Boyd is About to Get a Big Raise

mssEC_27_454 - how much to pay an operator.jpg

11 A June 10
Wilmington June 10
Maj Eckert
When Boyd reports
what pay shall I tell him
he will receive from
Teleg Dept He gets
thirteen per mo from his
Company Think forty seven
per mo about right for
MVB Buell

The USMT was always in need of qualified telegraph operators for a job that could be far more hazardous than working for a private company. One way they lured in these skilled individuals was with raised wages – Boyd here is about to make almost 3.5 times as much as he was before.

Someone remind Watson we pay by the word…

mssEC_35_058 - serious brown nosing.jpg

Washington D.C. Nov. 27. 1863
Honorable Columbia period The Claudius is
absent & the Camden is sick
but both receive your dispatches regularly
& esteem them highly not merely
because they are reliable but for
their clearness of narrative & their
graphic pictures of the stirring events
they describe paragraph The patient Endurance
& spirited valor Exhibited by Commanders
& men in the last great
feat of arms which has crowned
our cause with such a glorious
success is making all of us
hero were shippers P. H. Watson

Zooniverse user birdie2u pointed out this delightfully over-the-top message of praise, and it’s amusing to speculate about how it was received. Did the recipient use it to bolster their sense of pride and self-worth, or did they roll their eyes and toss it in the scrap heap? As birdie2u pointed out, “maybe it was one of the reasons they started limiting the words sent by telegram…”

An APB for the Killer of Lt. Eben White

The citizen historians of Decoding the Civil War have uncovered many interesting telegrams since the project opened on June 21, 2016. They have highlighted telegrams that discuss the Fort Pillow Massacre, the capture of Jefferson Davis, the loss of family, and messages to and from President Lincoln. Periodically one is pulled out by a volunteer that strikes a chord with them and they add a note about it that they have found through research. One example is this from Ledger 9 of the Thomas T. Eckert Papers:
310 PM
Baltimore Oct 22nd 1863 240 PM

Capt. Tod Pro Mar Jno
H South  or on mur
der er of 2nd Lieut
Eben White is wounded slightly
on the side of face
perhaps in Ear by mus
ket ball Wm. Birney Col
&c approved Cheseborough
(mssEC_09_226, Thomas T. Eckert papers. The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.)

Zooniverse user JustStardust spotted this telegram and added:

The first telegram announces the murder of a union officer by a plantation owner.
John Henry Sothoron, on October 19, 1863, killed 2nd Lt. Eben White who attempting to recruit the slaves of Sothoron’s plantation.
Sothoron’s name is misspelled in the dispatch.

This caught me – a plantation owner murdering a Union officer? Where, when, why? This single telegram, this All Points Bulletin or APB if you will, raised the curtain on a very interesting vignette.


Colonel William Birney, image from Library of Congress

The message was sent to the Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C., Capt. H.B. Todd (also misspelled in the message) by Colonel William Birney, the Recruiting and Mustering Officer for the 2nd United States Colored Troops in Maryland. Birney was under orders from Major General Schenck to find a site to build a camp for the newly recruited USCT troops as well as their instruction along the Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County.

At the time of the camp’s establishment (later named Camp Stanton), in the fall of 1863, there were still slaves in Maryland (Maryland was not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863). The camp and recruiting stations for former slaves were authorized under orders from the War Department at the beginning of October, 1863. Those orders, preserved in the Official Records, stated:

Any citizen of Maryland who shall offer his or her slave for enlistment into the military service shall, if such slave be accepted, receive from the recruiting officer a certificate thereof, with a descriptive list of such slave, and become entitled to compensation for the service or labor of said slave, not to exceed the sum of $300, upon filing with the above board a valid deed of manumission and release, and making satisfactory proof of title, and any slave so enlisting shall be forever thereafter free.

