|The Civil War|
War creates necessity that drives technological innovation. Wars are won by technological advantage. The U.S. Civil War was a conflict between the industrializing North and the agrarian South with an economy bolstered by slavery.
The North embraced the telegraph as strategic military tool, coordinating the war effort for the first time in real-time over electronic communications."In our Civil War the Morse telegraph was for the first time employed to direct widely separated armies and move them in unison, and news of victories or defeats was flashed almost instantly all over our broad land. In fact the history of our Civil War was largely recorded by the telegraph, and that branch of the service Stanton, the great War Secretary, called his "right arm.""
[Bates 11] See also [Bates 13 (quoting Senator Scott of West Virginia, "History records no other war where the armies were so widely scattered and where prior to ours they were so well informed of each other's movements")][Schwarzlose 241] [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War ("Ulysses S. Grant wrote that he had “held frequent conversations over the wires” about strategy with Stanton during 1863, some lasting two hours")] [Friedman 3 ("Although the first use of electric telegraph in military operations was in the Crimean War in Europe, in 1854-56, its employment was restricted to communications exchanged among headquarters of the Allies, and some observers were very doubtful about its utility even for this limited usage.")] [Benson 5 (Quoting Gen. Sherman: "the value of the magnetic telegraph in war cannot be exaggerated, as was illustrated by the perfect concert of action between the armies in Virginia and Georgia during l864. Hardly a day intervened when General Grant did not know the exact state of facts with me, more than fifteen hundred miles away as the wires ran.")]
When war was declared, Northern industry - railroads and telegraph - were quick to come to service. Western Union was quick to come to the service of the North. The telegraph system of the North is an amalgamation of the United States Military Telegraph and Western Union. Anson Stager, General Superintendent of Western Union, is named as the North's Military Superintendent of all telegraph limes and offices in the North. He served both positions simultaneously.[Busch] [Wheeler] Telegraph operators serve both in a military and in a corporate capacity. [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War ("The top dozen officials of the USMT were all officers in the Quartermaster Corps, yet they retained their civilian positions as managers of the commercial lines. Many of the approximately 1,200 operators and linemen in the USMT also continued to work for commercial telegraph companies and drew only part of their salaries from the War Department.")] [Supplemental Statement of Norvin Green, June 9, 1890 at 4 (responding to Rosenwater's accusation "that no sooner had the war broken out than the Western Union exerted its influence to acquire the control of the mili tary telegraph of the United States")] Western Union lines continued to carry commercial and military traffic, giving priority service to USG traffic. Where the Army of the North went, there immediately followed the installation or restoration of telegraph service. The Army took with it donkey pulled carts with spools of telegraph line that it installed in its wake. [Plum] By the end of the war, the North had installed 15,000 miles of telegraph line, most of which was ceded to Western Union, and sent 6.5 million messages at a cost of $2,655,000.
The Southern Confederacy, by contrast made novice and disorganized use of the strategic tool. [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War ("In contrast the South used the telegraph in only the most limited fashion.")] [Benson 4 ("Southern States saw interstate rail and telegraph lines as a threat to states' rights and local custom. This was to hinder the Confederate military forces during the war.")] Unlike the North, telegraph service was not integrated into Southern military strategy. "By 1962, lines north of Richmond were abandoned; lines between Mobile and New Orleans were abandoned" [Andrews 319, 323, 328] The South's lack of industrialization mean it lacked materials, supplies, and skilled workers to maintain the telegraph service. Southern telegraph service fell into disrepair. Many telegraph operators had been Northerns who returned North with the outbreak of the war. [Andrews 335, 341] [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War]"At the beginning of the war there was not a single wire or glass factory in the South, and there was a great lack of telegraph wire, battery acids, and other materials. Morris displayed great energy in supplying these deficiencies, obtaining sulphuric acid from all parts of the Confederacy and Mexico and starting a wire factory at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond that produced excellent wire for telegraph purposes. Bluestone (copper sulphate) for batteries was in particularly great demand, some thirteen thousand pounds being consumed each year on the various lines of the Southern Telegraph Company. As the war progressed, Morris increasingly came to depend on foreign sources of supply and on blockade runners to transport from England by way of Bermuda fire clay and other necessary materials for his business." [Andrews 336].
