William Rattle Plum.

The military telegraph during the Civil War in the United States : with an exposition of ancient and modern means of communication, and of the federal and Confederate cipher systems ; also a running account of the war between the states online

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Online LibraryWilliam Rattle PlumThe military telegraph during the Civil War in the United States : with an exposition of ancient and modern means of communication, and of the federal and Confederate cipher systems ; also a running account of the war between the states → online text (page 11 of 37)
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States, at work in the Department of the Ohio, hereby solemnly af-
firm that we -vyill not and can not possibly work for less than one
hundred dollars per month. Hesolved, second, that we ask to be
immediately relieved unless our request is complied with. Hesolved,
third, that we sincerely hope it will meet with the approval of our

(Signed) J. F. Wilber, operator, Barboursville, Ky.,

J. R. Brown, " Barboursville, Ky.,

J. G. GoALDiNG, " Cumber] aifd Gap,

George Pdrdon, " Tazewell, Tenn.,

W. T. Strubbe, " Tazewell, Tenn.,

Job Anderson, " Strawberry Plains, Tenn.,

George Cole, " Loudon, Tenn.,

G. D. Wilkinson, " Knoxville, Tenn.,

G. Jones, " Mossy Creek, Tenn.,

W. K. SissoN, " East Tennessee,

Sam Roberts " East Tennessee,

T. M. Sampson, " Crab Orchard, Ky.,

T. G. Harvey, " Stanford, Ky.,

J. M. Spencer, " Lexington, Ky.,

J. W. CtJRTiss, f Mt. Sterling, Ky.,

A. W. Howell, " Somerset, Ky.,

John Nagle, " Mt. Vernon, Ky.,

Joe H. Gilkerson, " Columbia, Ky.,

F. Bennbr, ■' Danville, Ky.


This petition was ^referred to Captain Bruch without com-
ment, and likewise by him to Colonel Stager, who returned it
with this endorsement, dated January 30, 1864 :

Communications bearing the letter and spirit of the one returned
herewith, will not be entertained and can be looked upon in no
other light than as a conspiracy by the parties, against the Govern-
ment. The resignation of these individuals will be accepted singly,
whenever you are able to supply their places. If operators or em-
ployes attempt to quit the service in combined bodies, they shall
be put under military arrest and held as conspirators. Operators
will be paid salaries according to the grade of their competency, as
per authority given you in my letter of January 28, 1864.

In that letter, Colonel Stager stated that if there were any
competent operators in the service who were paid fifty, sixty or
seventy dollars per month, and whose services were worth more
to the Government in such capacity, their pay might be in-
creased according to the grade of their competency. "Please
ascertain who originated the ' strike. ' " The story of this at-
tempted strike is almost ended without its beginning — so short
is it. The idea of being treated as conspirators brought the boys
to their senses, and right or wrong in their demands, they saw
that the course adopted was the worst conceivable, in a land held
by armies which depended so largely on the telegraph. Whether
Colonel Stager's letter terete-dating but two days his endorsement,
was in anticipation of the petition I know not, but whether for-
tuitous or studied, it worked well, and many of the operators
did find it "possible" to live for less than one hundred dollars
per month, although none who have tried it there would do it
again, except for the "cause."

The recital of the foregoing affair is a reminder of a much
more interesting and elaborate experiment across the "bloody
chasm." Southern telegraphers had for some time prior to the
organization of the "Southern Telegraphic Association," been
smarting under grievous wrongs which they, true to the style of
the "Declaration of Independence," recounted in the Preamble
adopted by them in Augusta, Ga., October 26, 1863. Chief
among the evils therein complained of, were these : * * "Our


rights have not been respected by the various telegraph compan-
ies, and they have recently used the conscript law of the Con-
federate States as a means to intimidate us to succumb to de-
mands we consider unfair and tyrannical." We are "requii'ed
to enter on duty at seven or eight A. M. , and are never off until
ten p. M., and often kept on till two to five a. m., without extra
compensation, * * also * * to work on the Sabbath from the
hours of eight to ten a. m., and from seven to nine p. m."
Our " salaries are entirely inadequate to defray the expen-
ses of living in the simplest manner;" we claim "as an in-
aUenable right, the privilege of resigning our positions on one
line, to accept one on another; and denounce and will resist any
attempt to prevent members of this association from changing
their employers, either by a refusal to accept their resignations,
conscripting or ordering them to their commands in transit, as
unjust and illegal, as shown in the late decision of his Honor,
Judge MaGi'ath, in South Carolina." This association was reg-
ularly organized in all respects. Its chief officers were, a Presi-
dent, a Senior Vice President, one Junior Vice President from
each State, a Secretary and Treasurer. The organizers were
Charles A. Gaston, of Mobile, J. Sisson Clarke, of Charleston,
Charles F. Barnes, of Augusta, E. J. Saville, of Mobile, W. H.
Clarke, of Savannah, William Sandford, of Mobile, J.W. Kates,
of the military lines about Charleston, W. A. McMurchy and
perhaps some others.

