2 Replies Latest reply on Dec 21, 2018 8:53 AM by LOC Manuscript Division

    Telegram announcing the surrender of Fort Sumter


      I have only recently discovered this project and I have transcribed perhaps a dozen or so documents.  Today I was given the telegram sent by Isaac Haynes to inform President Lincoln that Fort Sumter had surrendered, which was the beginning of the Civil War.  Is it even remotely possible that this important telegram has never been transcribed before?  I assume that I don't understand how this process works because I think it's quite unlikely that a newcomer would happen onto such a pivotal moment in history.  Can someone enlighten me?  Thanks!

        • Re: Telegram announcing the surrender of Fort Sumter
          Lauren Algee Tracker

          What a fascinating item to transcribe, Marsha!  Though the library does not already have a digital transcription of this document it's certain that researchers have seen and used this document before, both by viewing the original in the Manuscripts reading room or seeing the digitized version on the library's website. So the telegram may have been transcribed in those individuals' work. 


          As a community manager for the transciption project, my knowledge of the long history of research and use of this archival collection is limited. I've asked librarians from the Manuscripts Division for any detail they can add.

          • Re: Telegram announcing the surrender of Fort Sumter
            LOC Manuscript Division Tracker

            Dear Marsha Goodman -


            Scanned images from the Abraham Lincoln Papers first became available online in 2001 as the American Memory website Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcriptions prepared for roughly half of the documents by the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College were added in 2002. The editors at the Lincoln Studies Center selected the documents to be transcribed, based on either a document’s historical importance or as representative of the president’s unsolicited incoming mail. The telegram sent by Isaac Hayne is one of two telegrams in the Abraham Lincoln Papers to announce the surrender of Fort Sumter, the other being that of H. W. Denslow to Abraham Lincoln, Saturday, April 13, 1861, which can be viewed at https://www.loc.gov/resource/mal.0904300/?loclr=hhub.



            Since the telegram itself, which should be the copy transcribed in Washington, D.C. at the receiving end of the telegraphic communication, does not indicate precisely when the text was received in Washington, or delivered to Abraham Lincoln, it is difficult to say with any certainty what day and time Lincoln first saw this telegram in the larger timeline of receiving information about Fort Sumter’s surrender. Presumably the editors at Knox College judged it to be A communication about Fort Sumter’s surrender, but not THE communication about the surrender, and thus did not transcribe the text for the American Memory presentation.



            However, your inquiry about the historical significance of the telegram prompted a bit of research as to how Abraham Lincoln first became aware of the surrender of Fort Sumter. Preliminary research, however, has failed to reveal the exact means by which Lincoln first learned the news. The major newspapers published frequent updates of news received from Charleston, so he may even have learned of it through a newspaper account. Of the works thus far consulted, though, the most direct statement in this regard comes from historian Adam Goodheart in his 2011 book 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Goodheart writes on p. 178, “Although there is no record of exactly when or how Lincoln got the news of Sumter’s surrender, initial reports probably reached him Saturday evening, not many hours after the event itself.” And apropos of your question on History Hub, he continues: “Incredibly, the White House and War Department had no official intelligence or communications system of any kind, but at least two citizens in the South—one of them a prominent Charleston secessionist [Hayne], the other an obscure Savannah accountant [Denslow]—were considerate enough to send Lincoln telegrams that night.” Goodheart’s endnote for this reference further states that “Hayne, the attorney general of South Carolina, had been one of the state’s commissioners to Washington during the secession crisis.”



            Thank you very much for participating in the Crowd transcription project, and for bringing your question about the significance of the Isaac Hayne telegram to our attention. Your post confirmed yet again that for as much as we know about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, there are always questions for which we do not yet (or may never) have answers, including just how Abraham Lincoln first learned that Major Robert Anderson had surrendered Fort Sumter!



            Manuscript DivisionLibrary of Congress

            2 people found this helpful