The Thomas T. Eckert Papers is an extensive and extraordinarily rare collection of Civil War telegraph messages, including a number of coded communiqués between Abraham Lincoln and officers of the Union Army. The collection is a near-complete archive of Thomas T. Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln. The archive, which until recently was thought to have been destroyed, includes crucial correspondence that has never been published.
The Huntington Library has been awarded a two-year grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to provide partial funding for a consortium project to digitize and transcribe the telegrams from The Thomas T. Eckert Papers. Drawing together the expertise of four different organizations—The Huntington Library; the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; North Carolina State University; and, through the University of Minnesota, Zooniverse—the goals of this project are to:
1) Provide open source access to a large, rare collection of 15,971 Civil War telegrams that are owned by The Huntington Library by digitizing all the telegrams and code books.
2) Develop a crowdsourcing website with Zooniverse to utilize “citizen archivists” to decode and decipher the 15,971 telegrams with greater efficiency and accuracy than could be done by limited staff at participating institutions.
3) Design a decoding activity that is connected to Civil War milestones and provide inquiry-based educational modules that can be used to bring history alive to museum-goers and classroom students.
The major outcome of this project will be to engage broad audiences with telegrams from the American Civil War. The project will provide inquiry-based educational modules connected to Civil War milestones and will be used to bring history alive. Through the The Huntington’s partnerships with multiple Los Angeles area school districts and with North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, the educational modules will be integrated into teacher workshops reaching more than 1,000 teachers of at-risk students.
Finally, these materials will be of use and openly available to scholars interested in telegraphy, cryptography, wartime communications, technology, civilian-military relations, and many other aspects of the Civil War or American history more generally. Perhaps the most meaningful outcome is that the collaborative will provide the transcription for, and public access to, historical records that, we believe, will add to a greater understanding of the Civil War.
The Decoding the Civil War website is open! Please come and join our DCW volunteers and try your hand at a telegram or a page from a codebook.
This project is partially funded by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.