Boys, I am down to raisins


Sergeant Major
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Jul 23, 2017
Southwest Missouri
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Three Telegraphers Tell Tales

June 5 found us still on the move, performing fatiguing night marches, finding a resting place at Bethesda church.

At this place we erected a line of wire, which, after an hour or two was shot down, to be re-erected and further extended to the extreme front. Only again to have it cut down, taken possession of by the enemy and returned to us shot from out of the cannon's mouth. The wire would come whirling through the air, frequently wrapping itself about a bush or tree encountered on the way.

We joked about the matter during the day, facetiously asking each other why the Johnnies did not send an operator along with the wire—Dode Morelaud, for instance, captured a short time before, or one of our repairers (whose name I forget) so that his services might be utilized to restore the wire to working order.

Telegraph Age Feb 16, 1909


“It may be news to many of the Telegraph fraternity of the present age, especially in the north and west that the record of the first telegraph operators union and strike ever organized, was made in Richmond, Virginia, in 1863. Many of the operators were talking organization and strike. The day was set for a strike, when the Telegraph company's officials heard of it.” and immediately concluding to ‘nip it in the bud.’ reported the matter to the military commander at Camp Lee; the commander asked for, and was given the names of the prime movers of the telegraphers union, located in Richmond, and said, ‘Leave this matter to me, it is absurd. I will attend to them.’

The next day a Lieutenant and squad of infantry marched down Main street, to the Southern Telegraph Company’s main office, halted his squad outside, on the sidewalk, and walked into the office.

The affable, polished, gentlemanly William Anderson waited on the Lieutenant at the counter, and the following conversation took place:

Lieutenant: ‘Is Mr. Chas. A. Gaston in?’

Anderson: ‘No sir. I believe he is working in Augusta, Ga., office’ (Gaston was said to be the head of the Union).

Lieutenant: ‘Is Mr. W. D. S. Anderson in?’

Anderson: ‘Yes, sir. That is my name.’

Lieutenant: ‘Is Mr. Lee Jackson in?’

Anderson: ‘No, sir, I think he is working at Fort Malvern.’ ‘

Several others were then named, and called to the counter:

Lieutenant: ‘Gentlemen, I have an order from the commander of Camp Lee, for your arrest, please put on your coats and hats and come at once with me.’ The operators smiled at each other, wondering what was the trouble, and filed out of the office door.

Lieutenant: Turning to the squad. ‘Attention. Carry arms.’ (Turning to the operators),

‘Gentlemen,—Please fall in line, about face, march.’ They marched out to Camp Lee about four miles. The Commander was not there, having an engagement that evening elsewhere.

The operators were placed in the guard house for the night. Early the next morning, they were brought before the Commander, who lectured them severely on the absurdity of such a thing as a telegrapher’s strike at such a time, when so much depended upon them, appealing to their manhood, as the enemy were at our very doors. He told them plainly that if any further action was taken towards a strike, he would conscript every one of them and see that they were placed in the ranks and that each one carried a musket. All promised to be good and the strike was over. They were then discharged by the commanding officer, who requested them to return to their duties. That was the last heard of the first telegraphers’ strike.


Lincoln in the Telegraph Office by David Homer Bates

Lincoln's habit was to go immediately to the drawer each time he came into our room, and read over the telegrams, beginning at the top, until he came to the one he had seen at his last visit.

When he reached this point he almost always said, "Well, boys, I am down to raisins." After we had heard this curious remark a number of times, one of us ventured to ask him what it meant.

He thereupon told us the story of the little girl who celebrated her birthday by eating very freely of many good things, topping off with raisins for dessert. During the night she was taken violently ill, and when the doctor arrived she was busy casting up her accounts. The genial doctor, noticing some small black objects that had just appeared, remarked to the anxious parent that all danger was now past, as the child was "down to raisins."

"So," said Lincoln, "when I reach the message in this pile which I saw on my last visit, I know that I need go no further."

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