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Posted By: Ray Wemple on: 02/03/2008 15:27:36 EDT
Subject: RE: researching telegraph

Message Detail:
JD,
I am not an expert on the subject either, however, I will attempt to answer the questions. The telegraph was powered by electricity and in the field, "Battery Wagons" with wet cells were used for power. Later on, Dry Cells ( Daniel, I believe) were developed and safer to use.

Prior to the war starting, there were approximatley 52 telegraph companies in existence. The largest being "Western Union" and "American Telegraph". The telegraph wires usually ran along existing rail lines and were administered by some of the RR companies also. A chief superintendent for Western Union was one Anson Stager. Another individual involved was a superintendent for American Telegraph, one Thomas Thompson Eckert. AT the outbreak of the war, President Lincoln took over the telegraph companies and formed what was called the "United States Military Telegraph" because of the importance of communications. Civilian traffic was allowed but military traffic had priority. During the course of the war it is estimated that approximately six and one half million messages were sent at an approximate cost of forty cents per message.

Such men as Andrew Carnegie who worked for the Pennsy Or Pennsylvania Railroad were invovled at the beginning. Stager was made a Colonel in the Army and oversaw the USMT. Eckert was made a Major and oversaw the operators in the War Dept. In Washington, DC next to Sec. of War, Edwin McAllister Stanton, whose office was next to the telegraph office. President Lincoln made daily visits to this office to learn of what was happening on the various fronts and sometimes napped there. Stager developed a ciphering system for secure messages(sound familiar on the internet today) and only the civilian USMT operators chosen at the various military HQRS in the field new the code. The officers did not and this caused a problem with General Grant on one occasion. The standard Morse Code used was "American" or "Railroad" Morse, not international. It was sent by key and listened to on a "Sounder" which gives a "clickety clack" type of noise, not a tone like ham radio operators listened to. This requires great skill and the civilian operators who manned these stations deserve much credit. They ranged in age from 14 to middle age and men obviously served in the field with the army. Women telegraphers also served in fixed stations along the lines. Some of the USMT operators were killed by enemy action, some taken prisoner and detained at the infamous "Andersonville Prison" in GA. None of them, except those with military rank ( about 15) received any pensions or veterans status at the end of the war.

Telegraph lines were strung into the field with the moving armies from reels of wire on mules for portabliity and often strung right up to the front lines. Operators sitting on a tree stump listening to the sounder and writing out the msg on a pad on their knee. An example of a circuit would be one that General Grant used from his Hqrs at City Point, VA along the Potomac near wars end. It ran from City Point, VA to Fort Monroe, Va utilizing two submarine cables across the water near Hampton Rhodes and across the bay from Ft. Monrow up to Wilmington, DE , Baltimore and then to Washington, DC, a distance of about 397 miles.

The Union Signal Corps, in its infancy at the time, also used a telegraph machine called a "Beardsley Telegraph" which was a portable unit and weighed about 100 lbs. Initially, it required no batteries and functioned by magneto electric design. When one turned the dial to dial up the leter or number to be sent, sufficient current was made to send it up the line to the receiving set. It worked for aabout a five to ten mile range due to the size of the wire and resistance, however, it did work. There was a rivalry between the Chief Signal Officer ( Albert James Myer) and the USMT (Anson Stager) and Stager won with the support of the Sec. of War (Old Mars)Edwin McAllister Stanton.

The CSA had the STC , Southern Telegraph Co. and it was overseen by the chief officers for the Postal Service, similar to what european countries. I beliveve that CSA Signal soldiers were trained in the use of the telegraph which didn't happen in the Union Army until after the war ended. Their system was not as extensive I believe due to lack of resources,but both sides tried to intercept each others messages. A small device was used called a "Caton Pocket Key" that could be attached to the line and the operator could listen to messages being sent. On some occasions answers were sent in an attempt to disrupt things, however, many times these attempts failed because operators were familiar with the "Fist" of the other operators in the circuit and could tell it was not one of their own. It was like knowing a person by their signature voice or laugh.

In any event, I hope this information was helpful to you and your class. There are many good books which provide precise historical reference to the above described events and if you are interested to learn of them let me know.

Good Luck and 73 (73 is telegraph and now ham operator code for "All Good Wishes")
Ray

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