4:30 pm Washn. Aug. 26th 1864
Katy Nabob The provisional battalion of Pacific belonging
to Greggs quitman which is tower upper
Attica saddling the Windsor while the Platina Andover
Panama is absent pekin has been ordered to
Blubber stop This will leave me without means
of saddling the windpipe while the paddle Andover
is absent stop Taunton Waite whites wedge that
he cannot get his whip ready to Talbot
before Monday zebra The forges coal &c had
toby sent from here I think he will
get ready Persia possible unity If you think
it advisable I will send out the Gas
Amos sligo direction of Aldie They cannot raise
more perfume prolong forth field & they cannot
go to Laughter Sheffield zodiac they may wolf
about Aldie & pick up rumors Cork = screw
Draw off your water out of town
4:30 pm Washn. Aug. 26th 1864
4:30 P.M. P. H. Sheridan The provisional battalion of Cavalry belonging
to Greggs Division which is over the upper
Potomac guarding the River while the 8 Illinois
Calvary is absent comma has been ordered to
City Point stop This will leave me without means
of guarding the River while the 8 Illinois
is absent stop Major Waite reports today that
he cannot get his Regiment ready to movement
before Monday period The forges coal &c had
to be sent from here I think he will
get ready as soon as possible period If you think
it advisable I will send out the 16
New York in the direction of Aldie They cannot raise
more 3 hundred for the field & they cannot
go to Snicker Gap period they may scout
about Aldie & pick up rumors Augur
Draw off your water out of town
On August 26, General Christopher Columbus Augur, the commander of the the defenses of Washington, D.C., sent a ciphered telegram to Phillip Sheridan who was in the process of planning an expedition against John S. Mosby’s men. Major John M. Waite of the 8th Illinois Infantry was charged with leading the force. He, however, needed some time to assemble the men: the regiment, formally part of Augur’s XXII Corps, had been scattered on all over Virginia and Maryland: six companies were assigned to Lew Wallace at Baltimore, four were guarding the Potomac between Great Falls and the Monocacy, another was at Port Tobacco, and one was with the army of the Potomac. Augur, still reeling from Jubal Early’s raid on Washington on July 11, was not overly enthusiastic about the arrangement. The best he could to reinforce the expedition was the 16th New York which had already been cut up by Mosby’s men.
As with many telegraphic communications between generals, this telegram was published in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, after the deciphered recipient’s copy.
Our telegram, which appears in the USMT ledger of sent messages (EC 18), is not just the ciphered version of the OR publication. For one thing, it was sent from the USMT office at the War Department an hour and a half after the original message went out from the headquarters of the XXII Corps, located on the corner of Fifteenth and a Half St. and Pennsylvania Avenue. The message is addressed to R.R.R. McCaine, Sheridan’s operator, rather than Little Phil himself.
And then there is the strange appendix involving a cork screw and instructions to “draw your water out of town.” In fact, the message offers a glimpse into how codes were modified and adjusted, which often happened on the fly.
The message had been ciphered a variation of Cipher No 1. This version, found in EC42, EC44, and EC46, features significant and apparently recent changes. The term “commencement word” was replaced with “blind word” which indicated the number of columns rather than lines.
As seen from the handwritten corrections made in EC 46, “the sum of the numbers set the opposite the next two words” indicated the number of lines. “Town” equaled to 6 lines, and “water,” to 10, which translates into sixteen lines of the eight-column message.
Instead of simply instructing McCaine to add the values, however, his Washington counterpart opted by a coded message involving the “cork-screw” and drawing off, i.e. “decanting,” his “water out of town,” and added a few words at the top and bottom of the message. When the operator followed the respective routing instructions, he saw a tip to “use tower for on the Not Received letter.” (The value of the arbitrary “tower” as listed in the code book is “over the.”) Most likely, this message was not even intended for Sheridan’s eyes, but rather served as a test case for changes and modifications in ciphers.
It should be noted that the term “Cork=screw” is a triple play on words. The message was sent by Augur, a homophone of which is “auger”. An auger is a helical screw, often used for boring holes in things. A short step sideways and you have “corkscrew,” split in two to fit the columns. (Thank you MEinaudi for this find. I must confess, my knowledge of drilling equipment and terminology a bit limited; I was thinking more along the lines of an augur as in the ancient Roman priest. This, of course, would be very hard to code).
