Discussion The Use of the Telegraph during the Civil War

major bill

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We have all heard that President Lincoln spent many hours in the telegraph office. Although both the North and south used telegraphy during the Civil War, the technology saw greater use in the North than the South. According to Charles Ross in his book Trail by Fire, “The Union army, in particular, would pioneer the large-scale use of field telegraph, enabling a remote commander to micromanage tactics n various parts of a battlefield.’ Soon after the war started both sides utilized the telegraph to provide intelligence across the lines. The Confederate supporters in Maryland and Washington D. C. were particularly good at using the telegraph to send information on Union troop movements. The efforts at censorship of intelligence being sent by telegraph were primitive. The Union set up the United States Military Telegraph (USMT) and the Confederate Congress in Montgomery authorized Jefferson Davis to assume control of all telegraph line in the South very early in the war.

Both President Lincoln and President Jefferson were able to control their armies in the field in a way no president before them had been able to do. Generals were able to receive and send messages much quicker than in previous wars. There are good and bad implications of telegraphy. Both presidents had a tendency to micromanage.

It is clear that the use of telegraphy impacted the war, but the topic is not often discussed.How much an impact did the use of telegraph have?
 

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whitworth

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#2
The Union Telegraph -Gettysburg

HARRISBURG, PA., June 30, 1863—9 p. m.
(Received 12 midnight.)
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President:
The rebel infantry force left Carlisle early this morning, on the Baltimore pike. Cavalry still on this side of that town. Early, with 8,000, left York this morning; went westerly or northwesterly.
Rebels at York and Carlisle yesterday a good deal agitated about
some news they had received. I telegraphed news to General Meade,
care of the Secretary of War.
D. N. COUCH,
Major- General.



HARRISBURG, PA., July 1, 1863—12.45 a. m.
(Received 1.35 a. m.)
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,
General-in- Chief:
Information just received, 12.45 a. m., leads to the belief that the
concentration of the forces of the enemy will be at Gettysburg rather
than at Chambersburg. The movement on their part is very rapid
and hurried. They returned from Carlisle in the direction of Gettys-
burg by way of the Petersburg pike. Firing about Petersburg and
Dillsburg this p. m. continued some hours. Meade should by all
means be informed, and be prepared for a sudden attack from Lee’s
whole army.
H. HAUPT,
Brigadier- General.
(Sent to General Meade by courier from Frederick, at 2 p. m.;
copy to General Scheuck.)
p474


HARRISBURG, PA., July 1, 1863.
(Received, War Department, 11.10 a. m.)
General MEADE:
At 10 a. m., June 30, Lee’s headquarters were at Greenwood, 8
miles east of Chambersburg, on the Baltimore pike. Hill’s corps
lies east of Greenwood. Greenwood is 2~- miles from the mountain.
Longstreet’s corps lies south of Greenwood, toward Hagerstown.
Ewell’s corps probably concentrated yesterday near Gettysburg.
D. N. COUCH,
Major-General.
 

major bill

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Whitworth, this is great information. I do wounder just how much telegraph change the out come of the Civil War. Gettysburg was just one battle, but Lee's lack of knowledge of the Union troop movement and concentration is often noted. Meade was reasonably well informed of the Confederate movements. I think some books over play this, but the fact is that Meade was making decisions with better information than the information that was available to Lee.
 
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#5
It is clear that the use of telegraphy impacted the war, but the topic is not often discussed. How much an impact did the use of telegraph have?
Here's an example of government cargoes being brought into the Confederacy through the blockade being directed to specific destinations, by the central quartermaster in Richmond. In this case, the material in question had arrived just the day before at Mobile. This sort of thing could only be done by telegraph (OR, 120:56):

RICHMOND, April 15, 1864.
Capt. R. B. WINDER, Assistant Quartermaster, Americus, Ga.:

SIR:

I hope you are making some progress in establishing a shoe shop at Americus, Ga. Major Dillard has reported that he will supply you with leather; Major Cunningham, at Atlanta, that he will send to you an experienced man to aid in the organization of the shop, and Major Hillyer, at Selma, that he has forwarded a lot of shoemakers' tools, &c. The steamer Denbigh has fortunately just arrived at Mobile with a large lot of shoemakers' tools and findings, and Major Barnewall, the depot officer at that point, has been instructed to send you all you may require.

