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Citizen Archivists

2 Posts authored by: Keith Donohue Expert


Here's your chance to help de-code secret telegrams sent during the Civil War.


With support from the NHPRC, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has launched of an innovative crowdsourcing project to transcribe and decipher a collection of nearly 16,000 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. Roughly one-third of the messages were written in code.


The “Decoding the Civil War” project is a partnership among Zooniverse (the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research), North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


The Huntington acquired the exceptionally rare collection of telegrams in 2012, composed of a nearly complete archive 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. Among the materials are 35 manuscript ledger books of telegrams sent and received by the War Department, including more than 100 communiques from Lincoln himself. Also included are top-secret cipher books revealing the complex coding system used to encrypt and decipher messages. The Confederate Army never cracked the Union Army’s code.


But you can help by joining in at…/zoonive…/decoding-the-civil-war. They are looking for 75,000 volunteers.


Through a grant from the NHPRC, the Center for Digital Initiatives at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has published online of the Papers of Governor Richard Yates Sr., the Civil War governor of Illinois. Now they are looking for volunteers to help transcribe the documents at Chronicling Illinois, the Center’s online archive. 


The project includes the digitization of nearly 50,000 pages of documents, comprising nearly 15,000 documents from his four-year term. The documents come from the Yates Family Papers and from the Wabash Yates Papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


Richard Yates (1815-1873) was one of the most consequential Union war governors. Known as the "Soldier's Friend," Yates worked tirelessly to ensure that Illinois recruit, organize, and supply troops. Thousands of people, both rich and poor, wrote to Yates about a myriad of subjects, including political campaigns, requests for jobs and favors, pleas to have sons released from military service and activity by Southern-sympathizing “Copperheads.” Among his more prominent correspondents were General Ulysses S. Grant, General William T. Sherman, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and, of course, President Abraham Lincoln.


Want to help transcribe those documents? Go to Chronicling Illinois at After creating an account, volunteers can transcribe handwritten documents through a simple interface or review the transcriptions of others to prepare them for online publication. Teachers can use the transcription process as a method of engaging students with primary source documents in a powerful way, while helping to improve the searchability of the archive through transcription.