[Wheeler 42 ("Lacking the wherewithal to produce battery acid, glass insulators, and wire in necessary quantity, the South's electronic infrastructure grew only slightly during the war.")]
1860: U.S. Army Signal Corp established. June 21, 1860. [Stathis]
- April 12: Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, marking the beginning of Civil War. [Smithsonian Magazine] Southern sympathizers in Baltimore destroy train bridges and cut telegraph lines south to Washington D.C.
- At the outbreak of The War, the War Department was not connected to the telegraph network. [Wheeler at 1]
- April 19: Federal militia takes control of American Telegraph offices in Washington D.C.
- May 21: American Telegraph cut its telegraph line which crossed the Potomac on Long Bridge [Schwarzlose 241] [Wheeler at 42] [Fishel ("The Washington-Richmond wire was not severed until May 21 or 22, and then the action was taken not by the government but by the American Telegraph Company, whose officers held a conference on the Long Bridge leading from Washington into Virginia ")] [Supplemental Statement of Norvin Green, June 9, 1890 at 3 ("Communication on the wires continued freely between New York and New Orleans for some weeks, perhaps months, after the battle of Bull Run, when telegraph communication was cut off by the sea - board route.")] This severs Associated Press's connection to the South – as well as confederate spy's ability to send information via telegraph.
US Military Telegraph Corps Established
April: Andrew Carnegie, Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, goes to Washington to assist the War Department with transportation planning. He initiates the formation of the US Military Telegraph Corps by recruiting four telegraph operators from the Pennsylvania Railroad: Samuel M. Brown, David Strouse, Richard O'Brien, and David Homer Bates. [Bates 14]
April 27: Four telegraph operators report to the War Department, taking their picture along the way.[Bates 26, 38] [Photo: The original four operators of the United States Military Telegraph Corps LOC] [Drawing The Army telegraph - setting up the wire during an action LOC]
The original four operators of the United States Military Telegraph Corps LOC
Recommended Reading: David Homer Bates, Lincoln in the Telegraph Office (New York, The Century Co. 1907)
Anson Stager, Western Union General Superintendent, Summer: assisted Gen. McClellan with telegraph service in Ohio in West Virginia. Authored first federal ciphers for McClellan. In the Fall, Secretary of War Stone called Stager to Washington. October: Stager submits plan for military telegraph service which is approved by Secretary of War Cameron. [Bates 49]
October 28: Pres. Lincoln authorizes formation of the US Military Telegraph Corps, composed of civilian volunteer operators, outside Army control, that answered to the War Department. [Bates 26, 31] [Friedman 5 (USMTC was "a civilian organization which operated the existing commercial telegraph systems for the War Department, under the direct supervision of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.")] USMTC would grow from the original four operators to over 1000 operators. [Friedman 6] USMTC would transmit and cipher Union telegraphs, and decipher captured Confederate telegraphs (acting as a precursor to the current NSA) [Bates 68]
The War Department's telegraph office were the Winder Building, next to the White House. Pres. Lincoln spent significant time in the telegraph office sending and receiving war correspondence, and writing The Emancipation Proclamation. [See The War Effort: Telegraph Office, Mr. Lincoln's White House for stories of President Lincoln and the telegraph office.] [Bates 3-4 ("during the Civil War the President spent more of hius waking hours in the War Department telegraph office than in any other place, except the White House. While in the Telegraph Office he was comparatively free from official cares, and therefore more apt to disclose his natural traits and disposition than elsewhere under other conditions.")]
