Tag Archive | unitedstatescivilwar

I’m Not Sure of His Name, But He’s in Trouble

mssEC_15_037 - colonels behavior is quite disgraceful.jpg

Feb 16 62 1130 AM
Humboldt Col Amgangils conduct is very
disgraceful Remove him at once from
his command I will advise Secy
of War to drop him from
the rolls Release the young boys
on their parole send prisoners to
Camp Chase notifying Comdg officer Has
Muhlenberg started if not hold him
until I can communicate with Anthon
Andes

As far as I can tell, Amgangil is not a real name, but it’s also not one that I have come across in working with coded messages or ledgers. This appears to be in an early cipher, 6 or 7?, access to which we do not have. Equally frustrating is that this message doesn’t appear to be in the OR. A great challenge, as several of our volunteers have pointed out, in transcribing messages in cipher is that they lack the logical context that we rely on as readers. Whoever he was, Colonel Amgangil caught the attention (and ire) of his superiors, and seems to have been headed for a world of hurt.

Save

The Pencil-Pushers Are Going To Love This

mssEC_12_269 - confederate records seized - absoluteforth.jpg

2 PM  Richmond 130 PM May 17
1 PM 17th for Secy War = I learn
that Vance was started for Wash this
morning under guard = The rebel War
Dept records Eighty one boxes weighing ten
tons will leave this evening sig
HW Halleck

There are a lot of things about war that are more interesting than what happens to the paperwork of the defeated side, but I’m sure that there were (and probably still are!) plenty of people who would see ten tons of Confederate government documents as a treasure trove. Someone may have had to come up with an entirely new filing system to handle the sheer volume! Seriously, though, without the filers and arrangers of this world, we would all be lost. Go out and hug a records manager or an archivist today.

Thanks to Zooniverse user absoluteforth for pointing this telegram out to us!

All the Pretty Horses (Shall Be Ours)

mssEC_16_232 - confiscate all horses in maryland - JustStardust.jpg

11 A.M.  Washington June 25th 1863-
For Berry The immense loss and
destruction of horses in your army
and the difficulty of supplying this
loss renders it necessary that you
should impress every servicable animal likely
to fall into the hands of
the enemy There are many animals
in Loudon County and the adjacent
part of Maryland These should be
seized to save them from the
enemy as well as to supply
yourself signed Applause Fight well now

The tone of this telegram is slightly less ominous than my creative title, but I suspect that the horses’ owners didn’t feel any better about having to surrender their animals just because the army was more polite.

Thanks to Zooniverse user JustStardust for pointing this message out!

Save

Iron Clad Turtles

mssec_07_089-iron-clad-turtles

230 PM 25th Memphis Apr 24th 1863
From Millikens Bend April Sixteenth 6. P.M
via Memphis twenty fourth for Secy of War
Vicksburg Batteries will be run tonight
about 9 oclock – fleet will consist of
Six Iron Clad Turtles namely “Benton”
“Mound City” “Carondelet” “Louisville” “Pittsburg” &
“Dekalb”, besides “Lafayette” Iron Clad and
“Genl Price” heavy armed ram. Adml Porter
has intended to take “Tuscumbia” Iron
Clad also, but has concluded to
leave her in Yazoo. Transports consist
of “Henry Clay” and “Forest Queen”
side Wheel Steamers and “Silver Wave”
stern Wheel having twelve barges in
over

While looking over  the consensus data I spied the phrase “Six Iron Clad Turtles.” Turns out this is the start of a three page missive from Charles A Dana (one with the telegram tail “nothing worth mentioning here”). Dana is not talking about children’s pets, red sliders, yellow bellied sliders, or box turtles, nor is he talking in code for a Monitor class vessel. No, he is using the term to describe the river gunboats that were built in Union ports along the Mississippi. It is apt as they kind of do look like snapping turtles (not a pet), albeit with heavy guns:

us_gunboat_pittsburg

James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Three, p. 49, United States Civil War, Huntington Digital Library.

I should note that that “heavy armed ram” that joined the iron clad turtles, named General Price, was also not a mythical creature conjured by Dana:

us_gunboat_genl_price

James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Three, p. 49, United States Civil War, Huntington Digital Library.

Definitely not a male sheep OR a turtle. Nor a pet.

Gettysburg, November 19, 1863

 

mssec_06_396_marked_tel427

12:40 P.M. Harrisburg July 4, 1863
For G. G. Meade The glorious success of
the army of the Potomac has
electrified all I did not believe
the army of  the Potomac could
be whipped when fought in a
body Unquestionably the rebels have fortified
the passes in south mountains such
information was given me a week
ago from Gettysburg signed D.N. Couch hot

Such was the telegram sent by General Couch on the victory by the Union Army of the Potomac when it was clear that the battle at Gettysburg was won. It did indeed electrify all, and Gettysburg became one of the defining battles of the United States Civil War. It also became the site of commemoration, beginning with the dedication and consecration of the Nation Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. It was on this date that Lincoln delivered these famous lines:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become a touchstone in American Memory. It still has the power to evoke strong emotions of loss and hope. But Lincoln’s words, and those spoken by others on that November day in 1863, were not to be the only monument to the soldiers who fell on the fields and hills of Gettysburg.

