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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1862

Wednesday 10th

10 December 1862

Friday 12th

12 December 1862
11 December 1862
Thursday 11th



Clouding up until it ended in a heavy rain. This was my day for the preparation of my Despatches, but I stole a little time for the purpose of paying a visit by invitation to Professor Wheatstone. He had expected to see Mr Stuart Wortley, the President of the Atlantic Telegraph company, but he did not come. So he devoted himself to me, by showing me his various inventions in connection with the electric telegraph. The very neatest thing is a portable one which may be set any where and with a light wire may be rigged so as to communicate with any place in the neighborhood or many miles off, without the agency of an expert or the necessity of learning the customary signs. Whilst I was present, the professor sent two messages to his Office in the Strands, two miles off and received immediate answers, which I could read from the dial plate. The value of this invention between government bureaus or to a commander in the field is obvious. He next showed me several improved modes of transmitting words, so that a message containing three hundred words was sent in thirty nine seconds. This is nearly time as fast as the telegraph does in common use— He showed me other modes of marking off by points with extraordinary clearness and rapidity. But his next invention was the most interesting. This is a cipher and susceptible of discovery excepting by the possessor. Not at all depending on the use of signs for words, it controls a variety of combinations of the letters never used twice for any one word as to defy all attempt to follow it. The instrument by251 which this is effected is simple and portable, but it would require a very clear and calm head to keep it from falling into error. The Professor told me that during the Italian war Napoleon had used one of these instruments in communicating with his officers, allowing no one to aid him in the manipulation. How much we could have benefitted by such an instrument in our war, to guard against the disclosure made of our plans by treachery! I expressed myself much gratified by my visit, and said I should report on some of the inventions to my government. Evening a long walk, after which I read aloud to my family a portion of Mr Dickens’s Christmas Stories. They are on the whole mediocre.

Cite web page as:

Charles Francis Adams, Sr., [date of entry], diary, in Charles Francis Adams, Sr.: The Civil War Diaries (Unverified Transcriptions). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2015. http://www.masshist.org/publications/cfa-civil-war/view?id=DCA62d345