Huntington Acquires Rare Civil War Lincoln Telegrams

A collection of telegraph message previously thought to have been destroyed have been acquired by the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, the institution announced Wednesday.

has acquired an “extensive and extraordinarily rare” collection of Civil War telegraph messages, including several coded communications between Abraham Lincoln and officers of the Union Army, the San Marino cultural institution announced Wednesday.

The collection, a near-complete archive of Thomas T.  Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln, was thought to be destroyed until recently and includes significant correspondence that has never been published.

Consisting of 76 books, the archive includes 35 manuscript ledger books of coded telegraphs sent and received by the War Department and more than 100 messages from Lincoln, whose code names included “Ida” and “India,” the collection shows.

“The Huntington is one of the premiere institutions for the study of the Civil War and is the repository of two of the so-called Big Five collections of Lincolniana, material by and about the 16th American president,” says David Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Library. “The Eckert archive promises to add fresh insight into one of the most heavily mined scholarly subjects—the American Civil War.”

Public viewing of selections from the Civil War telegraph will begin in the fall when the Huntington presents two Civil War-related exhibitions—A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War (Oct. 13, 2012–Jan. 14, 2013) and A Just Cause: Voices of the Civil War Era (Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013).

The Eckert materials were among a few notable purchases over the weekend at the 15th annual meeting of the Library Collectors’ Council, a group of 35 member families who help support acquisitions.

Other purchases included:

  • Three rare photographs of San Francisco in 1867 by Carleton Watkins (two of which were not previously known to exist)
  • A family archive that includes documentation of the first congressional action to limit slavery in the United States
  • A bound set of two 17th-century works of astronomy by a German rival of Galileo
  • A 15th-century decorated manuscript containing dozens of Gregorian chants in musical notations

Will you see the Lincoln telegrams when they go on display? What questions do you have about what is included in the telegrams?


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