Tag Archive | telegramtails

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.

Prophetic words


3.10 P.M. Harrisburg July 1, 1863
For Gen. Meade I shall try
and get to you by
tomorrow morning. A reliable gentleman
and some scouts who are
acquainted with the country you
wish to know of. Rebels
this way have all concentrated
in direction of Gettysburg and
Chambersburg. I occupy Carlisle. Signed
D.N.Couch great battle very soon

It’s well known that Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the war, and that casualties were staggering, with each side suffering more than 23,000 deaths in the course of the three-day battle that raged between July 1-3, 1863, in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Every conflict has its opening intrigues, and clues to its impending size or effect, because planning and strategy are essential aspects of war. Generals on the Union side knew that a hard rain was about to fall. Yet, the final four words of this telegram from General Crouch to General Meade are truly chilling. They are added after Crouch’s sign-off, almost as an afterthought: “Great battle very soon,” it closes.

Zooniverse volunteer dawnoftheundead noted this message and ended their comment with “wow.”

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”.

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

Telegram Tails

As Daniel Stowell discussed in his post on routing, it was sometimes necessary to add null words to the end of messages to ensure that every line was the same length. The person who composed the message didn’t care how long the telegram was, so it was up to the telegraph operators to fill in the blank space. When confronted with a message like this:

for Adam the ninth Walpole
corps are under orders to
join you the first Raleigh
are embarked ready to start
signed Borgia Lucy

the operator had to add two words to round out the line. In this situation the operator chose the mundane option:

for Adam the ninth Walpole
corps are under orders to
join you the first Raleigh
are embarked ready to start
signed Borgia Lucy good evening

There are plenty of examples of niceties being passed over the wires, but there are also some delightful insights into the personalities of the operators. I call these little discoveries Telegram Tails, and will be sharing them regularly on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #telegramtails. If you find any good examples, be sure to post them on a talk board or put them on social media!