After the Civil War, monuments began to be erected at Gettysburg in honor of the various units who had fought there. Among the images available online at the Huntimonument_honoring_the_90th_pennsylvania_infantry_2nd_brigade_2nd_division_1st_corpsngton Digital Library are a set of photographs that depict monuments at Gettysburg taken by photographer William H. Tipton. Some were elaborate, such as the one honoring the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry, is in the form of a shattered tree trunk, with a cannon ball lodged in the heart of the tree at the top, the bark peeled away. Others were very simple like that of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry which is a large puddingstone boulder on top of a carved base. These monument_honoring_the_20th_massachusetts_infantry_3rd_brigade_2nd_division_2nd_corpsphotographs were collected as keepsakes by a veteran, Lindsey M. Gould. They provided him a touchstone, no doubt, to those he fought with and those who died.

Let us take a moment, then, to reflect on this anniversary of the consecration of hallowed ground at Gettysburg. Let us reflect on Lincoln’s words. Gettysburg did electrify the Nation in 1863. Let that spark electrify you today.

Ben Franklin Sees Some Action

mssEC_18_184 - seize smith and his ammunition - woodrose46.jpg

H E Thayer  Washn Sept 17th 1864
For Benjamin Franklin Phila period
Let the pistols be delivered
to Smith follow him to
Virgin year and when he
reaches there seize him and
the pistols and ammunition period
Turn him over to the
military commander at Wheeling to
be put in the military
prison there and turn over
the pistols and ammunition to
the ordnance officer at Wheeling
taking his receipt period This
telegram will be received as
an order to the military
Commander at Wheeling to take
charge of Smith and by
the ordnance officer to receive
the pistols and ammunition Telegraph
when seizure is made E.M. Stanton

I realize that “Benjamin Franklin” was probably a code name, given the original Benjamin Franklin had been dead for 74 years, but I have a wonderful mental image of ol’ Ben as a secret agent. It looks something like this:

franklin as secret agent.jpg

He tries to be stealth, but everyone is like, OMG, Benjamin Franklin, what are you doing here?! How are you even alive?! So then he has to run away and his borderline-entrapment scheme is blown. All because Stanton didn’t think of sending an agent who is not immediately recognizable to the majority of Americans. Way to go, Edwin.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Dana Reports Back on Hooker

mssEC_34_141 - hookers causing a fuss.jpg

Recd 140 PM
27th  Bridgeport Oct 27
Bridge=port Tenn 630 a.m. Oct. twenty 7th
to Secy War Troops just moving out
for Shell=mouth & Raccoon mountain
no evidence to show that rebels
will oppose the undertaking Hooker came
here from Stevenson last night he
is in an unfortunate state of
mind for one who has to
cooperate = fault finding = criticising dissatisfied = no
doubt the chaos of Rosecrans’ administration
is as bad as he describes =
but he is quite as truculent
Forward the plan he is now
to execute as toward the impotence
& confusion of the old regime
C.A. Dana

Charles Dana became an Assistant Secretary of War in 1863, and two of the ledgers that we have are dedicated exclusively to his field reports from 1863 and 1864. This message from October of 1863 comes from an encounter with General Joseph Hooker, who was on his way to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland, and was apparently not very encouraging. It’s always interesting to see whether historical sources bear out our modern interpretations of individuals, and this seems to be pretty well in keeping with the current view of Hooker.

Grant Losing Patience with Canby

mssEC_13_172 - grant unhappy with canby.jpg

430 P.M.  City Pt Mar. 14th 1865
14th 3 pm for Secy War, I am very much dissatisfied with Gen Canby –
he has been slow beyond excuse – I wrote to him long since
that he could not trust Granger in command , after that he
nominated him for the Command of a Corps – I wrote to him too
that he must command the troops going into the field in person –
on the 1st of March he is in New Orleans & does not say
a word about leaving there – I would like now to have
Steele , as I recommended long since in a dispatch , ad-dressed
to Gen. Halleck, put in command of the 13th Corps – as soon as Sheridan can be
spared I will want him to supercede Canby & the latter put in
command of the Dept of Gulf unless he does far better in the next few weeks
than I, now, have any reason to hope for – U S Grant
Lt Gen

photpf 2760a - Portrait_of_Maj_Gen_E_R_S_Canby.jpg

Union General Edward Canby, circa 1865 (Huntington Digital Library copy)

Edward Canby appears to have been a general of the Halleck-type, well versed in regulations and skilled as an administrator, but cautious in the field. It is unsurprising, then, that Grant was frustrated by his battlefield performance. Fortunately for Canby, the war was drawing to a close, and his ensuing performance was decent enough to maintain his post. He would later accept the surrender of Confederate Generals Richard Taylor on May 4, 1865, and Edmund Kirby Smith on May 26, 1865.

