“Beckwith has been dismissed for obeying my order. His position is important to him and a better man cannot be selected for it.”

“When I started on this trip it was necessary for me to have some person along who could turn dispatches into cipher, and who could also read the cipher dispatches which I was liable to receive daily and almost hourly. Under the rules of the War Department at that time, Mr. Stanton had taken entire control of the matter of regulating the telegraph and determining how it should be used, and of saying who, and who alone, should have the ciphers. The operators possessed of the ciphers, as well as the ciphers used, were practically independent of the commanders whom they were serving immediately under, and had to report to the War Department through General Stager all the dispatches which they received or forwarded.
“I was obliged to leave the telegraphic operator back at Nashville, because that was the point at which all dispatches to me would come, to be forwarded from there. As I have said, it was necessary for me also to have an operator during this inspection who had possession of this cipher to enable me to telegraph to my division and to the War Department without my dispatches being read by all the operators along the line of wires over which they were transmitted. Accordingly I ordered the cipher operator to turn over the key to Captain Cyrus B. Comstock, of the Corps of Engineers, whom I had selected as a wise and discreet man who certainly could be trusted with the cipher if the operator at my headquarters could.
“The operator refused point blank to turn over the key to Captain Comstock as directed by me, stating that his orders from the War Department were not to give it to anybody—the commanding general or any one else. I told him I would see whether he would or not. He said that if he did he would be punished. I told him if he did not he most certainly would be punished. Finally, seeing that punishment was certain if he refused longer to obey my order, and being somewhat remote (even if he was not protected altogether from the consequences of his disobedience to his orders) from the War Department, he yielded. When I returned from Knoxville I found quite a commotion. The operator had been reprimanded very severely and ordered to be relieved. I informed the Secretary of War, or his assistant secretary in charge of the telegraph, Stager, that the man could not be relieved, for he had only obeyed my orders. It was absolutely necessary for me to have the cipher, and the man would most certainly have been punished if he had not delivered it; that they would have to punish me if they punished anybody, or words to that effect.”


Nashville, Tenn., February 4, 1864.

Major General H. W. HALLECK,

General-in-Chief, Washington, D. C.:

Your letter of the 22nd, inclosing copy of Colonel Stager’s of the 21st to you, is received. I have also circular or order, dated January 1, 1864, postmarked Washington, January 23, and received on the 29th.

I will state that Beckwith is one of the best of men. He is competent and industrious. In the matter for which he has been discharged, he only obeyed my orders and could not have done otherwise than he did and remain. Beckwith has always been employed at headquarters as an operator, and I have never thought of taking him with me except when headquarters are moved. On the occasion of my going to Knoxville, I received Washington dispatches which of my going to Knoxville, I received Washington dispatches which I could not read until my return to this place. To remedy this for the future I directed Colonel Comstock to acquaint himself with the cipher.

Beckwith desired to telegraph Colonel Stager on the subject before complying with my direction. Not knowing of any order defining who and who alone could be intrusted with the Washington cipher, I then ordered Beckwith to give it to Colonel Comstock and to inform Colonel Stager of the fact that he had done so. I had no thought in this matter of violating any order or even wish of the Secretary of War. I could see no reason why I was not as capable of selecting a proper person to instruct with this secret as Colonel Stager; in fact, thought nothing further of the matter, than that Colonel Stager had his operations under such discipline that they were afraid to obey orders from any one but himself without knowing first his pleasure.

Beckwith has been dismissed for obeying my order. His position is important to him and a better man cannot be selected for it. I respectfully ask that Beckwith be restored.

When Colonel Stager’s directions wee received here the cipher had already been communicated. His order was signed by himself and not by the Secretary of War. It is not necessary for me to state that I am no stickler for form, but will obey any order or wish of my superior, no matter how conveyed, if I know, or only think it came from them. In this instance I supposed Colonel Stager was acting for himself and without the knowledge of any one else.

I am, very respectfully, &c.,



The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant, Chpt. XLV

O.R., I, xxxii, part 2, p 323-4

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