nicolay sent a telegram from the Capitol less than two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue to President Lincoln at the War Department.

When General Philip Sheridan reported by telegram on April 7, 1865, “If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender,” Lincoln immediately sent a telegram to General Ulysses S. Grant, “Let the thing be pressed.”  Two days before the end of his life, Lincoln communicated by telegram with the Union commander in Richmond, Virginia, over newly established telegraph lines to the former Confederate capital.

And, when an assassin killed President Abraham Lincoln, the terrible news spread over “lightning lines” across the reuniting nation in a matter of hours.

Mr. Lincoln Gets Sarcastic

lincoln gets sarcastic - mssEC_17_323 cropped.jpg

J.J.S. Wilson Springfield Ill Washn DC Sept 13th 1863
For Hon J.K. Dubois
and Hon O.M. Hatch period
What nation do you desire Genl
Allen to be made Quarter master
General of This nation already has
a quarter master general signed A
Lincoln Prest U.S. good joke

If you thought that conveying sarcasm through a text message is hard, imagine having to do it over the telegraph! Abraham Lincoln managed to do it, however, in his telegram to two Illinois politicians, Jesse K. Dubois and Ozias M. Hatch. And just in case we missed it, the operator kindly points out that this was a “good joke” in his telegram tail.