Archive by Author | katecpeck

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Banks’s command during the remainder of the Red River Campaign, but after the campaign’s end a month later Banks was superseded by General Canby.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

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!

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Grant’s “Former Bad Habits”

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St Louis 1 PM 4th  Recd Mch 4 ” 62
No fifty three Andes a rumor
has just reched me that since
the taking of Fort Donelson Grant
has resumed his former bad habits
if so it will account for
his neglect of my often repeated
orders I do not deem it
advisable to arrest him at present
but have placed Genl C F
Smith in command of the expedition
up the Tennessee R I think Smith
will restore order & discipline I
hear unofficially but from a reliable
source that our forces took possession
of Columbus this morning – the enemy
falling back to Island number ten
& N Madrid – I am expecting official
telegram hourly Alden Clear road windy

It’s bad enough when rumors circulate about you at work, but when the boss starts listening to them, you may be in trouble! Although the arbitraries used here (“Andes” and “Alden”) are part of a codebook that we no longer have, it is a pretty safe bet that this telegram’s sender is General Henry Halleck, who briefly relieved Grant of command in March of 1862. We know from published copies of this telegram that the recipient was George B. McClellan. Andes is so frequently seen in the telegrams from 1862, even ones otherwise written in clear, that it seems to have become a shorthand for McClellan. We are hoping to reverse-engineer some of the missing codebooks by comparing telegrams in the Eckert ledgers with those in the Official Record, so this message helps us on our way: Alden=Halleck. Check!

Thanks to Zooniverse volunteer red_mtn for pointing this telegram out!

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What Did He Do?!?

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12 Nov 4
Columbus Nov 4
Maj Eckert
I will never forgive you
for what you did at Baltimore
David

There are many tantalizing glimpses into peoples’ everyday lives during the Civil War lurking in the Eckert ledgers, but this one has been teasing me for months. One of the benefits of having access to all of the ledgers is that I can go hunting through the nearby pages for related messages, but in this case I was unsuccessful. It’s unclear who David was or what on earth happened in Baltimore, and I can only hope that some eagle-eyed transcriber is able to catch what I’ve missed!

It can’t have been too bad though, for only a few days later he sent a telegram to Eckert that ended:

mssEC_30_429 - I will never forgive you follow up.jpg

Hope to see you Saturday
David

On Illegal Leaks and Fake News

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

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New York Herald in the field, August 1863, James E. Taylor Collection

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.

photcl 300 v 1 p 91 - A_group_of_four_men_stand_around_a_horsedrawn_cart_looking_at_newspapers.jpg

Newspaper cart, November 1863, James E. Taylor Collection

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.”

 


Sources:

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)

Hooray For Us!

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!

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