These arrangements, it is hoped, will make quite a productive establishment at Americus. It is of the greatest importance that the production of army shoes should be increased, so you must spare no effort to attain success. Do not be discouraged by rumors of exchange. Nothing is ever certain on that point, and it may be that inducements can be held out that will content the competent shoemakers to remain. Should ever a general exchange be resumed you can compensate them fairly for their services and in such a form as may prove most acceptable, and I have been assured that the unclaimed packages forwarded from the other side will in time be devoted to such as may elect to remain for a while and continue their labor. Report progress.

By order of Quartermaster-General:

W. B. B. CROSS,
Major and Quartermaster.
 

IcarusPhoenix

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#6
Tom Wheeler: Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War

http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Lincolns-T...=1404833333&sr=8-1&keywords=Lincoln's+T-Mails

Honestly, it's of middling quality (Wheeler is not himself an historian, but his research skills aren't lacking), but it makes for a pretty good summary of the above topic from the specific point-of-view of the President.

It's worth noting that in the final approach attempt to Vicksburg, Grant was arguably intentionally slow about stringing a new telegraph so as to be able to use the excuse of "poor communications" to avoid meddling from the War Department.
 

Carronade

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#7
[QUOTE="AndyHall, post: 905484, member: 5933 Do not be discouraged by rumors of exchange. Nothing is ever certain on that point, and it may be that inducements can be held out that will content the competent shoemakers to remain. Should ever a general exchange be resumed you can compensate them fairly for their services and in such a form as may prove most acceptable, and I have been assured that the unclaimed packages forwarded from the other side will in time be devoted to such as may elect to remain for a while and continue their labor. Report progress.

By order of Quartermaster-General:
[/SIZE][/FONT]
W. B. B. CROSS,
Major and Quartermaster.
[/INDENT][/QUOTE]

This seems to suggest that they were employing Union POWs as shoemakers, am I reading it correctly? I suppose it would be preferable to lingering in a POW camp.
 
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#8
This seems to suggest that they were employing Union POWs as shoemakers, am I reading it correctly? I suppose it would be preferable to lingering in a POW camp.
Yes, that's how I've understood that. Americus is the closest sizable town to Camp Sumter, 12 miles or so by rail. I'm not sure what became of that project. It's somewhere in my need-to-follow-up-on-this pile.
 
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#9
I've read that McClellan had a field telegraph at the first battle of the Seven Days to Mechanicsville across the Chickahominie River and ordered a retreat from miles away even though the Union troops were winning.

But...to change the subject just a little. I've been interested in the way the telegraph helped bring on the war. It just seems to me that since information was spreading so much faster and allowing for organizing people around the ideology of secession quicker the telegraph played a role in cementing this sentiment throughout the south. The lightening flash news from Kansas and John Brown's raid, abolitionist actions in helping runaways in the north all flowed freely through the south. There was a flood of information and misinformation throughout society as compared to earlier decades. Secession rode a wave of sentiment and emotion that relied on that flood of information and flowed all through the south. I'm not sure the sentiment would have been nearly as universal through the south without the telegraph. Obviously it allowed for more united action. Lincoln had hoped secession sentiment would fade but the lightening quick reaction to Ft Sumter instantly united both sections.
 
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What a great thread idea - I can't believe I missed it.

Henry Wing was a cub reporter for the NY Tribune who got "elected" to run north after the Battle of the Wilderness, through hostile territory in Virginia, in order to bring news of the battle. He actually made it through Confederate lines (and with their help, ironically), almost made it through the Union lines, but was "captured" by pickets near Bull Run.

Wing managed to persuade his captors to let him use the telegraph for a message north. The lines were controlled by the War Department and Wing's message was answered by none other than Edwin Stanton, demanding the news from the battlefield (there was none from Grant). Wing refused and again asked permission to send a message to New York.