This society, in the terms of its organic laws, probably took
a bolder stand against capital than any other similar telegraphic
association in this country. It undertook to obtain lists " of the
operators in their respective States; their salaries; where sta-
tioned;" to interdict its members from working "in any office
requiring more than one operator, unless the other operators in such
office are members of this Association;" to prohibit students from
acquiring the art unless they obtained leave from the President
and paid the association one hundred dollars, more or less, at that
officer's discretion, and agreed to join the association when qual-
ified; "to sustain as far as may be right, its members in all dif-
ficulties" with employeirs; to arrogate to itself obedience as
against "any order, emanating from whatever source, which
shall conflict with its constitution or by-laws," and in case such


obedience, in spite of conflicting orders from employers, works
injury to the telegrapher, every operator on the line whereon he
served was to be directed to "immediately cease sending or re-
ceiving " commercial business. It also arranged the following
schedule of working hours, viz : from October 1, to April 1,
8:30 A. M., to 8 p. M.; April 1, to October 1, 8 a. m., to 7:30
p. M. ; Sundays, 8:30 a. m., to 9:30 a. m., and 6 to 7 p. M.; same
for holidays, and no private business to be done on the Sabbath.
When the Government exigencies required longer hours, the
companies should pay at the rate of fifty cents per hour therefor,
and finally it sought to " maintain a rate of compensation." As
the Southern Telegraph Company, of which Doctor W. S. Mor-
ris was President, was said to be the chief instrument of oppres-
sion, so the membership of this association, which was very
large, was obtained principally from the employes of that com-
pany, and by virtue thereof, such of its members were extreme-
ly gratulant and confident.

At this time operators' salaries in the Confederacy, ranged
about five hundred dollars per month. One would think they
ought to have been contented, but they lived so extravagantly
that their board cost four hundred dollars per month; their ele-
gant cow-hide boots, two hundred dollars per pair, and their
tasteful and real American home spun suits, seven hundred dol-
lars. Other essentials in proportion. It was a rare era in that
land when everything but money was a luxury.

President Charles A. Gaston, confidential operator with Gen-
eral Lee, issued an excellent address to ' ' all managers of telegraph
offices and telegraph operators in the Confederate States," ex-
horting co-oporation. In that address, we note the following,
which deserves to be preserved, and is therefore here inserted :
" There is no agency known to society that so fully challenges
the confidence of man. It is entrusted with every one's secrets,
and employed in the furtherance of every one's concerns, no
matter whether public or private, trivial or momentous." Doc-
tor Morris did not long hesitate before ordering all employes to
withdraw from the Association, or be dismissed. As a dismissal
would leave the operators liable to do military duty, and that as
conscripts and among strange regiments, a dilemma was at once
presented, but notwithstanding, the Acting President (Gaston


being with the army) retaliated by forbidding members from
receiving or transmitting any telegrams, except such as were on
government, railroad, or express business. Thus an issue was fairly
made. A dead lock icnsued, lasting a week or ten days. Oper-
ators were dismissed, and for a time working operators were as
scarce in the large offices as during the great strike on the West-
ern Union lines, in 1870, when business was refused by the man-
agers. The name of every discharged operator was sent to the
conscript officer in his vicinity, and, it is said, in some cases a
guard entered offices and escorted the operators to camp, where
they earned seventeen dollars per month, musty bacon and, sour
corn meal, as conscripts. But this state of things could not last.
The Confederacy had not operators enough to make soldiers of
them in large numbers, and it was soon evident that Doctor
Morris could obtain their detail, and thus com/pel them to serVe
at soldiers' pay. It was this, more than being forced into the
army, that put a quietus on the strike. Most of the operators
returned to duty. It was the first and last strike in the Confed-
eracy, and it was also the end of the Southern Telegraphic Asso-

Two other organizations took root later in the war, and died
much more innocently. These were the " South-western Tele-
graphic Association," and the "Confederate States Telegraphic
Club." The former, started by E. J. Saville, Geo. W. Trabue,
John B. Morris and E. H. Hogshead, was born in Meridian,
Miss., May 1, 1864. Its purposes were merely mutually bene-
ficial in a general way, with no thought of antagonizing any
thing or body, for the operators and officers of the South-west-
ern (C. S.) constituted a model happy family, in which mutual
confidence, esteem and courtesy prevailed. The following were
its members : E. L. Marchant, operator at Jackson, Miss. ; J.
H. Henderson, at Grenada ; G. B. McMurchy, at Meridian ;
John B. Morris, at Corinth ; Geo. W. Trabue, at Mobile, Ala. ;
E. H. Hogshead, at Meridian ; E. J. Saville, at Mobile, Ala. ;
E. Howard, at Meridian ; F. C. Whitthorne, with Forrest's Cav-
alry ; Geo. M. Dugan ; M. Flippen, at Brandon ; Charles St.
John, at Brandon ; A. M. Eecord, at Morton ; W. H. Young,
at Buckatunna ; C. I. DePew, at Citronelle ; E. Garaudy, at
Enterprise ; James M. Osborn, military operator ; George W.