(OR, retrieved from

The enthusiasm with which the recruiters sought fresh troops did not make the slave owners of Maryland happy. The killing of Eben White provides evidence of how resistant some of these owners were. According to a report forwarded by Birney, Lt. White had heard of slaves being tied up at John H. Sothoron’s plantation, The Plains, in order to prevent them from joining the Union Army. White went to The Plains with two privates from the 7th USCT and confronted Sothoron and his son on the porch:

Lieutenant White went up to them and said,” Is this Mr. Sothoron? ” and he answered, ” Yes ; that’s my name.” The lieutenant said,” I heard that you have some of your servants tied up.” Sothoron answered, ‘”Yes, sir; I have them tied.” The lieutenant said, “I want them.” Sothoron answered,” You can’t get ’em.” The lieutenant, “You say I can’t get ’em?” Sothoron, “No, sir; you can’t get ’em.” The lieutenant,” Well, sir, you know the law.” Sothoron, “Yes, sir ; I know it.” As soon as he said that the lieutenant turned and called me [Private Bantum], and we went by the side of the house. He told [Private] Black to come on. We started right down the fence to the barn. There we met a young colored man. The lieutenant asked him if he wanted to enlist. He answered, “Yes, sir.” The lieutenant told him to come on, then, and go with him. We went on further and found another colored man piling up tobacco. Lieutenant White asked him the same question, and he answered, “Yes, sir.” The lieutenant told him to come on and go with him, when the boy looked behind him and saw his master coming and stopped. The lieutenant said,” Come on, my friend, and go with me.” The boy said, “I’m afraid my master will shoot me.” The lieutenant said, “Never mind about that; come with me.”

(Murder of Lieut. Eben White, report from 1874 responding to request for compensation,

Following White and Privates Bantum and Black, Sothoron and his son protested that White was stealing their slaves: “[Lt. White] said, ‘Mr. Sothoron, I am attending to my business, as I was sent to do.’ Sothoron answered, ‘Business? Hell and damnation! I know right from wrong as well as you do.’” After a few more choice words, Sothoron and his son shot and killed White. Private Bantum fired his gun at Sothoron and then ran for the boat on which the Union officer and troops arrived. Sothoron and his son fled into Virginia.

With Private Bantum’s account the Union authorities believed that he may have been injured, and that injury would help identify him. Thus the above message. Sothoron was never caught. His plantation was occupied by the US Government and used as relocation camp for freed slaves from Virginia. After the war Sothoron returned to Maryland, and sought compensation from the US Government for the losses and damage done to his plantation. His claim was rejected.

How wonderful that a simple, short telegram can lead to such an interesting and yet largely forgotten episode from the Civil War. This telegram becomes the entry point to a larger discussion and understanding of the complexities of Maryland during the Civil War. There are many other similar telegrams throughout the ledgers. So many little entry points with similar stories to remind us that even an event as sweeping as the Civil War was composed of very complex everyday events. Such as the killing of 2nd Lt. Eben White.

Hospitals and Chloroform

mssEC_07_033 - setting up a hospital.jpg

1145 PM  Ft Monroe Va Apl 11th
Brig Genl Hammond Surg Genl there
are signs of active operations on
the part of the Enemy through
out the Dept the Ocean house
at parts-month Virginia has by
my direction been put in a
condition to be taken for a
Hospital if necessary will it meet
with your approval to have it
fitted us as a General Hospital
have just recd telegram from Suffolk
for Chloroform stimulants &c which
I have ordered sent has Doctor
Frantz requisition been sent signed R
H Gilbert Med Director 1030 PM

William Alexander Hamilton served as the 11th Surgeon General of the United States Army from 1862 to 1864, and left a legacy of increased facilities, better trained doctors, and the Army Medical Museum. The Ocean House in Portsmouth (parts-month), Virginia, must have met with Hammond’s approval, since it is mentioned in The medical and surgical reporter of June 27, 1863, along with its new name, “Balfour” Hospital.

Arrest the Particularly Obnoxious Political Leaders

mssEC_12_244 - arrest particularly obnoxious political leaders.jpg

A H Caldwell Richmond  Phila May 4th 1865
Phila 12 midnight 4th to Gen Halleck. I gave Gen Hancock
, several days ago , verbal directions
to treat all men in arms in Va as you
propose to notify them you will do . I wish you
would have efforts made to arrest Smith, Hunter,
Letcher & all other particularly obnoxious political leaders
in the state . I would advise offering a reward of
five thousand Dollars for Moseby if he is still
in the state
US Grant
Lt Genl

I’m sure that there are plenty of people these days who wish that particularly obnoxious political leaders could be arrested, but things are a bit different now than they were in May of 1865. The war was nearly over and the long, slow road to Reconstruction was just starting.

