Tag Archive | thomasteckert

The Best Wire for Election Day


Sanford to Eckert, Nov. 5, Thomas T. Eckert Papers, mssEC 30, The Huntington Library

Nov 5
New York
Maj Eckert
I have instructed Westbrook to connect our best
Cincinnati wire with your line at H Ferry
tuesday Eve Please ask the Secy to permit
you to forward to me here any Early
Election news you may receive from
the west  I shall be on hand to forward
from the junction you should notify
ES Sanford

It is often said that we live in a wired world, with almost instantaneous news at our beck and call. This virtual ease makes its analog equivalent in the Election of 1864 look just plain cumbersome. Using the telegraph, the wonder of their age, took coordination to get the news through. In this message Edward S. Sanford, president of the American Telegraph Company, is making sure that the best lines are connected. He is also asking Eckert to talk with the “Secy,” presumably Secretary of War Stanton, to allow news to move freely across those lines. And to make sure all was set, Sanford request that Charles Davenport, the Superintendent of the Western Union telegraph in Cincinnati be brought up to speed. All of this staging for the Election on November 8th, three days away.

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.

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.”

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.

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.


Boyd is About to Get a Big Raise

mssEC_27_454 - how much to pay an operator.jpg

11 A June 10
Wilmington June 10
Maj Eckert
When Boyd reports
what pay shall I tell him
he will receive from
Teleg Dept He gets
thirteen per mo from his
Company Think forty seven
per mo about right for
MVB Buell

The USMT was always in need of qualified telegraph operators for a job that could be far more hazardous than working for a private company. One way they lured in these skilled individuals was with raised wages – Boyd here is about to make almost 3.5 times as much as he was before.