Repeated attempts of the Chief Signal Corp Officer Myer and the Army Signalling Corp (optical flag signicalling) to take control of telegraph service or to obtain its own telegraph operations were rebuffed by the war department, which kept the Army's signalling corp and USMTC as separate military communications channels. Secretary of War strongly protected USMTC control of military telegraph service. When Gen. Ben Butler operating in Hampton Roads, Virginia ordered that commercial telegraph operators be placed under the control of Myer and the Signal Corp, Sec. Stanton countermanded Bulter's orders. Myer's request for funding in August of 1861 to establish an electronic signaling corp was refused. When Col. Myer, Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army, challenged USMTC's control of military telegraph lines, Sec. Stanton removed him from his office. The same fate befell Myer's successor for the same reason. When Gen. Grant demanded that a USMTC turn over his cipher book, Sec. Stanton reprimanded Gen. Grant. [Friedman 4-7] [Benson 4 ("Stager won out, Myer was sent west, and all equipment, personnel and cryptography would be under Stager’s USMTC")]
November 11: Stager appointed captain and assistant quartermaster, assigned "to duty as general manager of military telegraph-lines." [Bates 49] [Friedman 4]
April: American Telegraph Company, at its own expense, installs and operates a government telegraph service in Washington DC, connecting "The War Department, The Navy Yard, Arsenal, Chain Bridge, and other outlying points." [Bates 36 ("for six months or more Edwards S. Sanford, President of the American Telegraph Company, pail all the bills, aggregating thousands of dollars, for poles, wires, instruments, salaries of operators, etc. This was a generous and patriotic act on the part of Sanford, which was gratefully acknowledged by the President and Secretary Cameron and by the latter's successor, Stanton. The American Telegraph Company was, of course, reimbursed later through an appropriation by Congress.")]
July 21: AP's John Hasson leaves the battle of Bull Run early, and dictates a story of the North's triumph. The battle turns and the North retreats and loses the battle. Hasson attempts to revise his story, but the North's censors stop the story of the North's defeat. New York Headlines the next day falsely report of the North's victory at Bull Run. [Schwarzlose 242]
August: Thomas Eckert escapes from the South to Cleveland. Amasa Stone recommends Eckert to Col. Scott, Sec. of War. Eckert arrives in Washington in September, assigned to McClelland as aide-de-camp in charge of military telegraph. [Bates 94, 131 ("McClellan's telegraphs were placed under the control of Assistant Aide-de-camp Thomas Eckert, who was instructed to deliver all telegraphs directly to the general.")]
October 21: Lincoln becomes aware the McClellan is withholding telegraph messages from him, with the Union loss at the Battle of Balls Bluff. Lincoln learns from the Balls Bluff telegraph that his friend Colonel E.D. Baker had been killed. [Bates 94]
November 1: McClellan takes command of Union armies, orders construction of telegraph lines between all army headquarters. [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War]
November 1: The Trent Affair, US Navy captures two Confederate envoys aboard a british mail ship, demonstrating the demand for international telegraph lines to resolve diplomatic tensions
Dec. The first official complaints are heard regarding telegraphic censorship. The House Judiciary Committee holds hearings to discuss government censorship of telegraphic news on Civil War battles. [House History]
The South "At the outbreak of war, the great majority of the telegraph lines in the South were operated by two large corporations, the American Telegraph Company and the SouthWestern Telegraph Company." [Andrews 319, 323, 328] Both company split along the border, operating as separate companies during the war. The only Southern Director of American Telegraph was William S. Morris, who is named head of the Southern Telegraph Company. The President of Southwestern Telegraph was Norvin Green (after the war, Southwestern Telegraph would be acquired by Western Union, Norvin Green would join the Board of Directors of Western Union, Green would play a vital role in Western Union's post Civil War policy including agreeing to the Post Roads Act, and would become President of Western Union under Jay Gould's control.) [Supplemental Statement of Norvin Green, June 9, 1890 at 3 ("Not the slightest restriction was placed on the operation of the telegraph in the Southwest until after General Buckner , of the Southern army , came up to Elizabethtown , within 40 miles of Louisville , captured nearly all the rolling stock of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad , burned the bridges across Green and Barren Rivers , and cut the telegraph wires . That expedition effectually stopped telegraph communication over the South western lines , and soon after that an order was issued taking possession of the tele graph lines in the Southern States within the Union lines .")]
