News Release - Huntington Acquires Collection of Lincoln Telegrams Thought Destroyed

Jan. 25, 2012

The Library Collectors' Council also purchases previously unknown Carleton Watkins photographs, a 17th-century volume on astronomy, and an English medieval manuscript

SAN MARINO, Calif.—The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has acquired 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 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.”

Selections from the archive will go on public view for the first time in the fall, when The Huntington presents two exhibitions relating to the war—the major “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War” (Oct. 13, 2012–Jan. 14, 2013) and the focused “A Just Cause: Voices of the Civil War Era.” (Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013).

The Eckert materials were among the purchases over the weekend at the 15th annual meeting of the Library Collectors’ Council. Other purchases include 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; and a 15th-century decorated manuscript containing dozens of Gregorian chants in musical notations.

The Library Collectors’ Council is a group of 35 member families who help support acquisitions. It was formed to augment the collections by helping to purchase materials that the institution otherwise couldn’t afford.

The council purchased the following items:

The Civil War Telegraph Archive of Thomas T. Eckert
The papers of Thomas T. Eckert range from 1862, during the early months of conflict between the North and South, through 1877, at the close of Reconstruction. The sizeable archive of 76 books includes 35 manuscript ledger books of coded telegraphs sent and received by the War Department, including 7 full ledgers of ciphered telegrams—that is, coded messages sent from Washington, D.C. Taken together, the books contain more than 100 messages from Lincoln. Also among the materials is a number of cipher books, which reveal the complex coding system used to decipher messages—including code names for Lincoln: “Ida” and “India,” among others. The Confederate Army never cracked the Union Army’s code.

“It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this collection,” says Olga Tsapina, the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts. “This is a new and largely untapped resource that will, no doubt, provide a new impetus to Civil War studies as well as to the history of telegraphic communications in the United States.”

Though a small portion of their contents had been published, until recently, it was thought that the Eckert materials did not survive. In fact, they had been kept intact in private hands since Eckert’s lifetime. Zeidberg contacted David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., to see if it was interested in the records; it deferred to The Huntington, agreeing that the institution would be an appropriate home for the materials, providing ready access to scholars for studying them.

Thomas Thompson Eckert (1825–1910) was a pioneer of American telegraphy who began his career working as an operator in the Morse Telegraph Co. In the fall of 1861, he was appointed assistant general superintendent of the United States Military Telegraph, which operated under civilian control.

In February 1862, Eckert was put in charge of all telegraphic operations of George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. He remained with McClellan throughout the Peninsula campaign, supervising construction and operation of field telegraph offices in Virginia and Maryland. In April 1863, Eckert was recalled to Washington and appointed the head of the Military Telegraph office in the War Department.

Both the secretary of war and the commander-in-chief came to rely on Eckert’s superb skills, organizational talent, and diplomatic style. Eckert became very close with Lincoln, who spent long hours in the telegraph office. It was in Eckert’s office that Lincoln wrote the preliminary text of the Emancipation Proclamation.

In the postwar decades, Eckert managed first the Western Union Co. and then its chief competitors, Pacific Telegraph and American Union Telegraph.

Photographs of San Francisco by 19th-Century Master Carleton E. Watkins
The council added three rare photographs to the extensive archive of 19th-century photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829–1916) in an ongoing drive to select strategically and to fill gaps in the holdings. Over the years, The Huntington has continued adding to its Watkins holdings through gift and purchase, building a collection of more than 350 mammoth views (produced from 18-by-22-inch glass-plate negatives) and hundreds of smaller format photographs. Of the three photographs purchased by the council, all made in San Francisco’s elite neighborhoods around 1867, only one is known to exist elsewhere and that in but a single copy.

Watkins is considered by many to be California’s first major artist. Between 1858 and 1890, he created an extraordinary body of work through one of the longest and most productive careers in 19th-century American photography. A native of Oneonta, N.Y., Watkins came to Sacramento in 1851 to work for his boyhood friend Collis P. Huntington, the man who would become his lifelong benefactor. (Collis was uncle to Henry E. Huntington, founder of The Huntington.) At the center of The Huntington’s Watkins holdings are four remarkable mammoth albums bound in morocco leather and presented as a gift from the artist to his esteemed patron.

“The three photographs have an impressive provenance as well,” notes Jennifer A. Watts, curator of photographs and contributor to the new catalogue raisonné Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, edited by Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis and published in 2011 by the J. Paul Getty Museum. Each bears the stamp of Charles Turrill, Watkins’ friend and first biographer. A photographer himself, Turrill made a point of collecting Watkins entire oeuvre and, as such, owned prints for which Watkins probably made only a single print. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed all but one of Watkins’ mammoth negatives and the bulk of his personal photographic inventory, making this new acquisition all the more valuable to researchers.

