By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
By the time the Civil War broke out, news had become a saleable commodity, with the New York Associated Press (AP) acting as the leading broker that enjoyed a close relationship with the Lincoln administration. President Lincoln dispensed with the practice of relying on newspaper editors and instead used AP as the news conduit. The flow of news, however, was tightly controlled by the War Department: AP received only information that had been cleared by military censors.
Although the system overall worked reasonably well, there were glitches which resulted in loud scandals. In June 1862, Charles C. Fulton, the head AP agent in Baltimore and the editor of the Baltimore American, was arrested for publishing an unauthorized account of the Seven Days’ Battles which the War Department considered a serious leak of military intelligence. Following public outcry, Fulton was released after forty eight hours and immediately published an account of his ordeal, much to the delight of Confederate and the Union opposition press.
On the morning of May 18, 1864, two morning New York newspapers published an AP wire asserting that President Lincoln issued a proclamation ordering the draft of 400,000 into the Union Army. The news, which indicated that the Union side was losing the war, crashed the New York stock exchange sending stock prices tumbling down and raising the gold. The news, however, was fake, planted by two gold speculators well familiar with AP’s delivery system. This “bogus proclamation” incident became the only known instance when Lincoln actually issued an order to suppress the newspapers.
As seen in Eckert’s letterpress books, on August 1, 1864, AP again found itself in a predicament. On July 31, Fulton transmitted to New York a report which he had received from a source in Fortress Monroe. The first part of the report, which contained the news of the loss of the Battle of the Crater of July 30, had been cleared by William Bender Wilson, the head of the Baltimore office of USMT. However, Fulton tacked on an additional bit of news: his Fortress Monroe source also “says Gen. Grant has arrived from City Point at 9 a.m. & was met at Ft. Monroe by President Lincoln who arrived from Washington at 10 o’clock both embarked on the Baltimore & after going in direction of Cape Henry steamer returned towards Norfolk there avoiding all interruption during interview at 3 p.m. President returned to Washington. General Grant returned to army.”
This meeting was not supposed to be publicized. A private meeting with the commander of the Union army coming on the heels of the shocking loss of the battle of the Crater could be seen as a sign of panic. As soon as Eckert got wind of the report, he ordered Daniel H. Craig, AP general agent, to suppress the news.
According to Craig, it was too late, as he had already sent out Fulton’s report “all over the country fifteen minutes before the order to suppress it came to hand. We are now trying to suppress it but I have no idea we shall necessarily.” He also tried to minimize his role in the leak: “There is intense excitement & anxiety here & all over the country & the substance of the news was undoubtedly known to Wall St. an hour before we got our own report and that is always the case when there is important news.”
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 91: Center right (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49338)
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 92: Top (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49339)
It’s always nice to earn recognition for your achievements, so we were thrilled to learn that we were 2nd Runner Up in the Public Engagement category of the Digital Humanities Awards! The nominees included projects from Mexico, Japan, Spain, Italy, and France, in addition to the English-speaking countries, so we were in excellent, and diverse, company.
Thanks to everyone who voted, and everyone who has participated in Decoding the Civil War in the last nine months!
3.10 P.M. Harrisburg July 1, 1863
For Gen. Meade I shall try
and get to you by
tomorrow morning. A reliable gentleman
and some scouts who are
acquainted with the country you
wish to know of. Rebels
this way have all concentrated
in direction of Gettysburg and
Chambersburg. I occupy Carlisle. Signed
D.N.Couch great battle very soon
It’s well known that Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the war, and that casualties were staggering, with each side suffering more than 23,000 deaths in the course of the three-day battle that raged between July 1-3, 1863, in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Every conflict has its opening intrigues, and clues to its impending size or effect, because planning and strategy are essential aspects of war. Generals on the Union side knew that a hard rain was about to fall. Yet, the final four words of this telegram from General Crouch to General Meade are truly chilling. They are added after Crouch’s sign-off, almost as an afterthought: “Great battle very soon,” it closes.
Zooniverse volunteer dawnoftheundead noted this message and ended their comment with “wow.”
Ever wonder what the telegraph operators of the United States Military Telegraph looked like? In earlier posts we have shown the men who ran the USMT, Anson Stager and Thomas T. Eckert, and even one of the few women operators, Louisa Volker. But what of the other operators? The above image is a popular photograph of the men in the USMT, taken in June of 1865. It was reproduced in the 1911 edition of The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 8, Page 363, which provides the following identifications:
“…The members of the group are, from left to right: 1, Dennis Doren, Superintendent of Construction; 2, L.D. McCandless; 3, Charles Bart; 4, Thomas Morrison: 5, James B. Norris; 6, James Caldwell; 7, A. Harper Caldwell, chief cipher operator, and in charge; 8, Maynard A. Huyck; 9, Dennis Palmer; 10, J.H. Emerick; 11, James H. Nichols. …”
There is a variant of this image at the Library of Congress:
Identification is, from left to right: James Caldwell, J.H. Emerick, Charles Bart, L.D. McCandless, Thomas Morrison, James B. Norris, A. Harper Caldwell, Dennis Doren, Dennis Palmer, Maynard A. Huyck, James H. Nichols.
Pulling from these two images we get these close up of the operators:
A. Harper Caldwell
Maynard A. Huyck
James H. Nichols
James B. Norris
Finally, there is this image, which we have used in several posts, of Thomas T. Eckert with a few of his operators in 1864:
There is no identification given, save for Eckert. But now some of the other men are identifiable, including A. Harper Caldwell immediately behind Eckert, and Dennis Doren to Eckert’s left, staring at the camera. Behind Doren, in profile, is J.H. Emerick. But the other three men? Time and others will possibly identify them.
Thanks to Zooniverse users OlEnglish and absoluteforth for the idea of connecting a few faces to a few names.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 90: Top (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49337)
The Library of Congress: Richmond, Virginia. Military telegraph operators, Digital ID: (digital file from original neg.) cwpb 03642 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.03642 Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Col. Thomas Eckert and telegraph assistants, 1864, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Two, page 55: Top (photCL 300, vol. 2, UDID 49424)
Hd Qurs A Potomac
The Cook I hired in place of
Henry Bowman discharged has
deserted us. Will you please
send some one (1) to see
George Taylor Colored No 11.
Four & half st. between Md
avenue and C. St & ask him
if he can send a good cook
here We need one (1) badly.
It’s bad enough when one of your comrade-in-arms goes AWOL, but when it’s the cook?! Tragedy!
It’s always nice to have your hard work recognized, so we are very excited to be nominated for a 2016 Digital Humanities Award in the category Best Use of Digital Humanities – Public Engagement! It’s a pleasant development, though not entirely surprising considering the enthusiasm that Decoding the Civil War volunteers have shown on the talk boards, on this blog, and on Twitter.
Our transcribers’ commitment to the project has helped us retire 43% of the 12,921 pages of telegrams and codebooks from the Thomas T. Eckert papers. Due to their effort, we have already been able to share full transcriptions of two of the ledgers (ledgers 3 and 24), with more coming soon! The raw consensus data has let our research team pinpoint telegrams that are being incorporated into new educational materials. Gems have also been found by our volunteers, as can be seen in some of the posts on this blog.
This has been a team effort and a great collaboration. We are happy and grateful for the nomination, but the early success of this project has been a great reward already delivered. So thanks to all our volunteers, our research team, and all those who have supported us!
Now vote! Voting ends February 25, 2017!