It’s interesting to note that John S. Mosby (spelled here “Moseby”) and Grant later became friends and political allies, in spite of the bounty that Grant suggested be offered as a reward for Mosby’s capture.

What is up with the OR?


Since we launched Decoding the Civil War at the end of June a number of our volunteers have noted that some of these messages have been published elsewhere. In particular they point to the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (OR), published in the 1880s and 1890s. We are aware that some of these telegrams do exist in plain text in the OR, however, we ask that our volunteers refrain from consulting the OR in their transcriptions.

Why, you may ask? Many documents in the Official Records were edited and “cleaned up” and may be different from the telegrams in Decoding the Civil War ledgers. Please remember that an important aspect of this project is recovering the original texts of the telegrams that were sent and received, so researchers can compare them to later compilations, like the OR. Additionally, we estimate that about a third, or perhaps more, of the telegrams in the ledgers never made it into the Official Records.

An example of this comparison was pointed out by the Decoding the Civil War volunteer cynlynten, who noted that the below page appeared almost the same in the OR and then added:

Interestingly, they were not transcribed entirely accurately; can’t tell if this is because the record is of a RECEIVED telegram (the fault of the telegram operator), or if it was just transcribed inaccurately from the same original we are seeing here. Wonder what effect mistakes like this have (or had)?

That is an excellent question and the whole point of the transcription, to allow researchers to find and debate those differences. The page in the ledger from the project reads:


1130 AM Baldwin Balto Martinsburg June 13 63
A scout has just received here
from Milroy left Winchester Eleven last
night reports Ewells whole corps in
and around Winchester from 15000 to
18000 strong, Jone’s and Imboden force
unknown, there also, fought yesterday with
success but quite a loss on
both sides  Milroy advises Smith to
be on guard he apprehends a raid
on Martinsburg  & Harpers ferry  Woodhull

1140 am Martinsburg June 14 63
Martinsburg June 14th 11 am to
Gen Schenck Milroy reports that he was
attacked yesterday by Gen Ewell with
from 15  to 18 thousand men
that he sustained himself notifies us
to look out for Harpers ferry
and Martinsburg  Danl Tyler Brig Genl

The same two messages also found in the OR (available through The Ohio State University, at read:

“MARTINSBURG, June 14, 1863-10. 50 a. m.

“Major-General SCHENCK:

“A scout has just received here from Milroy ; left Winchester 11 last night ; reports Ewell’s cavalry corps in and around Winchester, from 15,000 to 18,000 strong. Jone’s and Imboden’s force unknown; also fought yesterday with success, but quite a loss on both sides. Milroy advises Smith to be on guard, he apprehends a raid on Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry.


” Assistant Adjutant-general . ”

” MARTINSBURG, June 14, 1863 -11 a. m.

“Major-General SCHENCK:

” General; Milroy reports that he was attacked yesterday by General Ewell with from 15,000 to 18,000 men ; that he sustained himself. Notifies us to look out for Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg.


” Brigadier-General . ”

These messages appeared as part of a report, possibly a court martial, and were given into evidence by General Schenck. Had they not been part of this report, there is the possibility that these messages would never have made it into the record. I leave the date discrepancy for the historians.

Buying Whiskey

mssEC_29_417 - buying whiskey cropped.jpg

1210pm Sept 7
Pittsburgh Sept 7
Maj Eckert
Can get economy at four
4 dollars for best & eight 8 year
old malt rye for five 5 The
latter high above proof & twice
the body in it which & how
EW Culgan

What better way to prepare for the weekend than by figuring out which whiskey to buy? I’m going to choose to believe that this purchase was in response to the request from D. Doren at the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac which was posted a few weeks ago🙂


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