No 47 P.
J. H. Bunnell (1) Washn. Mar 31st 1864 5 P.M
Grapes, Laugh, Plug, March, Lucy, For, Knapsack Embrace
or Bridle Unity I would Quince the Welch
as far to the Ripley of Chart as
possible Zebra It is a good plan to
Pine all the Saints you can when Rapturing
is expected and make all other Territory Tartar
to hold defensible for the smallest possible number
of Whiskey yoke John Lieut Shelter Now Jesse
As with many ciphered telegrams, this message, found in ledger EC 19, looks mostly like gibberish. This was the end product of a complex and sophisticated system of word substitution encoding originally developed by Anson Stager. Words that described sensitive data — names, time indicators, numbers, military terms, places, etc. were replaced by replacement words or arbitraries. The text was broken into squares formed by columns and lines and then scrambled during the transmission. The keys listed not only the arbitraries but also the commencing words and line indicators specifying the number of columns and lines and routing instructions listing the order of the transmission that scrambled the sentences. Thus encoded, the text assumes the appearance of an assemblage of random words, impossible to make sense of, let alone decipher.
This telegram, luckily, can be relatively easily deciphered, as we happened to have a copy of the key to this particular code. This would be the ledger EC 44, titled Cipher for Telegraphic Correspondence; arranged expressly for Military Operations, and for important Government despatches and known as Cipher No. 1. It contains codes for commencing words, line indicators, routing instructions, and arbitraries as developed in 1862 but implemented in February 1864.
For example, as seen on this page, “John” was one of the codes used for Ulysses S. Grant, and “Knapsack” was reserved for William T. Sherman. The entire telegram reads:
J. H. Bunnell (1) Washn. Mar 31st 1864 5 P.M
Washington, 30, 1, March, 5 p.m, For, W. T. Sherman Nashville
or Chattanooga Period I would destroy the railroads
as far to the east of Knoxville as
possible Period It is a good plan to
concentrate all the forces you can when fighting
is expected and make all other Territory necessary
to hold defensible for the smallest possible number
of troops signed U.S. Grant Lieut General Now Jesse
The message is part of a rather anxious back-and-forth between Grant, just two weeks into his tenure as the commander of the Armies of the United States, and Sherman, just appointed the commander of the Division of the Mississippi. The exchange was prompted by Forrest’s raids in the Union occupied Western Tennessee. Grant, who was passing through Washington on his way to Fortress Monroe scribbled this telegram and handed it to a USMT operator. Grant’s original note, now held by the United States Military Academy and published in the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, reads:
“I would destroy the rail road as far to the East of Knoxville as possible. It is a good plan to make the country to be held to concentrate all the forces you can wher fighting is expected and make all other territory necessary to hold defensible for the smallest possible number of troops. ”
The telegram appears in OR (Ser. 1, vol. 32, part 3, p. 213), but only as part of another telegram from Sherman’s aide-de-camp Lewis Mulford Dayton sent to John Schofield; in this case Grant’s “territory” has been replaced with “preparations.”
But what are the words and numbers that swarm around the message? The telegram was directed to Jesse H. Bunnell (1843-1899), the operator attached to the George H. Thomas of the Army of the Cumberland. The note “Sent from Book 5:20 P.M. Tinker” tells us that the telegram was re-transmitted twenty minutes later by Charles Almerin Tinker (1838-1917). The scribble on the bottom of the telegram appears to indicate that 75 words were charged in total. The main body of the telegram contains 63 words, including “Now Jesse” that the operator managed to squeeze in at the end of the line. Apparently he had more to say. Using the entry in the ledger, Mr. Tinker sent the same message with some additional words and an extra layer of coding intended for Bunnell’s eyes only.
The marks on the lower left side contain the commencing word (Mobile) followed by the line indicator (Horse – Deal). In the cipher key, “Mobile” indicated a nine-column transmission. However, the line indicators called for an eight-column set up, and the telegram is indeed broken into eight rather than nine columns. According to the key, the telegram was to be routed in the following order: up the 8th column, down the 5th, up the 7th, down the 1st, up the 6th, down the 3rd, up the 2nd and down the 4th.
The little numbers indicated the place of the word in the column, with additional words supplied on top and bottom of the columns. For example, the number 4 on top of the 1st column pointed towards the 4th word from the top, i.e. “possible.” The last two words which began the private message (“Now Jesse”) were not included in the count, so the 1st from the bottom in the column 8 is “number” rather than “Jesse.”
If we follow the coded instructions, the embedded message would read: “Now Jesse your number you would full when possible bad good draw and you about Bridle (Chattanooga) Grant here.” This sort of makes sense to us. It certainly made sense for Jesse.
At this point we can only speculate as to the nature of this exercise. Most likely it offered the operators, who, after all, were not supposed to use government communications for their own needs, a way to bypass the rules.