Opening Salvo in the Political Battle that Would Lead to the Civil War
Also purchased by the Library Collectors’ Council is a family archive that includes documentation of the first congressional action to limit slavery in the United States. Daniel Gott (1794–1864), a U.S. Congressman from western New York, proposed a resolution in 1848 banning “traffic in human beings as chattels” in the District of Columbia. The Gott resolution was approved by the House but repealed three weeks later after Southern lawmakers threatened secession.

The Gott family archive, which ranges as far back as 1745 and includes material as recent as 1958, sheds new light on the man who fired the opening salvo in the political battle that would lead to the Civil War. Daniel Gott’s letters from Washington are filled with richly detailed accounts of the contentious congressional politics in the wake of the Mexican War (1846–48). Gott’s own papers include drafts of his political speeches and letters from President Zachary Taylor and various politicians of the era.

The life of Gott’s wife, Anne Baldwin Sedgwick (1786–1872), is also documented in the archive. She became the matriarch of a large and distinguished family of lawyers, legislators, businessmen, agriculturists, missionaries, and artists.

“This extraordinary collection not only will help fill a significant gap in the political history of the antebellum America,” says Tsapina, “but also will provide an exceptionally rich resource for a wide range of scholars of the 18th and 19th century United States.”

Christoph Scheiner, Galileo’s (Not-so) Secret Ally
The history of science is another major strength of The Huntington, and for the second year in a row the council has added a significant item related to Galileo Galilei (adding to the purchase last year of a book considered to be the first attack on Galileo’s famous work that dared to reinforce the Copernican observation that the earth revolved around the sun). The new acquisition is actually two works bound into one volume, each authored by Christoph Scheiner (1575–1650), a Jesuit priest, astronomer, and Galileo’s best-known competitor.

“Much of these works—very well-represented within The Huntington’s holdings in other ways—involved a regular back-and-forth series of arguments in print between competing claimants to truth about the workings of the heavens,” says Daniel Lewis, the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology and the head of the manuscripts department at The Huntington. “They present a fascinating view not just of the science at hand, but of the political and social interactions and machinations of the participants in getting their voices heard convincingly.”

The first tract by Scheiner, Disquisitiones mathematicae, de controversiis et novitatibus astronomicis [Mathematical Investigations, on the controversies and novelties of astronomy] (1614), supports Galileo’s discovery of the satellites of Jupiter and questions the methodology of his rival Simon Marius’ telescopic observations. The second work—Exegeses fundamentiorum gnomonicorum quas in alma Ingolstadiensi Academia [Critical Investigation into a Sundial from the Ingolstadt Academy], (1615)—describes the construction and use of a novel and highly accurate sundial.

In the first treatise, the theories about what served as the make-up of the universe (Was earth or the sun its center? Was the universe finite or infinite?) are discussed—a problem that had become highly pertinent at that time following the first public advocacy by Galileo of the Copernican system in his Letters on Sunspots (1612), which The Huntington also owns in multiple editions. The work also includes the second printed illustration of a telescope. “The volume provides a satisfyingly genuine glimpse of Jesuit astronomy in the aftermath of Galileo’s public defense of Copernicus,” says Lewis, “and it now holds an essential place within The Huntington’s history of science collection.”

Fifteenth-Century Church Manuscript
An illuminated manuscript from the 15th century completes the remarkable set of purchases. The Huntington has an extensive collection of medieval manuscripts produced in England in the 14th and 15th centuries, including liturgical books used in regulating the worship, rites, and ceremonies of the late medieval English Catholic church. The new acquisition, a portion of what is called a Sarum Manual, is written in Latin and set out the prayers, music, and rituals for the priest or monk who officiated at critical turning points marking the main stages of a life: at baptism, marriage, final illness, death, burial, and requiem mass. The Huntington’s acquisition is of 60 leaves called the Office of the Dead, a sizeable part of the original book that deals with the end of life (final illness, death, funeral, burial, and requiem masses).

The manuscript is handsomely produced on vellum, with prominent rubrics (“stage directions” for the priest, written in red ink), intricately decorated initials, a colorful floral spray illuminated with gold leaf, and extensive selections of beautiful Gregorian chant.

“Emendations in the manuscript show that it was used through the period of the English Reformation. Research in this new acquisition will allow scholars to track religious change against tradition and add to our knowledge of late medieval religious life,” says Mary Robertson, the William A. Moffett Curator of English Historical Manuscripts.


Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, [email protected]
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140, [email protected]

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at

Visitor information
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major holidays. Admission on weekdays: $15 adults, $12 seniors (65+), $10 students (ages 12–18 or with full-time student I.D.), $6 youth (ages 5–11), free for children under 5. Group rate $11 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission on weekends and Monday holidays: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students, $6 youth, free for children under 5. Group rate $14 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission is free to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month with advance tickets. Information: 626-405-2100 or

Search News Releases

Media Contacts

If you are with the news media, call 626-405-2269 or email us. If you are a reporter on deadline and the office is closed, call 626-818-3985.

Request Images

High resolution images available upon request

General Press Kit

Information About The Huntington