Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War

Tom Wheeler
Gregory K. Laughlin

Like Standage’s The Victorian Internet, this book explores an earlier information revolution, the invention and use of the telegraph. Where The Victorian Internet gave short overviews of a variety of social, economic and legal issues arising from the telegraph, comparing and contrasting these with similar developments arising from the internet, Mr. Linoln’s T-Mails concentrates on how one man used the telegraph not only to win a war, but to change forever the way wars are conducted, establishing a more centralized command and control than ever before possible, a centralization that continues to this day. The author explores how Lincoln learned the strengths and weaknesses of the new medium as he went along, being the first president to have this tool available.

“The Internet has sparked interest in its predecessor, the telegraph (Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet, 1998); here is a case study in the trend. Applying "early adopter" buzzwords to Lincoln, Wheeler's inquiry into his use of the telegraph has the spirit of a management consultant appraising a client's leadership style. The author relates that Lincoln personally sent out 1,000 telegrams during the Civil War, learning along the way what was or wasn't effective. Initially an intermittent user, Lincoln at times was so reliant on rapid communication that he spent nights at the War Department's telegraph office. Every Lincoln reader is familiar with this image, and Wheeler taps into this common memory by quoting Lincoln's telegraphic words on these occasions. They group most numerously around specific battles (e.g., 1862's Second Battle of Bull Run) and Lincoln's reprieves of condemned soldiers. Expanding on this footnote to history, Wheeler shows a Lincoln groping for a best-use of new technology and learning the limitations of the ‘killer app.’” Gilbert Taylor, Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

An interview with the author is available at