Discussion U S Military Telegraph System

Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Messages
7,856
Location
Pipestem,WV
#1
The United States Military Telegraph System
President Lincoln would use the telegraph to communicate with his generals and other officers to keep tabs of what was going on at the battle front. He spent many hours in the telegraph room in the Department of War building, next to the White House. This page is dedicated to the telegraphers and cipherers (decoders) who helped the President to keep tabs on the great war.
UNITED STATES MILITARY TELEGRAPH (USMT):
The Civil War of 1861-1865 required a new communication system for use by the government and the armed forces. President Lincoln was already very much aware of the value of the telegraph, and would order that it be set up quickly. A system of wires would be run throughout the northern states to connect all areas. Some areas would be covered by quickly set-up poles and wires by use of wagons, horses and men. The telegraph equipment would be portable. The President would nearly take personal command of the battle fronts through use of the telegraph. The White House never had telegraph wiring, but the nearby War Department building would be the location. The President spent hours in the telegraph office waiting for and sending messages.
(A HISTORY AND THE MEN WHO WORKED FOR IT)
Conditions in 1861 caused the seizure of the commercial systems around Washington, and Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott was made general manager of all such lines. He secured the cooperation of E. S. Sanford, of the American Telegraph Company, who imposed much needed restrictions as to cipher messages, information, and so forth on all operators. The scope of the work was much increased by an act of Congress, in 1862, authorizing the seizure of any or all lines, in connection with which Sanford was appointed censor.
Through Andrew Carnegie was obtained the force which opened the War Department Telegraph Office; which speedily attained national importance by its remarkable work, and with which the memory of Abraham Lincoln must be inseparably associated. It was fortunate for the success of the telegraphic policy of the Government that it was entrusted to men of such administrative ability as Colonel Anson Stager, E. S. Sanford, and Major Thomas T. Eckert. The selection of operators for the War Office was surprisingly fortunate, including, as it did, three cipher-operators-D. H. Bates, A. B. Chandler, and C. A. Tinker-of high character, rare skill, and unusual discretion.

LIFE IN THE TELEGRAPH ROOM:
One phase of life in the telegraph-room of the War Department--it is surprising that the White House bad no telegraph office during the war -- was Lincoln's daily visit thereto, and the long hours spent by him in the cipher-room, whose quiet seclusion made it a favorite retreat both for rest and also for important work requiring undisturbed thought and undivided attention.
CIPHERS USED TO HIDE MESSAGES:
Especially important was the technical work of Bates, Chandler, and Tinker enciphering and deciphering important messages to and from the great contending armies, which was done by code. Stager devised the first cipher, which was so improved by the cipher-operators that it remained untranslatable by the Confederates to the end of the war.
Read the book Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, by David Homer Bates, 1907, chapters IV and V to learn about the "Cipher-Codes of the North and the South."
DANGER IN BATTLE FIELD TELEGRAPH OPERATING:
During the war there occurred in the line of duty more than three hundred casualties among the operators -from disease, death in battle, wounds, or capture. Scores of these unfortunate victims left families dependent upon charity, as the United States neither extended aid to their destitute families nor admitted needy survivors to a government pension.
The code used during the Civil War was NOT the "modern" two-element (dot dash or didah) code, but the earlier "American Morse" developed by Albert Vail and Samuel Morse, and it was a more complex multi-element code.
Telegraphers could send and receive this code very fast. That was the problem: everyone could read everyone's messages. Ciphering (secret codes) were developed using updated and changing code books throughout the war. This worked well for the Union, but Union cipher-operators were very good at de-ciphering Confederate messages. Cipher-operators either operated in a building (permanent setting) or would travel around in wagons to set up at the battle front. This was very dangerous work.
Expired Image Removed
Cipher-Telegrapher Wagon
Expired Image Removed
Men working on or installing telegraph lines near a Civil War camp

The Early American Morse Code (used by Civil War telegraphers)
Information from The Telegraph Museum Pages at http://w1tp.com/percode.htm
"The original "MORSE CODE" used by Samuel Morse since the 1840's to allow letters to be sent as short electrical signals (dots) and long electrical signals (dashes) along with some embedded spaces was also called the "AMERICAN" MORSE CODE.
The telegraph was widely used throughout Europe and America in very early (mid 1800's) land-line communications and has continued to be used to the present in America for this form of Land-Line telegraphic communication in which the signals were carried across the land by lines (wires) supported by telegraph poles. Land-line communications use "sounders" to allow the receiving operator to "hear" the clicking sounds of the code and to translate them into letters.

