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Posted By: Tom Ryan on: 06/04/2010 16:27:46 EDT
Subject: Signal and telegraph comms at Chancellorsville

Message Detail:
Having read what took place during the Battle of Chancellorsville regarding Union communications and related problems in both J. Willard Brown and William R. Plum's books, as well as Sears' interpretation of what went wrong in his book "Chancellorsville," I am not entirely clear what the respective roles of the Signal Corps and the USMT were during these events. I gather that the Union SC was responsible for tactical comms via both signals and wire. That I suppose would mean that the USMT's job on the field was primarily, if not exclusively, to provide "strategic" comms with other HQs including the authorities in Washington. Having said that, Plum (p. 363, V. I) talks about extending wire across the river and opening an office where operators Emerick and Murray were located. He goes on to say that two more offices were 10 miles to the south at Banks' Ford. This leads me to believe that there may have been dual or overlapping capabilities with both SC and USMT wire running, at least in some cases, parallel to each other. Taking this one step further, could Hooker have fallen back on USMT telegraph capability given the near breakdown of the SC wire comms using the Beardslee? Plum implies that, essentially, the battle was lost because of poor communication between Hooker and Sedgwick (among other things), and that better pre-battle comms planning -- undoubtedly meaning the use of USMT rather than SC comms -- might have saved the day for the Union forces. I am still trying to get my head around the organizational and political interplay that was going on regarding the SC and USMT, not to mention the misunderstaning and misapplication of these resources on the part of Hooker, Butterfield and other Union commaders. Perhaps there is no clear explanation possible under the confused circumstances at Chancellorsville, but would appreciate anyone's take on what took place and what might have been. One other question relates to Capt. B.F. Fisher, who I understood took over as CSO Army of te Potomac at Antietam; however, Capt. Samuel Cushing seems to have been CSO at Chancellorsville. Is there an explanation for this? Was Fisher's assignment at Antietam only temporary? I see that Cushing left the AoP after Chancellorsville, and Fisher was made CSO again until his capture the following month.

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