Stanton (true to character IMO but ok wrong thread) replied to the officer in charge that this obstinate Wing was to be arrested and detained. Poor young Wing is under arrest for asking to send a message. But then the telegraph starts to chatter again. This time, it's Abraham Lincoln, asking, "will you tell me the news?" Young Wing is allowed to reply to the President of the United States and again asks for permission to send news to his bosses first. Lincoln agrees. The deal is done.

So the story goes, U.S. Grant observed Wing leaving HQ near the front and called him back, quietly. Grant was surprised at the madness of what Wing was about to try and do by himself, but took him in quiet confidence, asking him to bring a message to President Lincoln, if he could.

Now, if you don't believe any of this, Google "When Lincoln Kissed Me" and see what you get.
 

major bill

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I've read that McClellan had a field telegraph at the first battle of the Seven Days to Mechanicsville across the Chickahominie River and ordered a retreat from miles away even though the Union troops were winning.

But...to change the subject just a little. I've been interested in the way the telegraph helped bring on the war. It just seems to me that since information was spreading so much faster and allowing for organizing people around the ideology of secession quicker the telegraph played a role in cementing this sentiment throughout the south. The lightening flash news from Kansas and John Brown's raid, abolitionist actions in helping runaways in the north all flowed freely through the south. There was a flood of information and misinformation throughout society as compared to earlier decades. Secession rode a wave of sentiment and emotion that relied on that flood of information and flowed all through the south. I'm not sure the sentiment would have been nearly as universal through the south without the telegraph. Obviously it allowed for more united action. Lincoln had hoped secession sentiment would fade but the lightening quick reaction to Ft Sumter instantly united both sections.
To see an example of this I should refer to the Detroit newspapers during the bombardment of fort Sumter. In times prior to the Civil War, citizens this far from the Fort Sumter would have received the news days later and the news would be much farther removed from them personally. The newspapers reported on Sumter, by their standards, almost as the event happened. the newspapers printed the latest new on Fort Sumter in the morning editions and then in the afternoon editions. A more modern example of this would be TV during the Vietnam War bringing the war into everyone's living room. During World Ward Two the nation was at war, during Vietnam we as a people were at war. Although the technology was not as advanced during the Civil War, I think the effect was similar. The telegraph and the fact nearly every town had a newspaper, brought the Civil War much closer to the readers than wars in the past. Where a reader was hearing of a battle that had ended a week earlier, during the Civil War one was reading of local men dieing almost as it happened.

The American people were not emotionally prepared during the Vietnam War to have the war come into their home, I would guess the people of the civil War were not emotionally prepared for the war news in newspapers made possibly by telegraphs.

Now to answer James. The way I read it in the newspapers, the Confederacy had not bombarded a U.S. fort a week earlier, but was bombarding their fort as they read about it. In Detroit huge crowds held rallies and heard speeches as new telegrams covering the bombardment arrived and were posted.
 
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#13
To see an example of this I should refer to the Detroit newspapers during the bombardment of fort Sumter. In times prior to the Civil War, citizens this far from the Fort Sumter would have received the news days later and the news would be much farther removed from them personally. The newspapers reported on Sumter, by their standards, almost as the event happened. the newspapers printed the latest new on Fort Sumter in the morning editions and then in the afternoon editions. A more modern example of this would be TV during the Vietnam War bringing the war into everyone's living room. During World Ward Two the nation was at war, during Vietnam we as a people were at war. Although the technology was not as advanced during the Civil War, I think the effect was similar. The telegraph and the fact nearly every town had a newspaper, brought the Civil War much closer to the readers than wars in the past. Where a reader was hearing of a battle that had ended a week earlier, during the Civil War one was reading of local men dieing almost as it happened.

The American people were not emotionally prepared during the Vietnam War to have the war come into their home, I would guess the people of the civil War were not emotionally prepared for the war news in newspapers made possibly by telegraphs.