The early American code would be replaced by a similar English code, but which eliminated all of the embedded spaces and long dashes within letters of the original code. Wireless radio transmissions could not use the Early Morse Code.
Telegrapher/Coders during the Civil War had to have great auditory acuity, and memory abilities. The coded messages would have to be converted to complex ciphers. The ciphers would be changed often to prevent Southern spies from hearing messages."
http://www.alincolnlearning.us/Civilwartelegraphing.html
 

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
#2
In one incident early in the war, J.E.B. Stuart raided a Federal depot in Virginia capturing the telegraph desk in the process. He sent a telegraph to Montgomery Meigs, the Federal Quartermaster General, complaining about the poor condition of the captured Federal horses that he was going to use to haul the captured wagons with.
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Messages
7,856
Location
Pipestem,WV
#3
In one incident early in the war, J.E.B. Stuart raided a Federal depot in Virginia capturing the telegraph desk in the process. He sent a telegraph to Montgomery Meigs, the Federal Quartermaster General, complaining about the poor condition of the captured Federal horses that he was going to use to haul the captured wagons with.
This story reminded me of my old ham radio days. To get my license upgraded to get into hf, where I could talk to hams all over the world, I had to be able to test out sending and recieving morse code at 13 words per min. I hated it but learned it to pass the test. I have since forgot it. Now they don't require it, and I have lost interest in the hobby.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,377
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
#4
tmh10,

I can never forget Morse code! :smile:

I never became a ham raido operator nor ever took the test to pass it, but I did become an 05H in the US Army while assigned to the Army Security Agency. An 05H was, at that time, a Morse Intercept Operator, or "05 Hog," the guy who sat at a radio console and listened to the military and diplomatic morse code traffic of other nations all day during his 8 hour shift. When we got the "target" we were assigned, we would type down the code on our manual typewriters, called "mills" using six-ply paper that was color coded as to what department or agency would get a copy of what we "copied."

I had two R-390 radio receivers, a pair of headphones, and a small metal desk upon which sat my "mill" and I would sometimes copy the morse code of a particular hot target for a straight 8 hours a day. "Ditty Bopper" was another name attached to me and my fellow Hogs and after 13 years of copying Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, African, South American, and many other nations morse code, I got to the point to where I could copy morse code at 25-35 words per minute, but there were a few guys in South America who could send it so fast, by hand, that I couldn't keep up and had to ask for the "Senior Hog" to take over.

Those days are gone, now that we have cell phones and burst transmitters and satelite comms, etc.

But what a ride it was! I still hear bursts of morse code, once in a while, during old WWII movies and on my supervisors walkie-talkies at work. When I do, I instinctively grab a pencil, a sheet of paper and start transcribing what I hear. I spent 8 months at Ft. Devens, MA, learning international morse code, and a few more learning Russian and other nations unique characters of it. I used to dream it in my sleep when I was there and prayed it would not make me go mad as it had other guys at the school during my time there.

I remember the story of one soldier, headphones on, typing away at his "mill" in class on the third story of the building he was being instructed in along with 10 other soldiers. Suddenly, he tore off his headphones and began screaming at the top of his lungs, stood up, grabbed his mill in his arms and ran to the open window and threw it out same, resulting in a long fall and a destructive crash that left the machine in dozens of broken pieces. The sergeant instructor calmly got up from his desk at the front of the class, got a form for the soldier to fill out that deducted the destroyed machine from his monthly pay, went to a large, metal locker, and had the soldier remove a replacement "mill" from it, take it back to his desk and resume the lesson. No furhter action was taken against the soldier.

No, I can't forget morse code, even if I wanted to. But I no longer get the desire to throw typewriters out of windows, either. :smile:

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

prroh

Captain
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Oct 1, 2009
Messages
5,569
Location
Maryland
#5
Samuel Morse was the Publisher of the Journal of Commerce which printed (and still does) ship's manifests at the Port of NY. Clipper Ships arrived at the eastern end Of Long Island near Orient Point. Morse invented the code to transmit the manifests that were lodged there and so gained about two days about two days on his competitors.
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Messages
7,856
Location
Pipestem,WV
#6
tmh10,

I can never forget Morse code! :smile:

I never became a ham raido operator nor ever took the test to pass it, but I did become an 05H in the US Army while assigned to the Army Security Agency. An 05H was, at that time, a Morse Intercept Operator, or "05 Hog," the guy who sat at a radio console and listened to the military and diplomatic morse code traffic of other nations all day during his 8 hour shift. When we got the "target" we were assigned, we would type down the code on our manual typewriters, called "mills" using six-ply paper that was color coded as to what department or agency would get a copy of what we "copied."