This little puzzle, (which took yours truly some two hours and elicited some highly descriptive epithets), must have been a piece cake for Bunnell. By the ripe age of nineteen, he boasted a six year career with the telegraph, (yes, he became a full-fledged operator at 13), and a speed record which he set in 1860, transmitting President Buchanan’s last message to Congress (14,040 words) in two hours.
Studies of the USMT personnel is one of the new and exciting directions in the Civil War studies offered by the Decoding the Civil War project. I’m certain that historians will find out what Mr. Bunnell and Mr. Tinker were up to in March 1864. Until then, we can simply stand in awe of the ingenuity and the skill involved in this multiple-layered coding and decoding.
Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American History. The Huntington Library.
Nothing is ever simple. Complex issues are too often boiled down and reduced to a single factoid or a talking point. The real story can only be pieced together by plowing through mounds of seemingly tedious routine paperwork. In fact, historians are often the only people to appreciate the beauty of bureaucracy.
The correspondence of the War Department, a lot of which was conducted by telegraph and is now contained in the USMT ledgers, is a prime example of the extraordinary value of seemingly mundane and boring government paperwork.
A case in point: on April 17, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, who had assumed the command of the Union armed forces a month before, suspended prisoner of war exchanges. It is very tempting to take any pronouncement by a general of Grant’s caliber for a straightforward order.
Yet April 17, 1864 was just an installment in a long and convoluted story of the prisoner exchange. Both sides of the Civil War divide believed that they were fighting a just war and professed their commitment to the norms of civilized warfare. Equitable exchange of prisoners, accomplished by a cartel or agreement between the belligerents, was one of these norms.
The cartel, codified on July 22, 1862, called for equal exchange, man for man, as matched in the rank, branch of service, and the state of health. The exchanged soldiers and officers would return to the ranks. Those men for whom no exact match could be found, were paroled; the parolees were barred from taking up arms until the formal exchange could be arranged.
The cartel ambled along, punctuated by claims of breaches of trust, retaliations and counter-retaliations, until the Union army started recruiting African American soldiers. The Confederates refused to apply the “man-for-man” exchange to black soldiers. The act of the Confederate Congress of May 1, 1863 mandated that black Union troops were to be “delivered” to the authorities of the state where they had been captured “to be dealt with according to the present or future law” of the state, which meant either death or slavery.
In response, Stanton’s War Department halted all exchanges. In early July, Grant and Nathaniel P. Banks ignored this directive to parole the entire garrisons of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. The War Department had to remind the generals that all exchanges were suspended until “the rebel authorities” demonstrated a “better understanding in relation to the cartel.”
The negotiations were resumed in December 1863, after Ethan Allen Hitchcock, the Commissioner for the Exchange of Prisoners, appointed Benjamin F. Butler as a special agent. Butler’s instructions directed him to ensure “the protection of the Government” for “colored soldiers of the United States and the officers commanding them.”
On April 9, 1864, Butler submitted a lengthy memorandum to Stanton. He acknowledged that there were many issues with the process but insisted that the United States must honor the cartel, for the sake of “the good sense of the country, the justice of the Government, or humanity toward our suffering brother soldiers in the Confederate prisons.”
Yet there was a red line. The United States could not permit to have “those black men whom we have made free, uniformed and armed, and put in our service, when captured, being treated as slaves.” If the Confederate authorities refused to exchange black soldiers “man-for-man,” the entire cartel would have to be set aside. Butler then proposed to negotiate away all outstanding problems, so that this one crucial issue “may be left standing sharply alone.”
Somewhat taken aback, Stanton referred Butler’s memorandum to Grant. Grant responded on April 17, in a letter to Butler which is often miscast as an order.
Grant agreed with Butler: “no distinction whatsoever shall be made between white and colored prisoners; the only question being where they, at the time of the capture, in the military service of the United States.”
On August 10, 1864, the Confederate commissioner agreed to a “man-to-man” exchange. When Butler inquired whether the exchange would cover black troops, there was no reply.
By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Washington, April 30, 1864
Lieutenant General Grant.
Not expecting to see you again
before the Spring Campaign opens, I wish to express,
in this way, my entire satisfaction with what you have
done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The
particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to
know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleas=
ed with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints
or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that
any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great
numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points
are less likely to escape your attention than they would
be mine. If there is anything wanting which is with=
in my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.
And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may
God sustain you.
Yours very truly
The Civil War, born of a grave constitutional crisis over slavery, tested many provisions of the Constitution that hitherto had remained mere abstractions. One of these was Article II Section 2 which proclaimed the President “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”
The extent of these powers was unclear and was subject of fierce debates, most famously those over the constitutionality of suspension of the writ of habeas corpus or emancipate the enemy slaves by means of a presidential proclamation. It was also unclear to what extent commander-in-chief should be involved in the actual business of commanding the army and navy.
On April 30, 1864, as Ulysses S. Grant was preparing to embark on what would become the bloodiest campaign of the war, the President wrote the above letter to the newly appointed Lieutenant General–a title that only George Washington had borne before.