The Confederacy places control of of Southern telegraph lines under the Southern Postmaster General, John H. Reagan, who was charged with operating and expanding the service. Telegraph operators would be government agents. Reagan places Morris, Head of the Southern Telegraph Company, in charge of Southern Military lines. [Andrews 322] However, operating as a confederacy, Southern generals tended to do their own thing. For example, Gen. Pierre Beauregard set up his own military telegraph network around Charleston, without coordinating and to the consternation of Morris and Reagan. [Andrews 329].
Petersburg, Va., vicinity. Maj. Thomas T. Eckert (seated, left) and others of U.S. Military Telegraph Corps. Source: Library of Congress.
January: Commercial telegraph lines are installed into McClellan's Washington DC Army headquarters [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War]
Secretary of War Stanton Takes Control of the Telegraph
Railways and Telegraph Act: Gives President authority to take control of railways and telegraphs, and place them under the authority of the War Department. 12 Stat. 334-335. [Stathis]
"From January, 1862, when Stanton entered the cabinet, until the war ended, the telegraphic reins of the Government were held by a firm and skillful hand. Nicolay and Hay, in their 'Abraham Lincoln,' say that Stanton 'centered the telegraph in the War Department, where the publication of military news, which might prematurely reach the enemy, could be supervised, and if necessary, delayed,' and that it was Lincoln's practice to go informally to Stanton's office in times of great suspense during impending or actual battles and 'spend hour after hour with his secretary of war, where he could read the telegrams as fast as they were received and handed in from the adjoining room.' He did not always wait for them to be handed in, but made the cipher-room his rendezvous, keeping in close touch with the cipher-operators, often looking over our shoulders when he knew some specially important message was in course of translation." [Bates 40] [Bates 132 (Taking office, Stanton learns that McClelland was keeping army new from him)]
February 25: Anson Stager is appointed "Military Superintendent of all telegraph lines and offices in the United States." Government takes control of commercial telegraph companies. February 26, 1862: Stager commissioned as a colonel. [Bates 49] [Friedman 4] [Benson 4]
Edwards S. Sanford, President of the American Telegraph Company, is appointed by Stanton as military supervisor of telegrams "because of the premature publication in the newspapers of important military movements." [Bates 108]
Having learned that Eckert is withholding telegraphs from him, after an investigation leaks to the press, Stanton accuses Eckert of failing to deliver the telegraphs and of failing to be at his post. Sanford, who knows Eckert, recommends that he be retained. Eckert resigns. Stanton calls Sanford and Eckert to his office. Eckert relays that his failure to deliver telegraphs is pursuant to direct orders from Gen. McClelland. Stanton then asks why Eckert has not been at his post resulting in leaks to the press. By this point, Lincoln has walked in behind Eckert and stated, "Mr. Secretary, I think you must be mistaken about this young man neglecting his duties, for I have been a daily caller at General McClelland's headquarters for the last three or four months, and I have always found Eckert at his post." Gov. Brough of Ohio, who also happened to be in the room, also knew Eckert and vouched for him. Stanton ripped up the dismissing Eckert, and promotes him to Major. [Bates 135].
After Stanton's confrontation with Eckert, "Stanton detached Eckert from McClelland's staff, and ordered him to make his office in the War Department, and to connect all wires with that building, leaving only enough instruments at army headquarters to handle the separate business of the commanding general." [Bates 137] This effectively moved telegraph communications from military control to civilian control [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War] In 1864, Eckert was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and in 1865, Brig. General, and then Assistant Sec. of War in 1866. Eckert would emerge from the Civil War in the leadership of the Eastern Division of Western Union. [California Digital Library] [Gen. Thomas Eckert Elected to Succeed Dr. Green, Western Union's President, New York Times, March 9, 1893] [Nairn at Chap. 3 (Gen. Thomas Eckert, U.S. Military Telegraph Service, takes top management position at Western Union after the Civil War)] [Thomas T. Eckert Papers, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens]
With the appointment of Sec. Stanton, Pres. Lincoln is a much greater visitor to the telegraph office. This begins the phase of Pres. Lincoln's direct coordination of the war effort through telegraph with his military leaders. [Bates at 113] [Wheeler]
June 1862: Lincoln writes the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation at Eckert's desk [Bates 138] [Photo: President Lincoln in War Department Telegraph Office writing first draft of Emancipation Proclamation LOC]
August 28: Second Battle of Bull Run: Colonel Henry Haupt installs telegraph lines to the battle front, provides real time communications to the President and War Department as the battle proceeds. [Benson 5]
September 1862: Jefferson Davis orders that the lines of the Southwestern Telegraph Company (the rival of Morris' Southern Telegraph) be placed under the control of Morris as Confederate manager of military telegraph. The Directors of Southwestern Telegraph accused Morris of misdealings and were able to get the order revoked in November 1862. [Andrews 328].
