Banks Should Be Replaced

april 22 - mssEC_11_125 - banks should be replaced.jpg

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Banks’s command during the remainder of the Red River Campaign, but after the campaign’s end a month later Banks was superseded by General Canby.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!)

april 22 - Taylor_Scrapbook_Two_page_21 - banks and staff.jpg

Studio portrait of General Nathaniel P. Banks and his staff – James E. Taylor Collection: Scrapbook Two, page 21: Top left (photCL 300, vol. 2, UDID 49380)

Reverse Engineering Lost Codebooks

mssEC_15_105_p103_tel212.jpg

Apl 21 1862
Andes Your dispatch of the nineteenth
was received that day Fredericksburg is
evacuated and the palate destroyed by
the rampant & a small part
of Anthons command occupies this side
of the Sabel opposite the town
He proposes moving his whole force
to that point signed Berlin good

Let it never be said that no good comes from spending time on Twitter! As I was scrolling through Decoding the Civil War’s feed I came across a handwritten copy of a telegram from Lincoln to McClellan, and I asked myself whether we might have a copy in the Eckert Collection as well. It turns out that we do, it’s a lightly coded version, and Project Leader Mario had already done some initial work on it for the folks developing education modules based on the Eckert materials. He had determined, in fact, that the message was sent in a code that has not survived (as far as we know).

By using the original message we can start to reconstruct this missing codebook, which may help us decipher other messages in the future. So far we have learned:

Andes = McClellan
Palate = bridge
Rampant = enemy
Anthon = McDowell
Label = Rappahannock River
Berlin = Lincoln

It may not seem like much, but it’s a start! Thanks to   for inspiring this blog post!

Atzerodt Captured

april 20 - mssEC_12_225 - atzerodt arrested

7 P.M.  Baltimore Apl 20. 1865
Secy of War – Genl Tyler
telegraphs that Andrew Atzerodt was
captured at Monocacy station
I have directed him to
send him by first train double
ironed & under secure guard
to Ft Dix where he
will arrive this Evening &
be held subject to your
orders  Lew Wallace Maj Genl

The hunt for the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln burned up the telegraph wires after April 14th, 1865. One of the conspirators that was sought was George Andrew Atzerodt, the conspirator chosen by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate the Vice President, Andrew Johnson. Atzerodt lost his nerve on the night of the 14th, got drunk, and never followed through with the plan. He fled to a cousin’s house in Germantown, Maryland, but left behind in the hotel room, the same hotel occupied by Vice President Johnson, weapons, including a bowie knife, and a bank book belonging to  Booth.

Atzerodt became a prime suspect and was found, in bed, early on the morning of April 20th at his cousin’s home. He was arrested by soldiers from Monocacy Junction, just north of Germantown. The were led to him in large part because Atzerodt had used his real name when checking into the hotel. Once arrested he was brought back to Washington DC and imprisoned on the naval vessel U.S.S. Montauk.

Shortly after his arrest, Atzerodt was photographed by Alexander Gardner, along with the other alleged conspirators on the Montauk and another vessel, the U.S.S. Saugus. One of the photographs from that day is pasted on page 97 of the first volume of the James E. Taylor Collection, along with the portraits of three other conspirators, Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, and David Herold.

april 20_atzerodt_conspirators

All four were found guilty and sentenced to death. On July 7, 1865, George Andrew Atzerodt was hanged with the other three for their roles in the assassination of President Lincoln.