Also, Canby was a champion mean-mugger. Just look at this guy!

Mechanics of Telegram Traffic, Getting from A to B

By Daniel Stowell, Director and Editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In response to a query from one of our fantastic volunteers, crmiller211, and prodded by my colleagues Mario Einaudi and Kate Peck, I am going to explain the process of telegram traffic. I am focusing on how message X went from A to B the best I understand it, based on the research I did for the article (see p. 4-8) that walks through the process of decoding a telegram. In terms of actual mechanics, I fear I am no expert on the operation of the telegraph keys themselves.  There are active historical reenactors of the United States Military Telegraph that might be able to address some of those issues.

Message going from A to B. Let’s start with Lincoln, as that’s my guy.

Lincoln writes out a telegram, sometimes on Executive Mansion stationery (1).  If he wants it sent secretly, he writes “Cypher” at the top.  Notoriously bad speller, that Lincoln.  He gives it to Eckert or someone in the telegraph office or has it sent by trusted secretary to the War Department a block from the Executive Mansion.

Abraham Lincoln to Godfrey Weitzel

Abraham Lincoln to Godfrey Weitzel, 12 April 1865, RG 107, Entry 34: Records of the Secretary of War, 1789-1889, Telegrams Sent and Received by the War Department Central Telegraph Office, 1861-1882, Vault, National Archives, Washington, DC.

A cipher telegrapher at the War Department takes Lincoln’s telegram and rewrites it in a grid form (2), perhaps substituting arbitraries as he (almost always men, although I know there were exceptions, but I don’t think at the War Department) does so.  He also likely writes out a separate copy on a slip of paper in transmission order based on the route cipher used (3).

dcw_coded_tel_ex_mssec_18_329_p323_tel666

Telegram from Lincoln to Weitzel, in code, Thomas T. Eckert Papers, mssEC 18, p. 323, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

If you’re keeping count, that means that there are already three copies of the telegram in Washington.

A telegrapher sends the message, let’s say to General Weitzel in Richmond, Virginia.  As I understand the process, the telegram may have to be intercepted and re-transmitted along the way, depending on the distance, but I’ll skip over that issue for now.  My understanding is also that at least on some messages, the receiving telegrapher repeated back the message to the sender, either in sections or in its entirety to insure correct transmission.

In Richmond, a telegrapher writes down the letters/words as received (4).  A cipher telegrapher then takes that sheet and arranges the words in a grid form according to the route cipher, perhaps substituting clear words for arbitraries as he does so (5).  Then, the telegrapher writes out the message in a clear form for General Weitzel (6).

By my count, that’s at least six copies of the telegram between Lincoln and Weitzel at a minimum, three in Washington and three in Richmond.  This total does not include the possibility of correspondence logs that at least some governors, generals, and others kept of all incoming and outgoing correspondence, which would add additional copies.

Finally, a few observations:

  • An “ordinary” telegrapher could send or receive an encoded message, so long as he did not have access to the code books, but only a cipher telegrapher could encode and decode the messages.  The number of such telegraphers was kept to a minimum by design.
  • Neither Lincoln nor Weitzel would have known the exact nature of the cipher, though Lincoln certainly knew and requested that messages be sent in cipher, as did generals, governors, etc.
  • My guess is that intermediate forms of telegrams were destroyed to cut down on clutter and prevent any “leaks” of information that Confederate agents could use to try to decode the cipher.  In a camp setting, they were likely burned, and perhaps even in cities like Washington and Richmond they were burned as well.  Severely restricting access to the code books was essential to the cipher’s success.
  • If I am right about the above, it would explain the absence of many intermediate forms in the historical record.  The transmission order telegram copy we have for the Lincoln-to-Weitzel telegram about which I wrote is quite rare, perhaps not destroyed because it came at the end of the war.
  • My guess is that the Eckert telegram books are either:
    • Texts 2 (sent) and 5 (received) in the scenario above; or
    • Correspondence log copies of all telegrams that were sent and received that were entered in books, perhaps at the end of each day.

 

 

An Equal Opportunity General

mssEC_09_151 - send colored troops.jpg

910 am  Fort Monroe Va Sept 23rd 11. PM 1863

HM_77705r cropped.jpg

Unidentified African American soldier, 22nd USCT. Image in Huntington Digital Library.

Gen Halleck telegram received I shall be
glad to have the colored regiments
now at Baltimore ordered to report
to me at Fort Monroe I need
their services Foster Maj Genl weather good

 

Not all Union generals were enthusiastic about employing African American soldiers – they were often relegated to menial labor rather than combat – but Major General John G. Foster did not share their qualms. Foster took command of Fort Monroe in July of 1863, and in addition to receiving African American reinforcements from Baltimore, the 2nd North Carolina Colored Infantry mustered there in October of 1863.