Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Transcribing Civil War Telegrams

Volunteers are helping the Huntington Library transcribe and decode a cache of 15,971 Civil War telegrams, all sent to or by the telegraph office at the War Department in Washington. The thirty-five leather-bound ledgers were kept by Thomas Eckert, a Lincoln confidant who ran the telegraph office. Lincoln spent many hours hanging around the office; it was his usual spot during major battles. The telegraph ledgers appeared on the private rare book market back in 2008. They were bought by a dealer who only later realized how valuable they were, and rather than put them up for auction he arranged their sale to the Huntington.

Two examples:

US Grant to Secretary of War Stanton:
I would call attention to the fact that our white troops are being paid whilst the colored troops are not. If paymaster could be ordered here immediately to commence paying them it would have a fine effect.
Maj. Gen. Robert Schenck, describing the assembly of Lee's army just prior to the invasion of the North in 1863:
Their Cavalry force at Culpepper is probably more than thrice twelve thousand. I would advise that the militia of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio be at once called out as there is doubtless a mighty raid on foot.
There is no real news in the telegrams, which mostly cover very familiar ground, but they take us to the scene of the action in a very immediate way.

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