Archive by Author | katecpeck

Wooooo Hoooooo!

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As a follow-up to Mario’s post on Monday, I just wanted to share that we have officially passed 100,000 classifications for the project! Well done transcribers! The end (of phase 1) may not quite be nigh, but it is in sight.

Hunting for Mosby

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Hd Qrs M M Divn
RR McCaine Winchester  Apl 28th 1865
Plug Richard Harriet David for Consent Regent Parsons
can trifle of course now that Booth pimple
caught dog The Panther wishes you to try
and hunt up Elder If more money is
needed it canby had upward C H Morgan

Decoded, using cipher 4
Hd Qrs M M Divn
RR McCaine Winchester  Apl 28th 1865
Head Quarters Middle Military Division 11 AM 28th for A.T.A. Torbert Major Governor
can return of course now that Booth has been
caught ; The general wishes you to try
and hunt up Mosby If more money is
needed it can be had signature C H Morgan

Whoever was encoding the messages for General Morgan appears to have gotten a little carried away. I can understand obscuring “Mosby”, but did “has been” really need to be replaced by its arbitrary, “pimple”? And the operator made an error by using the arbitrary for Governor, Parson, instead of the second arbitrary for General, Paradise, which is the line above in the cipher. Perhaps it was like a child who has received a new toy, and wants to use it at any opportunity?

Whatever the case may be, with John Wilkes Booth dead and most of his associates in custody, the Union army continued the business of wrapping up the war. Here we have General Morgan, who was Chief of Staff to General Hancock at this point, altering the short term goal of General Torbert’s command from capturing Booth to capturing Confederate Colonel John Mosby. It is perhaps unsurprising that Mosby, the “Gray Ghost”, evaded his pursuers for another month and a half before turning himself in.

 

Surrender of Johnston

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910 am 28th  Raleigh Apl 26th 1865
Raleigh 730 pm 26th Maj Eckert Sherman & Johnston
had another interview today and Johnston has
surrendered on same terms Lee accepted .
I think the great bulk of the army will
start for Washn over-land in few days
I will be guided by circumstances in the
absence of any instruction from you . I
think we will hold on here some time
R. O’Brien Chf Opr

After the original terms that Sherman offered to Johnston were rejected, the two opposing generals met again, and on this day in 1865 Johnston surrendered all of the Confederate troops in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This time the terms were approved (Sherman stuck exclusively to military matters).

Following the surrender, Sherman prepared to return to Washington with his troops. They would participate, with other Union Troops, in a Grand Review, which was held on the 23rd and 24th of May. Sherman and Johnston were friends following the war, and both served as pallbearers in U.S. Grant’s funeral in 1885. In fact, Johnston died of pneumonia in 1891, caught while serving as a pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral.

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Seven mile funeral cortege of Genl. Grant in New York Aug. 8, 1885, U.S. Instantaneous Photographic Co., 1886, p. 45. (Huntington Digital Library, UDID 397202)

Grant Defends Sherman’s Truce

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7 P.M.  Raleigh N.C. Apl. 24. 1865.
Raleigh Apl 24th 9 AM . Secry of War – Sir I
reached here this mng & delivered to Gen Sherman the reply
to his negotiation with Johnston He was not
surprised but rather expected their rejection – word was
immedy sent to Johnston terminating the truce & information
that civil matters could not be entertained in any
Convention between army Comdrs – Gen Sherman has been guided in
his negotiations with Johnston Entirely by what he thought
was precedent authorized by the Prest – He had before
him the terms given by me to Lees Army

& the call of the rebel legislature of Va authorized
by Gen Weitzel , as he supposed with the sanction
of the President & myself – at the time of the agreement
Gen Sherman did not know of the withdrawal of authority for the
meeting of that legislature – the moment he learned
through the papers that authority for the meeting of the
Va legislature had been withdrawn he communicated the fact
to Johnston as having bearing on the negotiations,
US Grant
Lt Genl

In early 1865, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman had gained a great deal of momentum. He and and his army rolled north from Georgia, pressuring the South as Grant was pressuring them in Virginia.  So when he met with Confederate General Joe Johnston in early April to discuss terms of surrender, he was probably feeling pretty sure of himself. A little too sure of himself, it turned out, because the deal that he hashed out with Johnston was promptly rejected, and Sherman was excoriated publicly by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Sherman reacted to this public condemnation about as well as you would expect, and it is interesting to note that Grant himself carried news of the terms’ rejection to Sherman. In this telegram, Grant defends Sherman’s actions, in particular the rights that he negotiated in civil, non-military, matters. This may have kept Sherman out of hot water, but his feud with Stanton lasted for years.

A Seance in the White House

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By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

On April 25, 1863, the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette published a piece titled “Lincoln and Spirits” dated April 23 and bylined to one Mr. Melton. The report described a “spiritual soiree” in the Red Room of the White House hosted by the President of the United States and attended by the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The President’s guest of honor was Melton’s friend, one Mr. Charles E. Shockle, and the purpose of the meeting was to test his “wonderful alleged superpowers.”