And another thing. Because there was no arbitrary for Snickers Gap, Va., the operator had to improvise: Snickers was replaced, of course, with “Laughter.” I would probably go with “Chortle” or “Giggles.”
Ever wonder what the telegraph operators of the United States Military Telegraph looked like? In earlier posts we have shown the men who ran the USMT, Anson Stager and Thomas T. Eckert, and even one of the few women operators, Louisa Volker. But what of the other operators? The above image is a popular photograph of the men in the USMT, taken in June of 1865. It was reproduced in the 1911 edition of The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 8, Page 363, which provides the following identifications:
“…The members of the group are, from left to right: 1, Dennis Doren, Superintendent of Construction; 2, L.D. McCandless; 3, Charles Bart; 4, Thomas Morrison: 5, James B. Norris; 6, James Caldwell; 7, A. Harper Caldwell, chief cipher operator, and in charge; 8, Maynard A. Huyck; 9, Dennis Palmer; 10, J.H. Emerick; 11, James H. Nichols. …”
There is a variant of this image at the Library of Congress:
Identification is, from left to right: James Caldwell, J.H. Emerick, Charles Bart, L.D. McCandless, Thomas Morrison, James B. Norris, A. Harper Caldwell, Dennis Doren, Dennis Palmer, Maynard A. Huyck, James H. Nichols.
Pulling from these two images we get these close up of the operators:
A. Harper Caldwell
Maynard A. Huyck
James H. Nichols
James B. Norris
Finally, there is this image, which we have used in several posts, of Thomas T. Eckert with a few of his operators in 1864:
There is no identification given, save for Eckert. But now some of the other men are identifiable, including A. Harper Caldwell immediately behind Eckert, and Dennis Doren to Eckert’s left, staring at the camera. Behind Doren, in profile, is J.H. Emerick. But the other three men? Time and others will possibly identify them.
Thanks to Zooniverse users OlEnglish and absoluteforth for the idea of connecting a few faces to a few names.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Telegraph operators, June 1865, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook One, page 90: Top (photCL 300, vol. 1, UDID 49337)
The Library of Congress: Richmond, Virginia. Military telegraph operators, Digital ID: (digital file from original neg.) cwpb 03642 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.03642 Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: Col. Thomas Eckert and telegraph assistants, 1864, James E. Taylor Collection : Scrapbook Two, page 55: Top (photCL 300, vol. 2, UDID 49424)
Maj Eckert & Bates
The trouble on this
wire is caused by
a McClellan flag
on D St near Ninth
I have spoken to the
party having charge
of it to move it nearer
the opposite side of
the street but they
refuse or seem unwilling
to do so
C B Hayes
The operation of the military telegraph was susceptible to damage from a number of sources, whether it was wind, ice, Confederate soldiers, or naughty children. This is the only case that I’m aware of in which General George McClellan was responsible, however unwittingly. And, just like your neighbor down the street, the McClellan flag’s owner had no interest in removing this expression of his free speech.
Ft Monroe Sept 9th 1862
I fear Ryan and Haines are
Captured. I sent Haines to repair
Line between Yorktown and Williamsburg which
had been badly torn down by
Teamsters. The line was working to
Williamsburg at ten last night heard
nothing from Haines or Ryan since
have no Repairer or Tools here
will be in bad fix if
line break between here and Yorktown
can you send repairer and Tools
by this evenings Boat please reply
Sheldon’s concern for two of his telegraph repairmen is interesting, especially because it made its way into the regular ledger books. The letterpress books in the Eckert collection primarily contain telegrams about the business of the USMT, but they don’t begin until March of 1864, so the only glimpses that we have of the early days of the Military Telegraph come from notes like this one.
630 P Apl 11
Norton says he has obtained
position upon Military lines
I hope you will not employ
A. A. [unclear]Lovett[/unclear]
This brief telegram offers a reminder (in case we needed it), that not getting along with your coworkers is not a recent development. Somewhere along the line Norton and Lovett(?) crossed paths, and Lovett(?) is pretty unhappy that they are crossing paths again.
11 A June 10
Wilmington June 10
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
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.