I had two R-390 radio receivers, a pair of headphones, and a small metal desk upon which sat my "mill" and I would sometimes copy the morse code of a particular hot target for a straight 8 hours a day. "Ditty Bopper" was another name attached to me and my fellow Hogs and after 13 years of copying Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, African, South American, and many other nations morse code, I got to the point to where I could copy morse code at 25-35 words per minute, but there were a few guys in South America who could send it so fast, by hand, that I couldn't keep up and had to ask for the "Senior Hog" to take over.

Those days are gone, now that we have cell phones and burst transmitters and satelite comms, etc.

But what a ride it was! I still hear bursts of morse code, once in a while, during old WWII movies and on my supervisors walkie-talkies at work. When I do, I instinctively grab a pencil, a sheet of paper and start transcribing what I hear. I spent 8 months at Ft. Devens, MA, learning international morse code, and a few more learning Russian and other nations unique characters of it. I used to dream it in my sleep when I was there and prayed it would not make me go mad as it had other guys at the school during my time there.

I remember the story of one soldier, headphones on, typing away at his "mill" in class on the third story of the building he was being instructed in along with 10 other soldiers. Suddenly, he tore off his headphones and began screaming at the top of his lungs, stood up, grabbed his mill in his arms and ran to the open window and threw it out same, resulting in a long fall and a destructive crash that left the machine in dozens of broken pieces. The sergeant instructor calmly got up from his desk at the front of the class, got a form for the soldier to fill out that deducted the destroyed machine from his monthly pay, went to a large, metal locker, and had the soldier remove a replacement "mill" from it, take it back to his desk and resume the lesson. No furhter action was taken against the soldier.

No, I can't forget morse code, even if I wanted to. But I no longer get the desire to throw typewriters out of windows, either. :smile:

Sincerely,
Unionblue
I can relate to you in this. When I was learning it I would play the tapes on my way back and forth to work and copy what I could in my head. I would hear it in my sleep.
The man that got me into ham radio did much the same in the Navy and retired, and came to work with us. He would rather work code than talk. He had to be in your range or faster. I agree in that I don't think they use it in the service now, but somebody is probably monitoring code from some countrys that do Im sure.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,377
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
#7
The Navy had some of the best morse code intercept operators. I had the very lucky experience to work with a few of them when I was stationed in Turkey. They were with the Naval Security Service and those boys knew their stuff!
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Messages
7,856
Location
Pipestem,WV
#8
The Navy had some of the best morse code intercept operators. I had the very lucky experience to work with a few of them when I was stationed in Turkey. They were with the Naval Security Service and those boys knew their stuff!
He must have pulled some time with them at some point in his career. He told me about being locked in a vault like room for his duty and not let out untill the end of the tour. He said it involved the subs, so I don't know. They had him working all over the world. I would have loved to visit even half the places he went.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,377
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
#9
tmh10,

You might want to go to your local public library and check out the following two books:

The Puzzle Palace, and Body Of Secrets, both by James Bamford.

Within each book, you will find each branch of the armed services of this country and their involvement in intelligence gathering operations and the modes of operation they use to accomplish such.

I think the first book will be more in line with what we have been discussing and it was the first book written by Bamford. It includes various methods by the Army, Navy, and Air Force when intercepting morse code 'back in the day.'

Enjoy,
Unionblue
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Messages
7,856
Location
Pipestem,WV
#10
tmh10,

You might want to go to your local public library and check out the following two books:

The Puzzle Palace, and Body Of Secrets, both by James Bamford.

Within each book, you will find each branch of the armed services of this country and their involvement in intelligence gathering operations and the modes of operation they use to accomplish such.

I think the first book will be more in line with what we have been discussing and it was the first book written by Bamford. It includes various methods by the Army, Navy, and Air Force when intercepting morse code 'back in the day.'

Enjoy,
Unionblue
Thanks Unionblue, I will do so.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,377
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
#13
You might be interested how the Carrington event of 1859 effected the telegraph system (the Victorian internet)

link--> https://www.history.com/news/a-perfect-solar-superstorm-the-1859-carrington-event

We narrowly missed an even bigger event like this in 2014!
Reminds me of the times when I was intercepting morse code on some days when sun spot activity caused a lot of static on the frequencys I had been assigned to monitor. Tough to copy the code through all that static!
 



Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top