The mere fact of the President attending a spiritual séance seemed quite unremarkable.  By the beginning of the Civil War, spiritualism, born in the “burned over district” of upstate New York in the 1840s, had become a popular obsession, subject to fervent belief, amused skepticism, and harsh criticism.

The bereaved and disconsolate anxiously seized on the chance to talk to the departed loved ones. More fortunate delighted in tipping tables, pieces of furniture moving on their own volition, and messages from beyond the grave. It also helped that “spirits” who popped up in parlors and living rooms tended to endorse the causes of their earthly hosts or share their political preferences.

Lending additional credence to the mediums was the fact that “spirits” made their presence known by repeated knocking or rapping, which was followed by “automatic” messages appearing on blank sheets of paper, which evoked telegraphic communications.

As the war raged on, thousands of grief-stricken men and women invited mediums to their homes. One such homes was the White House. It was a matter of common knowledge that Mrs. Lincoln, buckling under the pressures of life in war-time Washington and pining for her dead sons Eddie and Willy, resorted to various mediums and spirit guides.

The séance was off to a brisk start, when the President was briefly called away. The annoyed spirits, who had assembled with the sole purpose of convincing the Chief Executive of their power, took it up with the Cabinet members, pinching Secretary Stanton’s ears and tweaking Secretary Welles’ generous beard.

After Lincoln returned, the spirits calmed down and duly moved the tables, swayed the portrait of Henry Clay that adorned the wall “more than a foot,” and hoisted “two candelabras, presented by the Dey of Algiers to President Adams” to the ceiling, before placing the Mr. Shockle under “spiritual influence” that was so “powerful that twice during the evening restoratives were applied.”

In short order, knocks were heard “directly beneath the President’s feet” and a blank sheet of paper covered by a handkerchief requisitioned from Stanton revealed a message from none other than Henry Knox, the Secretary of War under George Washington. For an otherworldly presence, Knox was rather explicit: “Haste makes waste, but delays cause vexations. Give vitality by energy. Use every means to subdue. Proclamations are useless; make a bold front and fight the enemy; leave traitors at home to the care of loyal men. Less note of preparation, less parade and policy talk, more action.”

When the President politely inquired if it was within “within the scope of his ability” to predict the “when the rebellion will be put down,” Knox’s spirit assured Lincoln that “Washington, Lafayette, Franklin, Wilberforce, Napoleon, and myself have held frequent consultations upon this point.” The advice of the illustrious panel, as Lincoln sarcastically quipped, “sounded very much like the talk of my cabinet: Napoleon “says concentrate your forces upon one point; Lafayette thinks that the rebellion will die of exhaustion; Franklin sees the end approaching, as the South must give up for want of mechanical ability to compete against Norther mechanics.” Wilberforce, the message concluded, “sees hope only a negro army.”

The spirits then prophesized that “English people” would demand that “England’s aristocracy” stop propping up their Southern brethren. As the piece-de-résistance, the spirit of Stephen A. Douglass delivered a full-blown oration, imploring his old rival to “throw aside all advisers who hesitate about the policy to be pursued” and prophesying a surge in “the popular approval which would follow one or two victories” that were sure to follow “ere long.”

This was quite a story. It was immediately reprinted in Northern and Southern newspapers before the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette published a retraction on June 6, 1863, calling it a “humbug.”  Two weeks later the spiritualist publication Banner of Light followed suit. Yet the story grew legs. Lincoln’s numerous detractors seized on the story to paint him at best as a deluded individual and at worst, a demon-worshipper. In the fall of 1863, Ohio Democrats painted a picture “the Nation demonized, and its president a spirit-rapper.” Spiritualism’s advocates cited the incident as the ultimate endorsement.

Repeated ever since, the episode has fed various strains of Lincoln scholarship, from the exploration of his spirituality to speculations of his interest in the occult and paranormal, even though Gideon Welles made no mention of the séance in his diary, and there are no records of either Charles E. Shockle or a Boston reporter named Melton. (The latter is frequently conflated with Melton Prior, the famous journalist and artist for the London Illustrated News.)

To be clear, the story is in fact a piece of fiction. It is a combination of a fictional personal letter, opinion piece, and a Lincoln joke, complete with samples of the president’s unique blend of sarcasm and amused observation of human folly and digs at the members of his cabinet. It is somewhat reminiscent of the missives of Orpheus C. Kerr, the ingenious creation of R.H. Newell, which were too full of rather fanciful (and hilarious) accounts of the president.

It is no surprise that a piece featuring various departed historical celebrities urging the president to press on with the war effort, cautioning him against “traitors” and the “spirit of party,” and promoting a “negro army” would appear in a Boston Republican newspaper. Nor was the image of Lincoln as a conscientious and level-headed war-time leader who, despite his sound skepticism, was willing to listen to good advice even if it came from beyond the grave.

As we proceed with the challenge, let us follow Lincoln’s example and heed the spirits’ advice to “give vitality by energy.”


Sources:

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: The soldier’s grave, 1862, Jay T. Last Collection (UDID 383505)

Banks Should Be Replaced

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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!)

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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

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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!