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Posted By: Dave Gaddy on: 05/31/2009 08:43:10 EDT
Subject: RE: Baltimore - DC: USMT or WU?

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I don't know the answer to Mr. Weaver's question, but I don't think it's quite that simple, Ray. One problem lies in the sources we regularly draw upon (USMT - Plum, Bates, O'Brien -- even Sheips). Their emphasis is on the military, and they are not at pains to differentiate between mil and commerical, tending to confuse a fundamentally confusing picture.

As you indicate, the "big three" commercial (I won't say, "civilian," because of the status of the later USMT ops) lines were the American (running generally north-south), Western Union (east-west), and Louisville-run Southwestern. American was running into D.C.; it was subsequently severed by company decision and the lines falling in the Confederate States were run by a major AmerTel stockholder, Dr. W.S. Morris. Northern control was vested in E.S. Sanford. Not sure about Western Union at this stage. (Think so, but see suggestion below.)

In addition, there were railroad-owned lines, generally parallelling the tracks, dedicated to railroad use, especially for traffic regulation. When the Union govt in D.C. began to mobilize, hearty response came from the Pennsylvania Railroad's telegraphers and execs, and they formed the cadre, headed by Thomas A. Scott. But Western Union connections, with Stager aided by connections with McClellan and the latter's involvement with pre-war railroading and Ohio state military position, quickly set the stage for playing out the bureaucratic rivalry between the companies, with advantage to WU.

Some express companies (Adams?) had telegraph facilities.

What the Fed govt did, in effect, was to vest authority in the Chief Exec, President Lincoln, to seize control, as necessary. Spreading that authority over this patch-work "system," he elected to delegate military responsibility in what became the USMT, but otherwise leave the commercial companies in operation, subject to priority overriding when necessary. The man he selected was Anson Stager of Western Union (giving WU both the opportunity and the incentive to concentrate on growth and absorption of rivals). Once things "got going," Stager withdrew to Ohio and WU ops, leaving mil business to Thomas T. Eckert, essentially his CEO for mil ops, and appeared as a signature on periodic accounting reports to the govt. Montgomery Meigs, the Quartermaster General, nominally commanded the USMT. (As sop to AmerTel, Pres. Sanford was made "mil supervisor of telegraphic dispatches," the censor.) One or more USMT ops were placed in some tel offices to augment the manpower and concentrate on mil traffic. But USMT did not take over the companies -- they continued to pay dividends, as appropriate, to their investors during the war, and, at war's end, USMT, with its resources simply disappeared at the stroke of a pen, as though they had never existed (leaving the ops in an up-hill battle to claim veterans' rights and benefits).

Our basic ref, Plum, concentrates, per his title, on the mil tel. Thompson's "Wiring a Continent" lays out the broad story but is weak on the distinction between commercial and military to the degree we are often interested. When ops were reported sent to an office, usually the line owner isn't specified. Raiders cutting lines didn't take time to figure out which was which -- they just cut.

To address Mr. Weaver's question, we need to know about AmerTel, as well as WU, and PA RR (and B&O?), in addition to USMT lines ... and perhaps others?

Maybe we can bring in our resident Maryland railroader, telegrapher, musician, wag-wigger, tug-boat promoter, and senior reenactor and ask if he can shed authoritative light on Mr. Weaver's question and benefit us all? (Cue Walt.) ATTENTION: Walt, are you rcvg?

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