The Civil War at The Huntington


Los Angeles Times, Huntington Library sets out to decode thousands of Civil War telegrams hidden for a century: 'It's mind-boggling' 


Federal Grant Supports Crowdsourcing Project to Decode Civil War Telegrams

Federal Grant Supports Crowdsourcing Project to Decode Civil War Telegrams  

One hundred and fifty years after its conclusion, the American Civil War continues to be a subject of compelling interest to historians and the general public. A new project under way at The Huntington draws on that public fascination to engage experts and amateurs in a unique collaboration that promises to provide fresh insights into a much-studied conflict. Thanks to a two-year federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, The Huntington launched a crowdsourcing project in the spring of 2016 to transcribe and decipher a collection of 15,922 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. This extraordinarily rare collection, acquired by The Huntington in 2012, is a near-complete archive of the papers of Thomas T. Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln. The archive was thought to have been destroyed after the war and includes crucial correspondence that has never been published.


The Huntington partnered on the project with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse, the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research.


Witness the United States Civil War by transcribing and deciphering messages and codes from the United States Military Telegraph. GET STARTED >


Decoding the Civil War - ON VERSO

Posted June 21, 2016

Today The Huntington announces the launch of a crowdsourcing project to transcribe and decode U.S. Civil War telegrams from its collection. What follows is the text of the press release about the project’s launch. Read on...


The Civil War at The Huntington

The photographs, printed materials, and objects in The Huntington's Civil War collection tell the story of a complicated war that took the lives of three quarters of a million people. Begun when Henry E. Huntington purchased two of the “Big Five” collections of Abraham Lincoln materials early in the 20th century, the collection’s focus is on items created between 1861-1865, but includes both pre- and postwar materials. Explore the collection with Highlights from the Archives, audio recording by notable scholars on iTunes U insights by Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White on VERSO, and more.


Highlights from the Archives


Featured Book

A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War By Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photography at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, with contributions by Steve Roden and Barret Oliver

By Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photography at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, with contributions by Steve Roden and Barret Oliver 


The American Civil War claimed the lives of 750,000 Americans. Death and mourning defined the four wrenching years between 1861 and 1865, leaving an indelible imprint on the nation at large. During these years, photography became a powerful tool of reportage and remembrance: “the field of photography is extending itself to embrace subjects of strange and sometimes of fearful interest,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes in reference to a haunting series of Civil War views. Drawing on more than 200 works from the superb Civil War collections at The Huntington, many never published before, A Strange and Fearful Interest explores how photography and other media were used to describe, explain, and perhaps come to terms with a national trauma on an unprecedented scale. The volume focuses on the Battle of Antietam, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the establishment of Gettysburg National Monument as part of larger attempts at reconciliation and healing. BUY NOW  

Suggested Reading

  • This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust
  • Union War (2011) by Gary Gallagher
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988) James M. McPherson
  • Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2002) by David W. Blight
  • Sick from Freedom (2012) by Jim Downs
  • The Confederate War (1997) by Gary Gallagher
  • The Confederate Reckoning (2012) by Stephanie McCurry
  • For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1997) by James M. McPherson
  • The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (1994) by George Rable
  • Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (2006) by Harry S. Stout
  • U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth(2009) by Joan S. Waugh
  • The Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of the War’s Opponents in the North (2006) by Jennifer Weber


The Civil War on iTunes U

Lincoln and the the Civil War on iTunes U  

Lincoln and the Civil War

Notable scholars talk about Abraham Lincoln. Speakers include Daniel Walker Howe, Harry S. Stout, and Sean Wilentz.

Civil War Lives on iTunes U  

Civil War Lives

Scholars explore the lives of a number of Civil War figures. Speakers include David W. Blight, James M. McPherson, Joan Waugh, and Ronald C. White Jr.

The Civil War on VERSO


The Lincoln Lawyer on VERSO  

The Lincoln Lawyer

Biographer Ronald C. White Jr. on the insights Abraham Lincoln gleaned from his time practicing law.

Capture the Flag on VERSO  

Capture the Flag
A fragment of the flag from the Battle of Fort Sumter is among the rare Civil War treasures at The Huntington.

How Civil War Photographs Were Made

Making photographs in the field during the Civil War was a complicated affair. It involved a portable darkroom, bulky cameras, large sheets of glass, volatile chemicals, and clean water, not to mention resourcefulness and nerves of steel. Barret Oliver brings his darkroom and gear to The Huntington to produce hauntingly beautiful work ‘in the usual manner’ of the nineteenth-century photographer, and reflects on the arduous aspects and aesthetic rewards of using historic technology.

Online Exhibition

“A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”, (Oct. 13, 2012–Jan. 14, 2013) was a major exhibition of about 200 original photographs related to the Civil War that explored how images explained, reflected, and shaped a national fixation on death and mourning.  A companion exhibition, “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War,” (Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013) explored the war-time debate on the causes and mission of “this cruel war.”

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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