THE HISTORY OF THE TRANSCRIPT OF: THE RENO COURT OF INQUIRY
The Transcript of the Reno Court of Inquiry, and its history, is an enigma by itself.
The Inquiry began with a rule that no pens, pencils, or paper would be permitted in the visitor galleries. After a day or so the reporters present formed a coalition. They all sat in the last row and the reporter on the far left stayed in his chair until he could not absorb anymore of the testimony of the proceeding. Then, the reporter would leave the room and write his recollections down in shorthand. The shorthand notes were left outside with an assistant, while the reporter returned to the room and took a seat on the far right.
This rotation continued on for the entire duration of the Inquiry. It is questioned how much of the testimony was missed, by memory lapses of the reporters, gaps caused by the individual reporters not being better able to coordinate where one stopped and the other should start, and transcription errors from shorthand to longhand.
The notes taken became the source material for the articles in the Chicago Times newspaper and after being telegraphed to other cities, elsewhere in the country.
The military method was more comical. There were multiple scribes used to record the testimony and there were several days when there were no scribes at all. The first scribe could not keep up with testimony and quit a day or so into the proceedings. The replacement fared no better and different scribes were used until about two thirds through they found one who could do the job and he lasted until the end.
Thus, in the first fifteen or so days there was nearly a scribe a day, and there were days where there was no scribe at all. On the days without scribes the "official record" became articles cut from the Chicago Times and then pasted onto legal writing sheets.
There are multiple different styles of handwriting in the transcript. The scribes took notes in the court room in shorthand and then the notes were transcribed overnight. The transcription was read to the court the next morning, and if accepted, the transcription became the official record.
How much, if any, was lost in the note taking and transcription process is anyone's guess. Whether the scribe who took the notes did the actual transcription is not known. Whether the transcribing scribe edited and deleted testimony during the transcription process is unknown. Whether the scribes were instructed to omit statements from the transcription is unknown.
The "official record" was kept sealed for over fifty years. Colonel W. A. Graham through his position in the Adjutant General's office was finally able to have it declassified and gained access to it. He then prepared a "typed" transcription of the "official record" and made ten copies of this document. Where the originals are today no one knows. He then prepared his "abstract version" which gives a good summary but omits much detail and is subject to his interpretations.
In 1972, Robert Utley self published a limited edition of 250 copies, of what he called the Chicago Times version of the Inquiry, wherein he transcribed all the articles from the Chicago Times.
In 1992, Ron Nichol's prepared and published his transcription of the transcript. Nichol's version is far more accurate than either of the two previous works. However, Nichol's does not identify what is "actual" testimony recorded by Army scribes and what results from newspaper clippings.
The National Archives, "NARA", today only has a microfilm copy of the transcript. It appears that the original, handwritten sheets, have either been destroyed or disappeared, but either way their whereabouts is unknown.
They may have been destroyed after the microfilming process, misplaced, lost, or appropriated by persons unknown, and perhaps may one day appear on eBay.
The microfilming process that was used by the government was 35 mm positive image. This is an old antiquated method and there are very few reader printers around today to handle the job.
In 2000, it took me over one year to find a company that had a reader/printer and was willing to read and print the reel. I, then self published a limited edition of 25 copies with 15 copies being destroyed by a fire.
In 2002, the CBHMA published Nichol's version on CD-ROM. It has the testimony by day, by individual, and in total. Unfortunately, it still is just another transcription and the true student of history cannot consider this a primary source.
In 2008, I was successful in finding a company that was able to convert the 1262 +/- pages of the transcript on the microfilm record into .tif images. These .tif images were then incorporated into a .pdf file which is indexed by page and bookmarked by day, witness, and exhibit. Where a witness testified on more than one day, this is bookmarked under the witness’ name. Any or all of the pages can be printed by the user.
This is the only version of the transcript, that can be considered a primary source, and is available to the public at a reasonable cost, in a user friendly format. The two reels of microfilm available from "NARA", today, cost $130 and it is virtually impossible to find a reader for the microfilm, let alone a printer.
The 2008, Unger cd-rom with a searchable, indexed, bookmarked, and printable .pdf format is a must for any historian or serious student of the battle; as it is the only primary source edition of the official handwritten transcript of the Reno Court of Inquiry, available in a user friendly format.
ISBN 978-0-615-23576-9 - Copyright 2008 - Arthur C. Unger