"We may as well give up the attempt to know anything about the fate and fortunes of our armies in any quarter whatever; and all in consequence of the infernal invention of the electric telegraph. It is one of the worst plagues and curses that have ever befallen this human race. It covers us all over with lies, fills the very air we breathe and obscures the very sun; makes us doubt of everything we read, because we know that the chances are ten to one it is false; and leaves us uncertain, at last of our own existence. Men say it brings intelligence quick; yet every event announced by it is always so obfuscated by these quick-coming reports, all destroying one another, that the true story is generally longer in being ascertained than it was before." [The Richmond Enquirer, July 10, 1863, as reported in YAEL A. STERNHELL, Lies, Damned Lies and the Telegraph, NY Times, JULY 9, 2013 ] #union
Faced with long hours and limited salary, in October 1863, telegraph operators formed the Southern Telegraph Association union. A work shortage persisted for two weeks, but the strike did not succeed. 340. [Andrews 340]
The South would stop short of nationalizing telegraph lines. Jefferson Davis was against it, although Williamson Oldham (TX), Chair of the Senate Committee on Post-Offices and Post-Roads, introduced legislation in 1863 to this effect. It did not pass. [Andrews 322]
Wilcox's Landing, Va., vicinity of Charles City Court House
Field telegraph station, 1964. Library of Congress
Jefferson Davis telegraph to G.T. Beauregard, 1864 December 12, Claremont College Digital Library
Sherman's March: Sherman taps Confederate telegraph lines, engages in information warfare sending spoofed messages, and destroys confederate lines. [Benson 6]
1865: US Civil War Ends
March 13: Stager promoted to Brig. General
April 15: President Lincoln assassinated.
April 24: Samuel H Beckwith, Gen. Grant's cipher operator, telegraphs from Port Tobacco, MD to the War Department that John Wilkes Booth had been spotted nearby. [Bates 8]
1866 :: Post Roads Act
Pres. Johnson declares that the insurrection is over (The Civil War has ended)
- Southern telegraph service had been turned into tree tinsel. [Beauchamp at 67 ("Western Union found itself in a particularly good position during the Civil War. Its lines generally ran from east to west and were almost unaffected by the war, unlike their main rival, the American Telegraph Company, whose lines ran from north to south and were frequently damaged or destroyed by the competing armies.")] [Pratt at 29 ("telegraph poles were also destroyed or rendered useless by fire or otherwise.")] [Pensacola Telegraph, 96 US 1 (retreating Confederate army destroyed telegraph in its wake)]
- US Military Telegraph service disbanded. USG censorship of information over telegraph is terminated. [Hockfelder, Telegraph in America at 184]
- 15,000 miles of US Military Telegraph service lines are turned over to Western Union. [Hochfelder, Essential Civil War] [Benson 4 ("By the beginning of the war there were more than 50,000 miles of telegraph lines in the U.S., probably 90% within the Union.")] [Nairn at Chap. 3 ("Western Union was to inherit more than 14,000 miles of new lines built and paid for by the government. Officially this was simply a return of private property to its owners, but it may have been no coincidence that almost all of the wires and poles were returned to Western Union or companies that it absorbed.")] [Testimony of Norvin Green May 20?, 1890 at 3 ("This great turning over of all the telegraph lines owned by the Government at the end of the war has been represented to you to have been done at a cost of $3,000,000, when, in fact, that was the whole cost of the Government telegraph system from the beginning of the war to the end, with 148 employés at a salary. The amount of the lines built was pretty large, but many of them were torn down the next day. They were run up to a large mileage and torn away when the Army moved, so that very little was left to turn over to anybody. The Government appropriated and used our lines - not the Western Union's, because the Western Union had not even reached New York and did not come to Philadelphia... There was a big consideration given the Government for the property that the Southwestern, Washington and New Orleans line got, and it was a very advantageous settlement, I think, for the Government." (at which point the hearing adjourns))] [Supplemental Statement of Norvin Green, June 9, 1890 at 4 (going into further detail about the transfer of property, particularly to Southwestern Telegraph; the exchange may have been in the tone of a settlement for damages caused by the war. "the United States military telegraph lines and appurtenances within the States south of the Ohio River have been turned over to the several commercial telegraph companies owning the telegraph patent rights within such territory , in consideration of the relinquishment by the telegraph companies of all claims against the United States for the use of their patents , for the use of their lines , preceding their final restoration , and for all losses sustained by said companies by the exclusion of commercial business from those portions of the lines which had been in possession of the United States")]