Pinkerton Pledges Life

april_19_mssEC_12_231_232_small

6 P.M. Apl. 23.  New Orleans La Apl 19. 1865
Hon Edwin M Stanton Secretary of
War Washn D C This
mornings papers contain the deplorable
intelligence of the Assassination of
President Lincoln & Secy Seward –
Under the Providence of God
in Feby Eighteen sixty one
I was enabled to –
save him from the fate
he has now met How
I regret that I had
not been near him previous
to this fatal act I
might have been the means
to arrest it – If I
can be of any service
Please let me Know the

service of my whole force
or life itself is at
your disposal & trust you
will excuse me for impressing
upon you the necessity of
great personal caution on your
own part at this time –
The nation cannot spare you –
E.J. Allen

Five days following the assassination of President Lincoln, this urgent message was sent to Secretary of War Stanton by E.J. Allen. This the pseudonym of Allan Pinkerton, the detective turned head of the Union Secret Service and a spy.  Writing from Louisiana, where he was investigating fraud in supplies purchased by the US Government, Pinkerton refers in the telegram to his role in interrupting an assassination plot in 1861.  The plot sought to prevent Lincoln from reaching Washington DC for his first inauguration by assassinating him in Baltimore during a train stop. Pinkerton and Lincoln passed through Baltimore safely by switching the time of his arrival.

Pinkerton now wishes he could have been there to “arrest” the most recent plot. This turned out to be one of his greatest regrets. Interestingly, Pinkerton repeats the erroneous information the Seward was also killed. Although severally wounded, that was not the case. Pinkerton’s sentiment that the “nation cannot spare” to lose Stanton was no doubt shared by many. Pinkerton underscores his thoughts by unconditionally pledging his “whole force or life” in service to Stanton, and presumably, the Nation.


George_Foster_Robinson_Papers_02

Weapon used by Lewis Powell, a Rio Grande Camp Knife, in assassination attempt on William Seward, April 14, 1865.  The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Save

Consensus Transcriptions, or, What Is Our Hard Work Doing?

We’re 10 months into Decoding the Civil War, and some people may be wondering when they’ll see some fruits for their extensive (and greatly appreciated!) efforts. Well, we have published two of the ledgers to the Huntington Digital Library (3 and 24), and we hope to have another one later this week.

But how do we get from the mass of data to the finished transcription?

It is a bit like sausage making. Our clever DCW developers take all of the data from your transcriptions, run the data through an algorithm, figure out what the most common text for each and every word is, and then uses those most common words to create the consensus text.

Take this page, for example:

april 18 - mssEC_24_087 - demo of consensus transcription.jpg

The text returned to us from the consensus algorithm was:

23 Di 23 Aug 1130am 30am axis Byron will Corps will will Come to alexandria. I cannot yet decide as to Belgrave Corps new Yoke will be sent to replace Barnard as soon as possible but just now we Have no time to make the Exchange we bought are momentarily Expecting handsome war near Warrenton and every a vessel must be immediately sent discharged for your youth sign applause Eleven back Mes Wash 7th for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as promptly as possible the first China China velsmay & third & fourth Cuba stanhope now at nasty signed applause gertrude gertrude

This may look like a bit of a mess, but consider the transcription that we had before DCW:

 

That’s a big old empty spot, in case you were wondering. Once we receive this data, Project Leader Mario E. and I do a quick scan of the text, in order to correct obvious errors and identify words that might require further investigation. So, looking at that same text, we might come up with this:

23 Di 23 Aug 1130am 30am axis Byron will Corps will will Come to alexandria. I cannot yet decide as to Belgrave Corps new Yoke will be sent to replace Barnard as soon as possible but just now we Have no time to make the Exchange we bought are momentarily Expecting handsome war near Warrenton and every a vessel must be immediately sent discharged for your youth sign applause Eleven back Mes Wash 7th for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as promptly as possible the first China China velsmay & third & fourth Cuba stanhope now at nasty signed applause gertrude gertrude

Some of the issues that pop up are merely a result of volunteers spacing the words in a variety of ways – obviously some people typed “1130am” while others typed “11 30am”. Others require a more critical examination of the text, such as the end of the first telegram, where “Eleven back Mes” is reinterpreted as “Eleven a M”.  And still other, like that misplaced “a” in the middle of the text, are accurate, if odd, parts of the transcription.