Lincoln, acutely aware of his lack of military experience, generally refrained from giving orders. He left the planning, and the follow through, of the campaign in Grant’s hands, much as he had done with other generals. And many times had Lincoln been disappointed and frustrated by their performance. This time, however, he had found the correct general. Grant devised a campaign in the Spring of 1864 that would lead to the final collapse of the Confederacy a year later.
On this day in 1822 Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Although he was generally known as Ulysses S. Grant, during the Civil War he was referred to by a number of code names. In honor of his birthday, here is a review of his arbitraries from the United States Military Telegraph’s ciphers, roughly in chronological order:
Cipher 12: Abel & Austria
Cipher 12A: Abner & Alpha
Cipher 9: Bangor & Bengal
Cipher 1: Judah, John, Juno, Jupiter, Japan & Jersey
Cipher 2: Bellows & Belly
Cipher 4: Amateur, Advertise, Amber, Affect, America, Afflict
Cipher 5: Artist, Assist, Ashland, & Assume
Many thanks to the kind folks at The George C. Marshall Foundation for sharing their copies of 12,12A and 4 from the William F. Friedman Papers with us!
7 P.M. Raleigh N.C. Apl. 24. 1865.
Raleigh Apl 24th 9 AM . Secry of War – Sir I
reached here this mng & delivered to Gen Sherman the reply
to his negotiation with Johnston He was not
surprised but rather expected their rejection – word was
immedy sent to Johnston terminating the truce & information
that civil matters could not be entertained in any
Convention between army Comdrs – Gen Sherman has been guided in
his negotiations with Johnston Entirely by what he thought
was precedent authorized by the Prest – He had before
him the terms given by me to Lees Army
& the call of the rebel legislature of Va authorized
by Gen Weitzel , as he supposed with the sanction
of the President & myself – at the time of the agreement
Gen Sherman did not know of the withdrawal of authority for the
meeting of that legislature – the moment he learned
through the papers that authority for the meeting of the
Va legislature had been withdrawn he communicated the fact
to Johnston as having bearing on the negotiations,
In early 1865, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman had gained a great deal of momentum. He and and his army rolled north from Georgia, pressuring the South as Grant was pressuring them in Virginia. So when he met with Confederate General Joe Johnston in early April to discuss terms of surrender, he was probably feeling pretty sure of himself. A little too sure of himself, it turned out, because the deal that he hashed out with Johnston was promptly rejected, and Sherman was excoriated publicly by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Sherman reacted to this public condemnation about as well as you would expect, and it is interesting to note that Grant himself carried news of the terms’ rejection to Sherman. In this telegram, Grant defends Sherman’s actions, in particular the rights that he negotiated in civil, non-military, matters. This may have kept Sherman out of hot water, but his feud with Stanton lasted for years.
Apr 12 noon For
Gen Halleck Chf Staff you can see from General Braymans dispatch
to me some thing of Gen Banks disaster , I
have been satisfied for the last nine months that to
Keep Gen Banks in command was to neutralize a large
force & to support it most expensively. although I
do not insist on it I think the best interests
of service demand that Gen J J Reynolds should be placed in command
at once , and that he name his own success
or to the command of New Orleans U.S. Grant Maj Genl
Taking a break from 1865 and the furor surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, we take a look at a day a year earlier, when the end of the war was not yet in sight, and General Grant has just taken over command of all Union armies. In this particular message, squashed in at the bottom of a page, Grant is bemoaning the latest failings of General Banks. This probably refers to the army’s retreat following a confrontation with Confederate General Richard Taylor’s army at the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Grant wouldn’t be able to reduce Banks’s command during the remainder of the Red River Campaign, but after the campaign’s end a month later Banks was superseded by General Canby. (Grant would become impatient with Canby as well!)
St Louis 1 PM 4th Recd Mch 4 ” 62
No fifty three Andes a rumor
has just reched me that since
the taking of Fort Donelson Grant
has resumed his former bad habits
if so it will account for
his neglect of my often repeated
orders I do not deem it
advisable to arrest him at present
but have placed Genl C F
Smith in command of the expedition
up the Tennessee R I think Smith
will restore order & discipline I
hear unofficially but from a reliable
source that our forces took possession
of Columbus this morning – the enemy
falling back to Island number ten
& N Madrid – I am expecting official
telegram hourly Alden Clear road windy
It’s bad enough when rumors circulate about you at work, but when the boss starts listening to them, you may be in trouble! Although the arbitraries used here (“Andes” and “Alden”) are part of a codebook that we no longer have, it is a pretty safe bet that this telegram’s sender is General Henry Halleck, who briefly relieved Grant of command in March of 1862. We know from published copies of this telegram that the recipient was George B. McClellan. Andes is so frequently seen in the telegrams from 1862, even ones otherwise written in clear, that it seems to have become a shorthand for McClellan. We are hoping to reverse-engineer some of the missing codebooks by comparing telegrams in the Eckert ledgers with those in the Official Record, so this message helps us on our way: Alden=Halleck. Check!
Thanks to Zooniverse volunteer red_mtn for pointing this telegram out!