Pressed by the Press

mssEC_34_111 - pressmen deciphering danas code.jpg

5.30 P.M. Chattanooga, Oct. 11, 1863
9 A.M. Oct 11th to Eckert
the dispatch disclosed was the first
one of Sept 20th Gen R.S. Granger explains
that being very anxious for news
he went with Gen’l Gillen to
the telegraph office. as my dispatch
was passing through ” some portions
of which were guessed out by
the operator ” the person
who guessed out the dispatch was
Mr. Smith who informed us at
the time it was mere surmise
as he had no Key to
the Cipher It is rather curious
however that the agent of the Assd Press
at Louisville in a private printed circular
quoted me as authority for reporting
the battle was a total defeat while
Horace Maynard repeated in Cincin.
the entire second sentence of the
dispatch. If practicable send
me a cipher whose meaning no
operator can guess out.
CA Dana

The media, as it’s now called generically, has been accused of many sins, especially in recent months. Telegrams were always at risk of interception and deception. Sometimes, though, the enemy didn’t intercept the messages, but rather, the press — in the case of this telegram, the Associated Press. The AP, which had been founded in 1846 by five daily newspapers in New York City to share the cost of sending news about the Mexican-American War, soon found itself reporting on another, larger conflict, and was hungry for news. After revealing that the AP had attempted to decipher an intercepted missive (and garbled it in the process, “guessing it out” the original sender incorrectly), Charles A Dana asked Thomas Eckert to “send me a cipher whose meaning no operator can guess out.”

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