Tell Us How You Really Feel, Cump

mssEC_10_280 - shermans thoughts on forrest - suzanneny.jpg

12 pm 15th  Big Shanty Ga June 15 1864
Near Kenesaw June 15th 630 pm for Halleck Washn I will
have the matter of Sturgis critically examined and if he
be at fault he shall have no mercy at my
hands – I cannot but believe he had troops enough
I know I would have been willing to attempt the
same task with that force but Forrest is the very
devil and I think he has got some of our
troops under cow – I have two Officers at Memphis
that will fight all the time – A J Smith
and Mower – The latter is a young Br Genl of
fine promise & I commend him to your notice –
I will order them to make up a force &
go out & follow Forrest to the death if it
cost ten thousand lives & breaks the treasury – there
never will be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead
– We Killed Bishop Polk yesterday & have made good
progress today of which I will make a full report
as soon as one of my aids come from the extreme right
flank Gen Grant may rest easy that Johnston will not
trouble him if I can
help it by labor or
thought sig W T Sherman

In spite of his fierce reputation, William Tecumseh Sherman was generally on fairly cordial terms with Confederate generals – see for example his later relationship with Joe Johnston – but he had nothing but bile and invective for Nathan Bedford Forrest. Although he was prone to hyperbole, Sherman seems to have despised Forrest with a particular intensity.

This telegram was sent only a few days after Samuel Sturgis’s forces were defeated by a Confederate force that they outnumbered more than 2 to 1 in the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. This disastrous outcome marked the end of Sturgis’s involvement in the Civil War, though Sherman must have softened towards him at least partially, for he returned to service in the Indian Wars of the late 1860s and 1870s.

Thanks to Zooniverse user SuzanneNY for bringing this message to our attention!

Three Huzzahs to our Volunteer Corps!


Today it has been three months since the launch of Decoding the Civil War and our volunteers have rallied to our project. Our work on DCW was a year in the making when it launched on June 21, 2016, with long hours spent by our staff to prepare a website that would make a difficult problem—transcribing United States Civil War telegrams in ledgers—seem easy and exciting.  Our volunteers have taken what we built and done truly incredible work. They have earned a hearty “Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah!”

Since June 21st there have been:

2,537 Registered Volunteers;
42,854 Classifications;
2,513 retired Subjects.

But these are just numbers. What the Volunteer Corps has added to the talk boards is truly wonderful. Of course there have been the battles, and their consequences, remarked upon. But the everyday nature of the telegrams has really captured the volunteers’ attention, as has the sometimes curious 19th century hand of the telegraph operators.

Among the numerous telegrams that have caught our volunteers’ attention are the death of Gen. Sherman’s son, spies and intelligence gathering, the hunt for Booth and other assassins and/or accomplices, and the capture of Jefferson Davis. They have created tags for their finds, including: #mysterymarginalmarks, #grant, #codebook, #lincoln, #prisoners, #troopmovement, #telegramtails, #cipher, #19thcentmadlibs, #spy, #deserters, and #prisoner.

There have been the telegram tails, those little messages at the end of many telegrams. Volunteer SarahtheEntwife has noted several, from “and then made water” to “nice country this” to “How are you Harp”. JustStardust noted “a merry Christmas” at the end of a telegram sent on December 25th. Hungmung found an odd one,”honi soit qui mal y pense,” correctly pointing out that this is the motto of the Order of the Garter in the United Kingdom. There are also the 19thcentmadlibs, those jumbled sentences created when arbitraries replace plain text. For example:

From mssEC_23_055, “At present the udder has one corps of Rabbit at Java with the Tanner at India with the manifest tendency of other corps to drift in that direction. I have two pedlars across the Hamlet ready to spring over the saint below Japan….”

From mssEC_25_13, “I wish to have four salmon carrying heavy saxon draft not exceeding eight and a half feet….”

From mssEC_17_178, “To remove all misunderstanding I now place you in the strict military relation to Applause of a Commander of one of the walnuts to the Genl in Chf of all the walpoles.”

and from mssEC_18_030, as pointed out by LimaZulu, this fantastic signature, “Lady Spunky Shark Chief of Satan”



In all this has been a wonderful start to the project. We have drawn great attention from the press and everyday users and you, the volunteers, have done fantastic work. I will post more stats in two months time in November. Thank you all for you your hard work!

