Tag Archive | telegrams

Election Day, 1864!

As Mario has shown in the last few posts, Eckert and other telegraph men were preparing their staff and equipment to receive updates on the presidential race of 1864. Reports poured in from across the country, from Indiana to Maine, and in honor of our own election, we would like to present you with a glimpse of what kind of news was received in the Washington USMT office.


New York
Maj Eckert
all seems quiet &
serene I was at
polls before they
opened & found 100
to 200 voters in line
waiting their turn.
I gave them an hour
& a half of my valuable
time before I could
get my vote in. It was
as good natured a
crowd as I <unclear>


mssEC_30_449 - heavy voting yet all quiet.jpg

Maj Eckert
Very heavy voting
but as yet all
quiet & serene as a
May sunday morning


mssEC_30_456 - election in indiana.jpg

8 Nov 8
Cleveland  Nov 8
Indianapolis 8″ Election progressing
quietly here and Generally throughout State
Slight disturbance at Brownstown. Lincoln
will have not less than thousand more
than Morton majority in City
A Stager


mssEC_31_056 - new jersey to lincoln maybe.jpg

N York
Are you waiting
for more news or
have you got enough
to retire upon. It is
possible that New Jersey
has voted for Lincoln
in which case it is
proposed to take her
back into the union
E S Sanford

(Sanford is being quite sarcastic here in regards to New Jersey! and wrong–it went for McClellan. They stayed with their local boy, Little Mac.)

Man all Stations!

530 Nov 7
Cleveland Nov 7

Maj Eckert
Stevens will be on hand
and if feasible Ward via Parkersburg
If weather is fair shall do as
well or better tomorrow night
for you than at State Elections
Horner will furnish NY State
returns Brooks will give Penna
I will send all west of NY
& Penna
Anson Stager


The evening before the Election of 1864 Stager wires Eckert to let him know which telegraphers are in place to forward election results to him. This was all part of Eckert’s efforts to have all the results and news sent to him speedily and efficiently. As noted earlier, in the message between Sanford and Eckert, it was important to get these pieces in place. It is interesting that Stager appears to be hand picking certain operators for the task. Were these Lincoln men, or were they simply fast and competent? Those answers are for others to ferret out. However, it is clear that by dawn of November 8, 1864, Eckert, along with Stager and Sanford, had all hands on deck. The tension of that contentious election season was about to snap and all were at their stations ready to relay the news: Lincoln or McClellan.

And You Thought Lawn Signs Were Bad

mssEC_30_252 - election flag causing problems.jpg

Oct 13
Maj Eckert & Bates
The trouble on this
wire is caused by
a McClellan flag
on D St near Ninth
I have spoken to the
party having charge
of it to move it nearer
the opposite side of
the street but they
refuse or seem unwilling
to do so
C B Hayes

The operation of the military telegraph was susceptible to damage from a number of sources, whether it was wind, ice, Confederate soldiers, or naughty children. This is the only case that I’m aware of in which General George McClellan was responsible, however unwittingly. And, just like your neighbor down the street, the McClellan flag’s owner had no interest in removing this expression of his free speech.

Those Must Have Been Some Terrible Horses

mssEC_16_217 - you sent bad horses - red_mtn.jpg

Jno Horner N.Y.  Wash June 13 63
For Maj Van Vliet Quarter Master
New York Horses received here from
you are bad many too young
too old wind broken strained blind
spaimed(?) ring boned and halt among
them Do not pay for them
until you have seen the reports
and thoroughly investigated Should not the
Officer inspecting be tried by court
martial signed M C Meigs General

General Meigs is letting the quartermaster know just what he thinks of the latest batch of horses he received. Not being much of a horse person I was unfamiliar with the term “ring boned”, and I still up have no idea what “spaimed” might be, but I think the general gist is pretty clear: these horses are rubbish. Apparently they were so appallingly bad that Meigs wanted the officer in charge of sending them to be court-martialed! He must have been unfamiliar with case of General Jefferson Davis, who got away with murdering another general because the army was desperate for experienced officers.

Many thanks for Zooniverse user red_mtn for pointing out this message, and bonus thanks to anyone who can tell me what “spaimed” means!

Update: the word is most likely “spavined”, which is a bony swelling on the hock of a horse caused by inflammation. In my defense, the dot that should be over the i seems to have wandered a few letters to the left. Thanks to Craig and Ray for their help!

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.