The transcription as it appears in the Huntington Digital Library looks like this:

Fr Di 23 Aug 11 30 am
for axis Byron Corps will
come to Alexandria I cannot
yet decide as to Belgrave
Corps new Yoke will be
sent to replace Barnard as
soon as possible but just
now we Have no time
to make the Exchange we <deletion>caught</deletion>
are momentarily Expecting handsome war near
Warrenton and every a vessel must
be immediately sent discharged for your
youth signed applause Eleven a M

Wash 7th
for Sheldon agate send to Pagoda as
promptly as possible the first China <unclear>velsmay</unclear>
& third & fourth Cuba <insertion>NY</insertion> Stanhope
now at nasty signed applause gertrude

We can’t guarantee that our interpretations are correct, but we hope to provide a faithful transcription of the text as it appears on the page. And we no longer have that big old empty spot, but rather usable, hard data. That is some pretty sweet fruit!

Save

Take up the Challenge

Challenge_logo_v3

 

Today, April 17th, 2017, marks the first day of a two-week challenge, a challenge for not only our current volunteers but for all who would like to join in. The goal is a simple one: complete 10 ledgers in Decoding the Civil War between April 17 and May 1.

Our volunteers have been doing yeoman’s work turning out 200 classifications a day (a classification is equal to a page of transcription). However, we have fallen behind where we had hoped to be at this stage of our project. Thus, the challenge and the selection of 10 ledgers. We need roughly 425 classifications per day, a bit more than double our current number. We can do this and it will help get us back toward the long-term goal of having the majority of ledgers finished by June.

But why accept the challenge? The canard is often repeated that libraries and archives are dead, or if not dead, then they are simply morgues for outdated material. Our work, all our work, has demonstrated that active collaboration, research, and discovery are vital. Remember that the work that is being done on Decoding the Civil War brings together resources from four institutions — The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; North Carolina State University; and the Zooniverse with its team at the University of Minnesota — and the hard work of over 3,000 volunteers. There is also the generous backing of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The collaboration of these groups has brought back to life telegrams from the Civil War, presenting the United States Civil War to the world in a continuous stream, not neatly packaged and organized.

Finally, Decoding the Civil War has created new and exciting paths of research—paths that have been cleared by the hard work of the citizen archivists, who have generously volunteered countless hours to this collaborative project. A hearty Thank You to them!

Starting today, let us see what new paths can be carved and cleared. To keep track of our progress we will be resetting the statistics page to reflect only the ten ledgers in the challenge. The numbers will not be set to zero as some work on the chosen ledgers has already be done. Rather, the numbers can be used as a base line to mark progress going forward. And we, as well as you, will be able to see the number of classifications per day clearly. Come back to our blog daily to see updates and new posts.

Go to our Decoding the Civil War project website, register as a new volunteer, or dive in!

Let us continue to prove that our work is vital! Take up the challenge: 10 ledgers in 2 weeks!

Save

Save

Buckner Goes Down

mssEC_01_065 - convicting gen buckner.jpg

Louisville 6 PM. 19th  Feb 20 62
Indus Ocean Buckner was indicted for
treason in Louisville some time since
a writ has been sent to
Cairo for him great feeling here
against him I advised Gen Halleck to
hold in military custody & send
to Ohio until you directed otherwise
our friends say he would be
mobbed here signed Ingress lord how
I would rejoice in hanging him

In February 1862, after capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Ulysses S. Grant turned his efforts towards Fort Donelson, not far away, on the Cumberland.  Grant’s persistent efforts, on land and by water, over five days led to the unconditional surrender of the 12,000-man garrison, led by Simon Bolivar Buckner — a catastrophe for the South. “Lord how I would rejoice in hanging him,” noted the operator three days later in this message. After five months of writing poetry in solitary confinement, however, Buckner was exchanged for Union Brigadier General George McCall, promoted to Major General, and ordered to join General Braxton’s Army of Mississippi.