Now to answer James. The way I read it in the newspapers, the Confederacy had not bombarded a U.S. fort a week earlier, but was bombarding their fort as they read about it. In Detroit huge crowds held rallies and heard speeches as new telegrams covering the bombardment arrived and were posted.
The example of Lincoln being in the telegraph office is much sited, but people would line up outside telegraph offices in cities and wait for the latest news. I think that's how the NYC draft riots started, when the casualties were reported from Gettysburg and put up on a board outside the telegraph office next to the names of the men who had just been drafted
 
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#14
The telegraph was huge! It didn't reach everywhere, but when it was needed, it was there.
I was reading a diary from a women that lived outside of the city of Buffalo and she wrote how when big news came into the telegraph they would start firing off cannon in the city to let the countryside know there was big news. Not sure how common that was, but I thought it was interesting
 
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Hello all,
I've been hired to write a Civil War screenplay inspired by a Confederate soldier's actual diary. For the sake of authenticity-- how common /plausible would it be for a Confederate Artillery unit of 32 soldiers to carry a field telegraph machine with them throughout the war in Virginia? Would transmissions be secure, and how plentiful would telegraph lines be in Virginia? Any information would be appreciated.
 

Eric Calistri

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#16
Hello all,
I've been hired to write a Civil War screenplay inspired by a Confederate soldier's actual diary. For the sake of authenticity-- how common /plausible would it be for a Confederate Artillery unit of 32 soldiers to carry a field telegraph machine with them throughout the war in Virginia? Would transmissions be secure, and how plentiful would telegraph lines be in Virginia? Any information would be appreciated.

I've never heard about an artillery battery, or section, having a field telegraph of their own. Some Major Generals and higher, i.e. Commanders of Armies, Corps, and Divisions would have had them in the later stages of the war, mostly on the Union side. But for a unit commanded by a Capt or a Lt. it would have to be a very special situation.
 
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#18
Here what general say on the use of the Telegraph...

The military telegraph network proved its value in coordinating broad strategy within the first year of the war. On February 16, 1862, just hours after the fall of Fort Donelson, McClellan engaged in a three-way real-time conversation with Generals Henry Wager Halleck and Don Carlos Buell to discuss plans for advancing to Nashville. Similarly, Ulysses S. Grant later recalled that he had “held frequent conversations over the wires” about strategy with Stanton during 1863, some lasting two hours. William Tecumseh Sherman also recalled the “perfect concert of action” between his forces in Georgia and Grant’s in Virginia in 1864. “Hardly a day intervened when General Grant did not know the exact state of facts with me, more than fifteen hundred miles off, as the wires ran.” [1]

Here:

The military telegraph also proved valuable on several occasions as an operational and tactical tool on the battlefield, allowing commanders to remain in constant touch with subordinates and to react quickly to changing conditions. McClellan adroitly used the telegraph to resupply his troops with bullets and shells in the midst of the Battle of Antietam, Maryland, in September 1862. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Anderson Dana later praised the utility of the telegraph when he witnessed Union forces in action during the Battle of Chickamauga in northern Georgia on September 19, 1863, noting that “it was one of the most useful accessories of our army,” giving General Rosecrans “constant information on the way the battle was going.” Also, Dana was also able to send eleven telegrams to Washington, apprising Stanton of the progress of the battle on almost an hourly basis. [2]

Here:

Rose later described his telegraph instrument as “the principal channel” through which passed the orders determining the movements of Hancock’s corps during the Wilderness campaign. Similarly, during the ill-fated Battle of the Crater at Petersburg on July 30, 1864. Meade later recalled that he had sent or received over 100 telegrams during the five-hour battle, or one every three minutes. Rose himself operated from an artillery battery during that engagement, demonstrating the utility of the telegraph for real-time battlefield use. [4]

Here is the link to the story of other battles the telegraph was handy in... https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/the-telegraph.html


 
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#19
Here some other cases of the telegraph in war...

Grant fight for control...