Send it in Super Extra Secret Code

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7 P.M.  N.Y. Apl 19. 1864
street, signed, J. R. Giddings, 430 PM
likely stop at sixty five wall
for New York tomorrow and will most
in this city and will leave
of the rebel secret service is
Secy of State Washn Thos E Courtney Capt
Mon-tre-al April 19th

Zooniverse volunteer red_mtn has hit the jackpot lately in finding interesting telegrams! In this particular instance, red_mtn pointed out that the message, which seems like gibberish at first, actually makes sense when read from the bottom up! Rearranging the text, we get

7 P.M.  N.Y. Apl 19. 1864
Mon-tre-al April 19th
Secy of State Washn Thos E Courtney Capt
of the rebel secret service is
in this city and will leave
for New York tomorrow and will most
likely stop at sixty five wall
street, signed, J. R. Giddings, 430 PM

The reason for this strange subterfuge may be that Joshua Reed Giddings, serving as U.S. Consul General in Canada, did not have any of the codebooks that were distributed to the Military Telegraph operators, and had to devise something on his own. Here he is passing on information about the movements of Thomas Courtenay, a Captain in charge of the recently formed Confederate Secret Service. A little over a month later, Giddings died while playing billiards in Montreal.

What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

mssEC_05_213 - message received is confusing - sarahtheentwife.jpg

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

The ability to communicate clearly is an important skill in any job, but I would suggest that it is doubly so in times of war. In this telegram, Major General Nathaniel Banks is trying to clarify the situation at Fort Monroe as laid out by General Halleck. Are there 10,000 troops and their transports at Fort Monroe, or just 10,000 troops, or just transportation for 10,000 troops. Halleck’s job as General-in-Chief must have seemed like herding cats, if each of the cats being herded had tens of thousands of kittens under their command.

Thanks to Zooniverse volunteer and all around rock star SarahtheEntwife for pointing this one out!

Edit: Thanks to the mysteriously named “name required” for catching my transcription error! This is why having multiple people look at the same text is so important.



(Second) Battle of Corinth

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10 PM  Oct 4th
Jackson Tenn 1130 AM
To Halleck The Rebels are now
massing on Corinth in the north
West angle of the rail road
there was some fighting yesterday Rosecrans
informs me that his troops occupy
from College Hill to Pittsburg road
on the Enemies old works Genl
McPherson has gone with (crossed out) five
brigade raised from troops here &
Trenton to his relief probably reached
Corinth by seven this morning Hurlbut
is moving on the Enemies flank
from Bolivar I have given every
aid possible signed U S Grant look out

Today marked the second day of the Second Battle of Corinth, when Union forces under General William Rosecrans overcame Confederate forces under Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price. The reinforcements led by McPherson that Grant talks about sending arrived considerably later in the day than he projected, well after the Confederate army retreated, but Rosecrans failed to send any troops after Van Dorn that day, eliciting irritation from Grant.

The Road to (the Second Battle of) Corinth

mssEC_05_168 - lead up to 2nd corinth - oct 1.jpg

Grants H’d Qrs
1 am 2nd  Near Corinth Miss Oct 1st 1862
For Halleck For several days there
has been a movement of the
Rebels south of my front which
left it in doubt wheather Corinth
or Bolivar was to be the
point of attach it is now
clear that Corinth is the point
& that from the west or
north west Price Van Dorn Villipigue &
Rust are together Rust commands Breckenridge
forces the latter having gone to
Kentucky by Mobile & Chattanoga taking
three regiments with him my position
is precarious but hope to get
out of it all right signed
U S Grant look out for big fight

On October 3rd, 1862, the Second Battle of Corinth began, pitting Confederate forces under Van Dorn and Price against Union forces under Rosecrans. This telegram from Grant to Halleck was sent two days earlier, apprising him of the most recent developments, particularly the site of the coming battle. Clearly the operator knew what was coming, as the telegram tail he added to the message reads “look out for big fight”.

“Folks Considered Him Blockhead”

mssEC_05_154 - folks consider him blockhead.jpg

Stager  Cincinnati Sept 19 ’62
Our friend has not changed his
base but Keeps on the even
tenor of his way. tell me
distinctly what proportion of rebel army
McClellan is fighting or is it
the whole of main body everybody
here is McClellan man nor is
Wright much of man no confidence
felt in him how he assembled
all troops in whole Northwest to
fight Enemy whose strength he took
no steps to find out &
of whom from first to last
has Knew less about than anybody
else did folks considered him blockhead

The accumulative nature of this collection allows us to see some events from various points of view. Most of the telegrams from Cincinnati around this date are sent by General Wright himself (like yesterday’s), but this message comes from a far more obscure individual. Thanks to the memo book of operators and their locations (which is available in the Huntington Digital Library), we are able to identify “Davenport” as Charles Davenport, a superintendent for Western Union, and know that he was in possession of codebook 9. It’s messages like this one, which does not seem to be in the The War of the Rebellion (previously the primary source of Union Civil War telegrams), that offer us insight into the lives and opinions of everyday people.