Guest Post: The McClellan telegram, A Postscript from Stephen Sears

Stephen Sears writes:

A mystery solved.

In my 3/30 guest post I discussed Gene Thorp’s reporting of a McClellan to Halleck telegram of Sept. 11 that bore a 12 Midnight time stamp (pictured in the D’Aoust post of 3/26) but which appears on the War Dept. telegraph operator’s copy as 12 M, i.e., noon. It is printed in the Official Records as 12 noon. This operator’s blunder, according to Mr. Thorp, was then repeated on Sept. 13 in the McClellan to Lincoln telegram, that is, changing McClellan’s supposed time mark 12 Midnight to 12 M.

While I pointed out the falsity of this theory in my last post, I can now add the final proof of that falsity. To double check, I looked up on the National Archives  microfilm the Washington operator’s copy of the Sept. 11 telegram to Halleck. In fact the operator faithfully copied the sender’s time-mark 12 Midnight. But postwar the Official Records compiler placed his “Copied” stamp squarely over the “idnight” of that 12 Midnight time mark.  All that shows is 12 M. And since 12 M is standard for noon, in the printed Official Records (19.2:252) it runs as 12 noon. This can be seen in Thorp’s illustration, and more clearly on the microfilm.

In other words, the War Dept. operator was entirely competent on Sept. 11. The error was made by the Official Records’ stamp-wielder. Now that we know the operator was doing his job on Sept. 11, it’s safe to say he was also doing his job on Sept. 13, when he rendered McClellan’s 12 M telegram 12 M on Mr. Lincoln’s copy and the file copy and carbon.

-- Stephen Sears