While telegraph duties were performed with efficiency, troubles were often precipitated by divided authority. When Superintendent Stager ordered a civilian, who was engaged ill building lines, out of Halleck's department, the general ordered him back, saying, " There must be one good head of telegraph lines in my department, not two, and that head must be under me." Though Stager protested to Secretary of War Stanton, the latter thought it best to yield in that case.
When General Grant found it expedient to appoint an aide as general manager of lines in his army, the civilian chief, J. C. Van Duzer, reported it to Stager, who had Grant called to account by the War Department. Grant promptly put Van Duzer under close confinement in the guardhouse, and later sent him out of the department, under guard. As an outcome, the operators planned a strike, which Grant quelled by telegraphic orders to confine closely every man resigning or guilty, of contumacious conduct. Stager's efforts to dominate Grant failed t rough Stanton's fear that pressure would cause Grant to ask for relief from his command.
Stager's administration culminated in an order by his assistant, dated Cleveland, November 4, 1862;,strictly requiring the operators to retain " the original copy of every telegram sent by any military or other Government officer . . . and mailed to the War Department." Grant answered, " Colonel Stager has no authority to demand the original of military dispatches, and cannot have them." The order was never enforced, at least with Grant.
If similar experiences did not change the policy in Washington, it produced better conditions in the field and ensured harmonious cooperation. Of Van Duzer, it is to be said that he later returned to the army and performed conspicuous service. At the battle of Chattanooga, be installed and operated lines on or near the firing-line during the two fateful days, November 24-25, 1863, often under heavy fire. Always sharing the dangers of his men, Van Duzer, through his coolness and activity under fire, has been mentioned as the only fighting of officer of the Federal telegraph service.


Here...

The cipher-operators with the various armies were men of rare skill, unswerving integrity, and unfailing loyalty. Caldwell, as chief operator, accompanied the Army of the Potomac on every march and in every siege, contributing also to the efficiency of the field-telegraphs. Beckwith was Grant's cipher-operator to the end of the war, and was the man who tapped a wire and reported the hiding-place of Wilkes Booth. Another operator, Richard O'Brien, in 1863 refused a princely bribe to forge a telegraphic reprieve, and later won distinction with Butler on the James and with Schofield in North Carolina. W. R. Plum, who wrote " History of the Military Telegraph in the Civil War," also rendered efficient service as chief operator to Thomas, and at Atlanta. It is regrettable that such men were denied the glory and benefits of a military service, which they actually, though not officially, gave.

Here: Remember Gen. Gordan's attack on Ft. Stedman... Telegraph the hero...

During siege operations at Petersburg, a system of lines connected the various headquarters, depots, entrenchments, and even some picket lines. Cannonading and sharpshooting were so insistent that operators were often driven to bombproof offices --especially during artillery duels and impending assaults. Nerve-racking were the sounds and uncomfortably dangerous the situations, yet the operators held their posts. Under the terrible conditions of a night assault, the last despairing attempt to break through the encircling Federal forces at Petersburg, hurried orders and urgent appeals were sent. At dawn of March 25, 1865, General Gordon carried Fort Stedman with desperate gallantry, and cut the wire to City Point. The Federals speedily sent the message of disaster, " The enemy has broken our right, taken Stedman, and are moving on City Point." Assuming command, General Parke ordered a counter-attack and recaptured the fort. Promptly the City Point wire was restored, and Meade, controlling the whole army by telegraph, made a combined attack by several corps, capturing the entrenched picket line of the Confederates.

Here: Grant rules the army by Telegraph...

First of all of the great commanders, Grant used the military telegraph both for grand tactics and for strategy in its broadest sense. From his headquarters with Meade's army in Virginia, May, 1864, he daily gave orders and received reports regarding the operations of Meade in Virginia, Sherman in Georgia, Sigel in West Virginia, and Butler on the James River. Later he kept under direct control military forces exceeding half a million of soldiers, operating over a territory of eight hundred thousand square miles in area. Through concerted action and timely movements, Grant prevented the reinforcement of Lee's army and so shortened the war. Sherman said, " The value of the telegraph cannot be exaggerated, as illustrated by the perfect accord of action of the armies of Virginia and Georgia."

For the other stories here is the link: https://www.civilwarhome.com/telegraph.htm
 



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