- Both Southern telegraph companies, Southern Telegraph and Southwestern Telegraph, rejoined their Northern sibling companies. Southern Telegraph once again became American Telegraph. Then, American Telegraph acquired the weakened Southwestern Telegraph This left Western Union and American Telegraph as the dominant telegraph providers. June 1866: Western Union then acquired American Telegraph [Wolff 82, 101 (American Telegraph Company acquires Southwestern Telegraph Company in 1866 for $1 million in stock.)] [Andrews at 343] [Post Roads Act Leg. His. at 980 ("It is said, however, that the large stockholders own into each [WU and American Telegraph] to such an extent as to make them virtually one")] [Supplemental Statement of Norvin Green, June 9, 1890 at 7 ("The lines of the Southwestern Telegraph Company and of the Washington and New Orleans Telegraph Company, the latter being leased to the American Telegraph Company, were taken military possession of; but their owner ship by the companies was all the while recognized, their earnings, except for the transmission of Government messages, were all the while turned over to the companies, and the lines themselves had been fully restored to the companies to which they belonged by order of the Secretary of War of December 1, 1865, and of the Quarter master - General dated February 27, 1866, as heretofore shown.")]
US Senate: Art & History Home: History Minutes > 1851-1877 > Telegraph
"The Vatican fresco artist Constantino Brumidi came to the United States from Italy in 1852 looking for work. Brumidi had the good fortune of arriving in Washington just as the superintendent of the project to construct new wings for the Capitol was looking for skilled artists. From the mid 1850s until his death twenty-five years later, he earned the title "Michelangelo of the Capitol." His great contribution was to integrate American themes into the classical style of the Italian Renaissance. Some of Brumidi's best work exists in the second-floor room now named in honor of former Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson
"Brumidi took particular interest in that prime space, intended to serve as the Senate Library. To emphasize the theme of learning, he designed four semi-circular lunettes in the ceiling to represent major fields of knowledge-History, Geography, Philosophy, and-recognizing that era's technological expansion in the production of newspapers and journals-the field he called Print. He completed the first painting, Geography, in 1858.
"A year later, as the Senate moved into its newly completed chamber, members decided that they needed a conveniently located post office more than a library. As workmen installed individual mail boxes for each of the Senate's sixty-six members, Brumidi shifted his attention to other assignments.
"In 1866, with the war over, the artist returned to complete the room's decoration, including the remaining three ceiling lunettes. Originally, he had planned to decorate one of those spaces to honor the medium of Print. But the shift in the room's function from a library to a post office, along with the excitement surrounding the successful laying of a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable that year, changed the theme to Telegraph. (In this same spirit of scientific innovation, he also changed the Philosophy panel to Physics.)
"Intensely proud of his new country, the artist took a bit of patriotic license. Although the telegraph cable was laid from Europe to America -from Ireland to Newfoundland -he reversed the direction. At the center of the fresco appears a nymph, who is handing the telegraph wire to the allegorical figure for Europe on the left. With a grateful countenance, Europa looks up to a strong America surrounded by images that suggest the nation's natural abundance and its military might.
"In the year 1866, however, that image of America 's strength as a world power lay mostly within the colorful imagination of Constantino Brumidi""