A New Wrinkle in an Old Civil War Telegram?
I have recently been working as a volunteer transcribing telegrams and code book entries for the “Decoding the Civil War” project to provide greater access to the Thomas T. Eckert papers of the Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens. As explained here, the library teamed up with other institutions (including the North Carolina State University Library) on a grant to digitize the contents of Captain Eckert’s notebooks and code books, which he preserved following his service as the head of the Union’s military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln.
One telegram I transcribed was a May 1864 update from General Sherman concerning what he believed was the most pragmatic approach to defeating the Confederates in their own states–a bit of a “hearts and minds” approach that seems at odds with the image of the commander who would lead the notoriously vicious scorched-earth March to the Sea six months later. The screen capture below is of the telegram in question, opened in my Zooniverse transcription window:
I believe that either I have provided a small but not inconsequential correction of the previous transcription as it appears in the books Meade of Gettysburg and Sherman: Fighting Prophet, or they sourced it elsewhere and the receiver of the telegram in Captain Eckert’s office erred.
My transcription, as copied from Eckert’s notebook, with the relevant change from transcription provided by Cleaves and Lewis in italics:
if Gen Grant can sustain the confidence the esprit, the pluck of his army & impress the Virginians with the Knowledge that the Yankees can & will fight them fair & square he will do more good than to capture Richmond or any strategic advantage – this moral result must precede all mere advantage of strategic & this is what Grant is doing – out here the enemy knows we can & will fight like the devil therefore we maneuvre for advantage of ground – W. T. Sherman Maj Genl
Cleaves and Lewis suggest the passage is “he maneuvers,” which may ambiguously imply either Grant or the Confederates do the maneuvering, while the wording of the telegram as it was copied by Captain Eckert’s office is as I have rendered it, with the plural subjective pronoun “we” and the alternative singular spelling of “maneuver”–making clear, at least in this rendering, that General Sherman is speaking of his army.