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Report from the Battle of Chickamauga

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840 PM
Gen Halleck  Chattanooga Tenn Sept 20th 5 PM 1863
We have met with a serious
disaster extent not yet ascertained Enemy
overwhelmed us drove our right pierced
our centre and scattered them Thomas
who had seven division remained intact
at last news Granger with two
brigades had gone to support Thomas
on the left every available reserve
was used when the men stampeded
Burnside will be notified of the
state of things at once &
you will be informed troops from
Charleston Florida Virginia & all along
the sea board are found among
the prisoners it seems that every
available man was thrown against us
sig W S Rosecrans Maj Genl

#OTD in 1863 Major General William Rosecrans sent this telegram to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to apprise him of the situation at Chickamauga, which was not a good one for the Union forces. Among the few high points was the emergence of General Thomas, who earned his nickname, the Rock of Chickamauga, for the actions described here.

Thanks to Twitter user HunterSJones for requesting something on Chickamauga! We are always open to suggestions, though we can’t guarantee that we’ll find everything suggested.

Edit: Thanks to Ray for helping me with the tricky “news” on the sixth line of the message!

Rosecrans and the Battle of Iuka

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1040 PM  St Louis Sept. 20th 1862
as I Teleg’h’d you it was
expected a Battle was fought yesterday
& today in which the gallant
Rosecrans came out Victorious we have
no particulars, as soon as they
come I will Telegraph them praise
God Schofield has taken the field

mssEC_05_157 - rosecrans did all the fighting.jpg

8 PM  1040 PM  St Louis Sept. 20th 820 PM
Second dispatch reliable man Telegraphs that
our forces caught Rebels at Iuka
today whipped & drove them south
hotly pursued by our cavalry who
hope to intercept & capture their
artillery & train Rosecrans did all
the fighting captured five hundred prisoners
our loss all told five hundred
L.C. Weir

It’s kind of entertaining to imagine a giant William Rosecrans towering over the Confederate Army at Iuka, fighting all of them at once, but I get the feeling that’s not what actually happened. The reference to Schofield seems to be an aside, and may refer to his rallying the militias in Missouri and Kansas to repulse Confederate forces. A month later the Union troops would be organized into the Army of the Frontier, which Schofield led for a little over a month.

Harpers Ferry Surrenders

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9 PM Col Stager  Frederick Sept 16th 1862
Jackson in person was in command
at Harpers Ferry Genl A P
Hill remained to conclude terms of
surrender Jackson left there in the
morning going up the Valley troops
were crossing the Potomac all last
night and going towards Winchester with
out stopping supposed about forty thousand
of all arms crossed during the
night passed their Pickets at Knoxville

McClellan’s promise of rescue from the 14th came to nothing, and Colonel Miles’ troops surrendered to the combined forces of Major Generals Stonewall Jackson and A.P. Hill (though Miles himself may already have been dead by the time this telegram was sent). Jackson was on his way to Antietam, and the estimation that he was bringing 40,000 troops probably only fed McClellan’s belief that his side was outnumbered.

Harpers Ferry in Trouble

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From Fredrick Sep 14
9 AM
For Abortion [insert]Genl Halleck[/insert] A courier from Col
Miles who left in the night
has just arrived and says Col
Miles is surrounded by a large
force of the Enemy but thinks
he can hold out two days
Genl White has joined him with
his command from Martinsburg Miles is
in possession of Harpers Ferry
& Loudon heights – if he
holds out today I can
probably save him – the whole
Army is moving as rapidly
as possible the Enemy is
in possession of Maryland Heights
signed Gel B McClellan – nice country this

The Battle of Harpers Ferry is generally overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam which took place a couple days later, but it probably occupied most of the thoughts of Colonel Miles, who was tasked with defending the fort against a substantial Confederate force. At this point the Union forces have already lost control of Maryland Heights, and it was only a matter of time before they were surrounded and forced to surrender.

McClellan’s Great Discovery

mssEC_22_018 - mcclellan report sept 13 - p 1 of 4.jpg

Frederick City Sept 13′ 11 PM
For Applause An order of vermin
R E Lee addressed to vernon
D H Hill which has accidentally
come into my hands this evening
the authenticity of which is unquestionable
discloses some of the plans of
the windham and shows most conclusively
that the main Simms walpole is
now before us including Longstreets Jacksons
the two Hills McLaws Walkers &
R H Andersons & Hoods Commands
That walnut was ordered to March
on the tenth & to wales
& wayne our forces at Harpers
Ferry & Martinsburg yesterday by surrounding
them with such a heavy force
that they conceived it impossible they
could escape They were also ordered
to take possession of the B
& O Soap afterwards to concentrate

On this day in 1862, Major General George McClellan came into possession of General Robert E. Lee’s orders to his subordinates, and the above is just the beginning of his (typically) long-winded telegram to Washington describing what he has learned. The intelligence starts out well, but on the next page he states that he has “good reason for believing” that the Confederate force “amounts to one hundred & twenty thousand men or more”, a considerable over-estimate. He later argues that “upon the success of this walnut [army] the fate of the nation depends”. McClellan failed to act quickly on this intelligence, however, and the Battle of Antietam took place a few days later.