Tag Archive | militarytelegraph

The War’s Over. Now What?

mssEC_13_381 - turning usmt equipment over to companies - birdie2u.jpg

2 AM 5th Gen Eckert  Nashville Tenn Mch 5 1866
Orders dated Feb 27th just recd &  will be
promptly obeyed – please say by telegraph whether
supply of teleg stationary & battery material on
hand in ware house wire & tools not
in actual use & the Beardsly instruments and
tools are to be turned over to the
companies or to Qr Mr – the president of
the So Westn Teleg Co claims all teleg property of what
ever description in my possession and says that
was understanding sig
Capt J C Van Duzer

Supplying yourself for war is a tricky proposition. You certainly don’t want to be under-stocked (running out of ammunition in the middle of a battle is both embarrassing and dangerous), but if you order too much you’ll be eating K-rations for two decades after it’s over. It’s like a life-and-death version of preparing to go on vacation – you want to clean out your fridge, but you need enough to eat to last until you leave.

For the military telegraph, the need for new parts and repairs was constant, so there could be no let-up in supplying. In fact, near the end and after the war, responsibilities and the need for supplies expanded as the USMT took over operation of southern telegraph lines to ensure constant communication. However there was an issue that need to be resolved. The USMT was a civilian, quasi-commercial outfit affiliated with Western Union and headed by a corporate executive, staffed with civilian employees, and reporting directly to the Secretary of War and the Commander-in-Chief.

photCL_301_019 cropped

So, despite the enormous amount of labor and material that the USMT poured into updating and expanding the newly re-united nation’s telegraph system, the functioning and property of these lines was returned, or sold, to private companies. One such company was the Southwestern Telegraph Company, mentioned in this message.

In this message, Van Duzer was looking for clarity: supplies to the Quarter Master or to the company? The Southwestern Telegraph Company’s president’s claim to equipment and supplies may be confirmed or denied in a later message.  We are lucky to have ledgers in which much of the business of the military telegraph was recorded. The clarifying message had to come from Washington, from Eckert, and until then Van Duzer would have to wait.

Telegram Tails Round-Up

The Decoding the Civil War volunteers are great, in case you hadn’t noticed. They’ve powered through almost 43,000 transcriptions in three months and identified 100s of telegrams that are interesting for their content and form. In addition to tagging messages with their sender or whether the telegram is in code, some of our Zooniverse users have taken up the challenge of finding “telegram tails“, the little phrases and notes that operators added to the end of telegrams to fill out the final lines. These are some of our favorites – let us know if you’ve come across any other striking examples! (Zooniverse username in italics after each telegram tail)

First, let’s check some updates on the weather

mssEC_04_260 - clear and warm - mistyfriday.jpg“clear and warm” mistyfriday

mssEC_08_390 - cold day - LimaZulu.jpg “cold day” LimaZulu

mssEC_15_105 - quite wet - SarahTheEntwife.jpg

“quite wet” SarahTheEntwife

mssEC_16_234 - cloudy cool - LimaZulu.jpg “cloudy cool” LimaZulu

mssEC_16_317 - cold windy - hungmung.jpg “cold windy” hungmung

mssEC_16_317 - fine weather here today - hungmung.jpg “fine weather here today ” hungmung

mssEC_19_282 - fine weather for skeeters - woodrose46.jpg “fine weather this for skeeters & bugs” woodrose46

mssEC_25_135 - prospects of rain - ColleenMcC.jpg “prospects of rain” ColleenMcC

mssEC_25_135 - very hot down here - ColleenMcC.jpg “very hot down here” ColleenMcC


Next, here’s some chit-chat between telegraphers and comments on the news

USED - mssEC_07_344 - badly frightened - LimaZulu.jpg “badly frightened” LimaZulu

mssEC_07_348 - how is old abe - SarahTheEntwife.jpg “How is old Abe” SarahTheEntwife

mssEC_09_339 - like new cipher much - absoluteforth.jpg “like new cipher much” absoluteforth

mssEC_16_023 - things are working - SarahTheEntwife.jpg “things are working” SarahTheEntwife

mssEC_16_062 - how about that - SarahTheEntwife.jpg “How about that” SarahTheEntwife

mssEC_16_098 - how is that - LimaZulu.jpg “How is that” LimaZulu

mssEC_16_236 - Bully for you - JustStardust.jpg “Bully for you” JustStardust

mssEC_16_317 - take em - hungmung.jpg “take em” hungmung

mssEC_17_010 - how are you mac - SarahTheEntwife.jpg “How are you Mac” SarahTheEntwife

mssEC_17_298 - anything for me - JustStardust.jpg “Anything for me” JustStardust

mssEC_18_140 - getting lively again - Electora.jpg “getting to be lively again” Electora

mssEC_22_209 - telegraphers thick here - JustStardust.jpg “telegraphers thick here” JustStardust


