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Posted By: Walt Mathers on: 08/16/2013 09:49:07 EDT
Subject: 1858 Atlantic Cable - Reuse of

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Thanks for developing this cable thread. And before I forget it Dave, check with the folks over at the Smithsonian as they have a few extra cuts of the '58 cable they'd be willing and able to loan the nearby Cryptologic Museum, at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

Below, please find an 1862 adaptive reuse account of the 1858 Atlantic cable I dare say you'll undoubtedly be quoting for sometime to come - even as far west as Harpers Ferry, Western Virginia.


Chapter V of J.E. O'Brien's TELEGRAPHING IN BATTLE states:

"McClellan's plan for attacking Richmond by way of Fort Monroe and York River having been approved, a line was run down the eastern shore of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to Cape Charles, which it reached February 5, 1862, giving direct wire connection between Washington and that point, whence a dispatch boat plied across the bay to us at Fort Monroe in three hours. Shortly afterward an attempt to lay a cable across the bay from Cape Charles resulted in the wreck of the vessel containing it on Cape Henry, where the construction party narrowly escaped capture. A second attempt, under Mr. W. H. Heiss, proved successful and gave us eventually direct wire from Fort Monroe ("F.") to the War Department (" D. I."), through repeaters at Wilmington, Delaware, though at first messages were transcribed and repeated at Wilmington.

"This cable was a piece of the first Atlantic cable, none other being available, and always worked hard. It was also broken more than once, and Cape Charles being a rather stormy point, the land line on the eastern shore was finally run down through Eastville to Cherrystone Inlet, a more sheltered position, and the Fort Monroe cable was relaid over to that point."

Actually, O'Brien's account is slightly flawed to the degree that the War Department's call was not changed to "DI" until the Summer of 1863 when they moved their operation to the building's second floor library. Prior to that the call was "WD".

Wilmington, as is revealed by O'Brien's account, was a pivotal point for the Union's war effort on the Peninsula. William Rattle Plum speaks about Wilmington in his history of the USMT too. I'm not certain if the repeaters were manufactured by Milliken or Hicks (which I don't recall) but the USMT had a man stationed full time at Wilmington to look after these repeaters and the single strand life line between an army in the field and an anxious National audience - a very important assignment, most would agree.

Funny thing was that Bernie Finn, one-time curator of the electric division at the Smithsonian (and a BIG submarine cable enthusiast) didn't know about the salvaging and wartime reuse of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable until he learned it from your writer, a Signal Corps Association associate.


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