By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
The telegraph offered a revolutionary breakthrough in communications, however, no technology could ease personal tensions or alleviate turf wars. Two telegrams spotted by hungmung, one of our valiant volunteers, offer an intriguing insight into one of such conflict.
Both telegrams were received in Washington on February 7, 1862. Both involved Henry W. Halleck (Alden), then the commander of the Department of the Missouri; George B. McClellan (Andes), the general-in-chief of Union armies; and Don Carlos Buell (Alvord), the head of the Department of the Ohio. The telegrams were part of a complicated but little known conflict over the course of action in the West.
Lincoln urged speedy occupation of the heavily Unionist Tennessee, but McClellan and his old friend Buell wanted instead to target Nashville. The heads of two Western departments, Halleck and Buell, could not get along. When Buell came up with a plan to launch a dual advance on the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers, Halleck dismissed the plan as “madness” on the grounds that the Union troops in the West were too scattered to provide for any sort of sustained campaign.
Things got even more complicated in late January 1862. McClellan, perhaps hoping to score some political points, proposed to shift the fighting to Kentucky and then move on to East Tennessee. Upon his request, the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent his Assistant Secretary Thomas A. Scott to explore the logistics of transferring some 60,000 troops from McClellan’s command to Buell’s headquarters in Louisville.
On January 29, McClellan fired off a telegram to Halleck warning him of the impending Confederate expedition into Kentucky. The next day, Halleck ordered Ulysses S. Grant to start immediately for Fort Henry.
At the same time Buell decided to go to East Tennessee after all. When Halleck, who was getting cold feet about the operation, asked Buell either to transfer some of his troops or to stage a diversion, Buell was less than enthusiastic, even after McClellan urged his friend to help Halleck by switching the line of attack from East Tennessee to Bowling Green, Ky.
In the second telegram, Buell telegraphed McClellan complaining about Halleck’s move which, although “right in its strategic bearing” had been commenced without “appreciation, preparation, or concert.” Now that it had “become of vast magnitude,” Buell noted that he was indeed contemplating “a change of the line to support” but warned that this sudden change of direction was “hazardous.”
The telegram appears in on pp. 587-588 of vol. 7 of the 1st Series of the Official Records. It is clear that the publication differs from the ledger record. For example, the phrase “without appreciation, preparation, or concert,” was edited to read “without appreciation – preparative or concert.”
Moreover, the publication does not include the telegram that, as the ledger shows, immediately preceded it. The telegram at the top of the page was published some sixteen years later; it appears on p. 206 of vol. 52 (part I). It was also printed with errors: it seems to indicate that the telegram was sent from Washington, D.C. and addressed to an “L. Thomas.” As seen in the ledger, the telegram was in fact addressed to General George Thomas and sent from Buell’s headquarters in Louisville. Because the telegrams were printed out of sequence and with serious errors, the connection between them has long been overlooked.
As the ledger shows, Buell was indeed contemplating the transfer of some Ohio and Indiana regiments. Also, the published version of the telegram from Buell to McClellan features a time-stamp that seems to show it took almost 12 hours to transmit it: the message sent at midnight of February 6 was received at 11:30 a.m. of February 7. The ledger, however, shows no time stamp on this or the preceding telegram. In fact, there were only two more telegrams that similarly lacked the time stamp. All four were received on February 7 and all followed a confidential report from Thomas A. Scott, the Assistant Secretary of War to his boss Edwin M. Stanton.
That report, which also does not appear in OR, describes Scott’s effort to facilitate the confusing and bitter communications between Halleck’s and Buell’s departments. It appears that our telegrams were attached to the report. The ledger shows that the telegrams were received along with the report by a USMT operator in Washington at 1:30 a.m. rather than 11:30 a.m. of February 7.
Generals bickering on the battlefield is nothing new. What is interesting is to see how that bickering has been captured and then reinterpreted over time. These messages offer a confirmation of the primary importance of our job here at Decoding the Civil War.
Decoding the Civil War has just finished its two-week transcription challenge. Our original goal was simple: complete 10 ledgers. Well, we reached that goal in the first six days. Deciding to ask our volunteers for a little more, we added 10 more ledgers. The challenge became 20 ledgers in two weeks. We can happily say that we have met that goal as well.
That is correct—all of our wonderful volunteers have completed an incredible 20 ledgers! The ledgers are:
mssEC_01; mssEC_02; mssEC_04; mssEC_05; mssEC_06; mssEC_07; mssEC_08; mssEC_09; mssEC_10; mssEC_11; mssEC_12; mssEC_15; mssEC_17; mssEC_20; mssEC_21; mssEC_22; mssEC_25; mssEC_33; mssEC_34; mssEC_35.
That is a total of 9,998 classifications, an average of 714 transcriptions a day, far exceeding our goal of 425 classifications per day! We also added 727 volunteers. Welcome to all of you! You and our veteran volunteers have helped make this a very successful challenge.
The researchers now have their hands full reviewing the consensus data and getting it transferred into the Huntington Digital Library. Keep checking our Results page to see new ledgers added.
So it is time to strike up the band, and order extra rations to all our volunteers! We have 30962 classifications left. That is still quite a bit, but remember that we have completed almost 10,000 in the last two weeks, and 87,150 classifications since the project started last June.
We ask you to keep your enthusiasm up and those fingers flying. Let’s try to finish them by June 30th!
Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
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!