Research What Did Lincoln Know & When Did He Know It? Read The Original Telegraphic Messages For The First Time In 125 Years.

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
WHAT DID LINCOLN KNOW & WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?
Read the original telegraphic messages for the first time in 125 years.
In 1868, the cipher ledgers & message logs at the Washington office of the United States Military Telegraph were destroyed. That office also handled the signal traffic for the Army of the Potomac Headquarters, so those logs were destroyed, as well. The destruction was a standard practice. Thomas T. Eckert, who was the head of the office destroyed a near-complete body of telegraphic messages sent & received from 1861 to 1868... NOT!

For unknowable reasons, Thomas T. Eckert did not destroy the 16,000 pages of messages & ciphers. It was not until 2017 that the existence of what is now known as the Thomas R. Eckert Papers was announced. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, & Botanical Gardens now have the collection & have digitized them. They are available at <hdl.huntington.og> Digital Library Thomas T. Eckert Papers.

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The collection is easily accessible. You simple click on a log book & then page through it. I have found that if you want to read a page, click the download in full resolution. This is page one of "Cipher Telegrapms received at War Department from December 25th, 1864 to August 9th 1866. Grant sent this message to Washington saying that he had just heard from Sherman, who had taken Savannah. It was a pretty good way to start a new ledger.

I began reading through this ledger because I wanted to see what Thomas at Nashville reported on pursuit of Hood. Very quickly, I noticed a pattern. Subordinate commanders like Thomas, Sheridan, Butler sent pages long reports. Grant's messages, on the other hand, are almost always just a few sentences long. Almost all of them are orders. This ledger includes messages Lincoln sent from City Point as he waited there for the fall of Richmond.


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Head Quarters a of p
Cipher Book
Sent & Received
from
August 29, 1862 to April 28, 1863

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Page One

Here is the historic record without any filters or opinions. I haven't read this ledger, so won't comment on the contents.

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I have been researching CW signals for 20 years. I have never seen a general cipher before.
I knew the way it worked, but did not know how it was done. The fact that the Eckert Papers contains all of them is stunning.
For those of us who are interested in the War in the West, there are two ledger books that contain all of Dana's reports. Perhaps because he reported directly to Stanton, his messages had this unique status. I have read a few of Dana's dispatches from Crawfish Springs in the period leading up to the Battle of Chickamauga. The ones I have read echo the reports that were being sent by generals & do not have the kind of snark that is often attested to them. It will be interesting to find out what Dana really had to say.

The Thomas T. Eckert Papers are a unique source. It is the original original source. In many cases, Abraham Lincoln was the last person who read the message. There is an individual on CWT who has vociferously defended his assertion that Halleck ranked Grant... reading the signal logs puts that eccentric notion to rest.

Grant answered to the Secretary of War & to Lincoln. On very rare occasions, there are messages where he is replying to a request for information. In one of them, he says that while he hasn't heard directly from Sherman, he is confident that nothing dramatic had occurred. He cites as his source, a reading of the current Richmond papers. If there had been a battle, the papers would have reported it. Sounds reasonable, ¿no?

The dispatches are in no kind of order. The messages received at 1:00 am is ahead of the one received at 3:00 regardless of who sent it or where from. Potentially a lot of the when did Grant know it, what was he told & what did he do that is often argued will be settled. All manner of gaps in the historic record will be filled by the 16,000 pages of the Thomas T. Eckert Papers.

Note: The resolution online is not all that great. If you want to read a page, definitely download it in full resolution. Images reproduced following the Huntington Library's fair use policy.

 
Last edited:

DanSBHawk

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
For those of us who are interested in the War in the West, there are two ledger books that contain all of Dana's reports. Perhaps because he reported directly to Stanton, his messages had this unique status. I have read a few of Dana's dispatches from Crawfish Springs in the period leading up to the Battle of Chickamauga. The ones I have read echo the reports that were being sent by generals & do not have the kind of snark that is often attested to them. It will be interesting to find out what Dana really had to say.

Wasn't there speculation about a lost Dana telegram? One that suggested Rosecrans might surrender Chattanooga?

Agree with the above posters... great find!
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Wasn't there speculation about a lost Dana telegram? One that suggested Rosecrans might surrender Chattanooga?

Agree with the above posters... great find!
If it was lost, it is now found. This is the log of Dana's incoming telegrams. I have only grazed through the Chattanooga posts, so don't have much to say. Basically, the ones I have read read exactly like the reports I have seen from other officer, .i.e., this unit is here, that one there, so many deserters have come in, etc.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Lincoln was an attorney and one of the attributes of presenting a case, is brevity, one should not present any more information than is necessary to make your case.. In comparison with others, I think Lincoln properly appreciated Grants brevity.
 
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