Finally, some of the most interesting telegram tails integrate the last word of the message, which was often a woman’s name (used to indicate time)

mssEC_16_273 - martha kissed the saviors feet - JustStardust.jpg “Martha kissed the Saviors feet” JustStardust

mssEC_18_012 - night in a gale oh - LimaZulu.jpg “Florence night-in-a-gale oh” LimaZulu

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.

Missing Repairmen

mssEC_05_111 - repairs on the line.jpg

Ft Monroe Sept 9th 1862
I fear Ryan and Haines are
Captured. I sent Haines to repair
Line between Yorktown and Williamsburg which
had been badly torn down by
Teamsters. The line was working to
Williamsburg at ten last night heard
nothing from Haines or Ryan since
have no Repairer or Tools here
will be in bad fix if
line break between here and Yorktown
can you send repairer and Tools
by this evenings Boat please reply

Sheldon’s concern for two of his telegraph repairmen is interesting, especially because it made its way into the regular ledger books. The letterpress books in the Eckert collection primarily contain telegrams about the business of the USMT, but they don’t begin until March of 1864, so the only glimpses that we have of the early days of the Military Telegraph come from notes like this one.

Visualizing the Eckert Telegram Ledgers

Eckert ledger chart (pdf)

It can be hard to wrap the mind around the idea of 16,000 telegrams. Even when told these are all in 35 ledgers, there are so many variables involved, coded, plaintext, mixed, etc., it can cause one’s mind to spin. So, in order to help understand date ranges within the ledgers, which ledgers have encoded messages, which ledgers are mixed, and which ledgers had sent vs. received messages, we created this chart. In our next phase of the project we will be asking our volunteers to add metadata to the transcribed messages. Years will be important, but some of the messages provide no year, just the the month and day, so this chart will help to complete this task.

But that is in the future, why release the chart now? In light of some comments on the Project Talk boards we thought we would release the chart now. With this chart, our volunteers can look at the Huntington ID for an image. By clicking on the little “i” at the bottom of the image will show the “hdl_id”, e.g. mssEC_08_046. Breaking down the id tells us that the page shown in that image is from ledger 08, and is the 46th consecutive image (note that this is not the page number, we scanned the whole ledger, covers included). With that information one can look a the chart and determine that the messages in ledger 08 on that page were received at the Washington telegraph office between May 1863 and January 1864, and that they were not in code.

Hopefully this will provide some further insight into the collection.

You Hired Whom!?!

mssEC_26_146 - objection to a new hire.jpg

630 P Apl 11
New York
Apl 11
Maj Eckert
Norton says he has obtained
position upon Military lines
I hope you will not employ
A. A. [unclear]Lovett[/unclear]

This brief telegram offers a reminder (in case we needed it), that not getting along with your coworkers is not a recent development. Somewhere along the line Norton and Lovett(?) crossed paths, and Lovett(?) is pretty unhappy that they are crossing paths again.


What to do with Deserters

mssEC_27_348 - ny deserters caught.jpg

310 P June
Port Tobacco “
Maj Eckert
I just stopped
a couple of [deletion]desterters[/deletion] deserters
63rd NY Regiment & had sheriff
lock them up in Jail. What
shall be done with em. We
cant spare rations for them &
the town wont Keep them too
much sympathy. Answer
C Webber

This telegram takes an emotionally charged issue, desertion by soldiers, and demonstrates that even with the feelings of abandonment and betrayal left aside, there are incredibly mundane problems at work as well. It’s all well and good to catch deserters, but who becomes responsible for feeding and housing them? The telegraph operators certainly weren’t equipped to do so, and clearly the locals were being uncooperative.