Preservation and Decoding Civil War telegrams

Preserving telegrams from the Civil War

The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA is working on a project of huge historical significance. They are working on decoding and digitizing 15,971 telegrams from the Civil War that were found hidden in a wooden foot locker for more than a century. This article from the LA Times details the contents of some of the telegrams, which are a window into the war experiences of the Civil War and include disease, fear, humor, and praise of President Lincoln. The telegrams were found to have come from the Union side, but the correspondence was coded for safety. According to the article, this led the Huntington Library to start “a Decoding the Civil War crowdsourcing campaign that relies on volunteers using cipher charts to unravel secret texts.” These volunteers, named “citizen archivists” continue to work through the ongoing task of deciphering the coded messages.

In addition to decoding the messages, the Huntington is working to digitize the documents to make them available online. The library is working with Zooniverse to put the documents online at the Decoding the Civil War website. Using digitization to preserve these formerly hidden documents is important to ensure they continue to provide a glimpse into this country’s history.

Check out the official site of the project for a glimpse into the decoding process, suggested reading, and links to more resources on the Civil War.