Thursday, January 26, 2012

Large Collection of Union Telegrams

According to The Los Angeles Times, the Huntington Library in California has announced that it has acquired a large collection of materials relating to Union telegraphy during the Civil War.  Reportedly preserved by Thomas Eckert, who ran the War Department Telegraph Office during the last part of the Lincoln presidency (and beyond), it includes 40 large albums of handwritten telegrams in chronological order.  There also are several codebooks that reveal more about the Union telegraph code words used during the war.

This resource, once made available to scholars, has the potential to significantly alter our understanding of the war effort, particularly related to military logistics.  There is also the distinct possibility that previously unknown Lincoln telegrams may be discovered.  James McPherson, award-winning Civil War historian, notes in an interview that "it would have enriched my work" on Lincoln as commander in chief.  It likely means that the recent book by Tom Wheeler, "Mr. Lincoln's T-Mail's," reviewed in November, is already outdated.

Even if no new Lincoln-dictated telegrams are discovered, the collection should impact our knowledge of Lincoln as a war-time leader.  It is well-documented that Lincoln generally read through all recent telegraphic traffic during frequent visits to the War Department Telegraph Office.  At the very least, this should allow great insight into what Lincoln "knew" as he made decisions from 1863-1865.  Of course, it will take some dedicated research, meaning time, before the full value and impact of this material is known.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lincoln Check Found

Last weekend, it was revealed that someone had located a small collection of checks signed by famous people in bank storage, including one signed by Abraham Lincoln dated just two days before his death.  The sesquicentennial Civil War blog at The Washington Post, "A House Divided," has a nice entry about the check, including comments from Harold Holzer about its likely purpose.  Holzer rightly comments on the emotional importance of the artifact because it is from the final week of Lincoln's life.

Images of Lincoln's check, and a couple of other presidential checks found in the collection, are available from this Washington Post article.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Missing Pages of 1862 Message Located

This morning, I reread Lincoln's 1862 Annual Message to Congress in preparation for my annual Lincoln sermon.  In The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy Basler, there is a notation that the first two pages are missing and are reproduced from a periodical.

Imagine my surprise when I read this article at lunchtime, when a team from the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project announced that the first two pages had been located at the National Archives, along with a complete second copy, signed by Lincoln, of the 86 page message (handwritten, though evidently not by Lincoln himself).

While the discovery seems unlikely to alter anything -- there is no reference that the quoted passage differs in any way from the original handwritten pages -- it is nice to know that the complete document of this important state paper is now available for researchers and properly catalogued and preserved for posterity, "for a vast future also" that Lincoln mentions in the message's memorable conclusion.