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The Secret History of the Civil War: The Thomas T. Eckert Archive of Civil War Codes and Ciphers (SOLD)
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A remarkable archive, loaded with up-to-the-minute correspondence as it arrived en route to and from the president and the War Department. The archive contains many of the most important telegraphic messages of the Civil War, and illustrates the role of ciphers and technology in the waging of that conflict.

[CIVIL WAR]. War Department Telegraph Office archive of 76 books belonging to Major Thomas Thompson Eckert (1825-1910). [Washington, D.C., 1862-77]. Including 35 manuscript ledger books of coded telegraphs sent and received by the War Department; two of ciphers received and sent from Fortress Monroe, 1862-1865; one book recording ciphers sent and received from the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, 1862-63; and two of telegrams sent and received from Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, whom Stanton had sent into the field to report on operations and the performance of his generals. Taken together, the books contain more than 100 messages from President Abraham Lincoln. Approximately six linear feet of documents housed in two of Eckert’s Civil War-era wooden trunks.

Inventory #22088       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Please contact us for a more detailed listing of the archive, or other information.

Reading through the cipher books, you can’t help but be struck by the immediacy of the news as it comes over the wire.  For example, Gen. Wool wires Stanton: “The Merrimac came down…today and…attacked the Cumberland and the Congress. She sunk the Cumberland and the Congress surrendered. Minnesota is aground and attacked by the Jamestown, Yorktown and Merrimac…” (E.M. Stanton, and War Dept. Received / Feby 7 to June 26, 1862.)

From Chattanooga, 4 p.m., November 25, 1863: “Glory to God!  The day is decisively ours.  Missionary Ridge has just been carried by a magnificent charge of Thomas troops & Rebels routed. Hooker has got in their rear. / C.A. Dana.”  And just a few hours later, at 2:45 a.m. November 26: “We have taken today two thousand prisoners & thirty pieces of artillery.  The nature of the ridge allowed the main body of the rebels to escape.  The losses of Thomas’Army are very slight and I hear of no prominent officers among them except Col. Phelps cmdg brigade Killed.  The heights which Thomas carried by assault are at least five hundred feet above Chattanooga Valley with an inclination of at least forty five degrees & exceedingly rugged & difficult - up to 2 or 3 the battle raged principally on our left & though we have not yet a report of our losses in that quarter they must have been very severe, the enemy having made vigorous efforts from his position on the ridge.”

Five books contain ciphers relating to the Battle of Gettysburg.  In a June 30, 1863 transmission, Gen. Couch tells Gen. Meade that “I am in position between Emmettsburg & Westminster, advancing upon the enemy.  The enemy hold (A.P. Hill) Cashtown pass between Gettysburg & Chambersburg. ... My force is tolerably well concentrated moving with all the speed that the roads & physique of the men will bear.  I am without definite & positive information as to the whereabouts of Longstreet & Ewell, the latter I presume to be in front of you.  The army is in good spirits & we shall push to your relief or the engagement of the enemy as circumstances & the information we receive during the day and on the march may indicate as most prudent & most likely to lead to ultimate success.”  Another, received July 3rd, reads:  “Gen’l Smith telegraphs from Carlisle that Lee engaged Gen. Meade on the first at eleven a.m.  Lee driven back two miles; action continued on the 2nd until nine a.m. when Lee by flag of truce asked to bury his dead; firing ceased at that time. ... Gen. Couch has ordered an advance up the valley.  Everything going on well here.”

Among several reports from Lincoln at City Point to the War Department is the April 3, 1865 news that “This morning Gen Grant reports Petersburg evacuated and he is confident Richmond also…he is pushing forward to cut off if possible the retreating army.  I start to him in five minutes. A. Lincoln.”  Additional highlight examples include news of Sherman chasing Johnston, and Johnston’s letter asking for terms of capitulation “to stop further effusion of blood…” (sent from “Fort Monroe, Apl 17, 1865”). 

Lincoln Assassination information includes wires from Eckert (who had been assigned to investigate Booth’s former lodgings) reporting on his findings of Booth’s effects.

This archive also contains a tremendous amount of information about the telegraph program, including Eckert’s 8 books of letterpress copies of messages sent back and forth between Eckert and other high-ranking members of the Telegraph Office. Topics include determining where lines were to be built and stations to be established, and what repairs and upgrades were to be made. Also included are a large collection of Union cipher books, along with an index indicating their distribution patterns among telegraph operators, and an 1862 book of pass stubs granting scores of individuals, including Eckert, permission to travel between the Telegraph Office and Virginia, on specific dates.

In all, one of the most complete and remarkable Civil War archives to reach the market in modern times, containing “as it happened” material passing directly to President Lincoln and the Secretary of War, and then back to the field commanders.

Special Note: 

This archive is and can be privately owned. However, we feel it is of such historic importance that we will only sell it to an institution, or to a private buyer who agrees to allow scholarly and public access. This can be by deposit or donation to a museum or library, or by allowing us to make a digital copy and inventory available via an institution or on the web.

Among the many appropriate institutions, we can suggest the National Archives, New-York Historical Society, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the National Civil War Museum at Gettysburg, and many others.