Beard, at Canton ; Thomas F. Marshall, at Grenada ; E. A.
Fulda, at Jackson; John A. Galbreath, Jr., at Jackson; Wm.
A. L'Hommedieu, at Jackson ; A. G. McN. Russell, at Jackson;
N. C. David, at Oxford ; B. W. Collier, at Oxford ; C. W. Mont-
gomerjr, military service ; L. T. Lindsey, military service ; M.
W. Barr, military service.

At the first annual meeting a quorum was wanting, notwith-
standing the efibrts of its president, the lamented and talented
John B. Morris, ably seconded by E. H. Hogshead, the sec-

The " Club " was of Charleston (S. C.) origin, and was formed
January 9, 1865. The constitution and by-laws of the "South-
western," somewhat modified, were adopted, and T. M. Bryan
elected President, E. N. Woodhouse, Vice President, John D.
Harbers, Secretary, Samuel S. Turner, Treasurer. The three
Directors were W. D. S. Anderson, J. D. Westerveldt and E H.
Pegues. This also died while teething.

A number of Confederate operators were commissioned and
held stafi' appointments. When the civil telegraph force proved
insufiJcient, these officers assisted. They usually accompanied
the cavalry leaders, with a view in part to tapping Union wires ;
bnt others went with infantry columns, doing telegraphing inci-
dentally only. When General Hood advanced against Thomas,
at Nashville, it was reported by a captured Confederate operator,
that Major M. William Barr was chief of the telegraphic opera-
tions conducted for Hood's army ; that William Allen accompa-
nied the cavalry under General Wheeler ; J. M. Powers, that
under General Roddy ; and Whitthorhe, that under General
Forrest. There were other army operators, some of whom were
commissioned. These made telegraphing but an adjunct to their
other duties, and were not carried on the rolls as operators.
Southern telegraphers were subordinated to a greater extent than
Union operators, to the direction of army officers, for the reason
that there was no cohesion in the telegraph branch of the Confed-
erate service — no general head — at best, only department chiefs,
and they, it is believed, never reported to the War or Postal De-
partments, in Richmond, but only to the officer commanding the
District. Some of them at least were obliged to take an
oath of fealty, but how generally this 'was practiced, we have


not inquired. To a considerable extent, they were excepted
from the rigors of conscription. Even in those dark days of the
Confederacy, when its armies were fast crumhling by desertion,
disease and the bullet, we find that the telegraphists were ex-
empted from actual service ; but this immunity seems to have
resulted from a wise discretion, rather than by virtue of any
positive enactment, in which respect it accorded with the con-
duct of the national authorities. General Withers, commanding
the Reserves, with head-quarters in Montgomery, Ala., ordered
all, or nearly all, of the operators in Alabama, to join the forces
in camp, and, in excuse for so doing, wrote that "the Secretary
of War decides that all able-bodied men shall be put into the
a,rmy." Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, foreseeing that such
measures would isolate him from his Depai-tment, telegraphed
as follows :

Sblma, Ala., November 10, 1864.

To Hon. SeceetIky of War, Richmond, Va. :

Please authorize Major General Withers, commanding conscripts
and reserves in Alabama, by telegraph, to use that discretion which
General Kemper has been permitted to use, in Virginia, relative to
sending to camp all telegraphers and steamboat men. Unless this
is done immediately, he will literally execute his orders, the effect
of which will be to stop all telegraphs and steamboats in this De-
partment, and work great inconvenience and perhaps disaster to
the service. Please reply by. telegraph. Respectfully,

R. Taylor, Lieut. Gen.

In Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, the
Secretary of War. permitted the generals of reserves to exercise
a proper discretion in the matter of taking telegraph operators
from their offices. In some cases they were detailed and returned
to duty in their offices. In Virginia, no details were issued, but
in lieu thereof was the following, a copy of which each Southern
operator received :

Head-quarters Reserve Forces op Virginia,

Richmond, October 5, 1864.

Telegraph operators will not be interfered with under the orders
for organizing the local forces of the State. By order of Major
General Kemper. R. H. Oatlett, A. A. G.

General Taylor's request was granted so far, at least, as
operators were concerned.




General Meade's army was not destined to remain long about
the banks of the Potomac. July 19 and 20, 1863, it crossed
near Berlin, Maryland, and immediately moved to Gainsville,
Virginia. But the telegraph was extended, on the eighteenth,
from Berlin to Lovettsville, where the General had his head-
quarters. This office was worked, until the twentieth, by ope-
rators Caldwell, Emerick and Rose, Pierce having left on the
sixteenth, for a short time. After a five days ride over a beau-
tiful country, during which they enjoyed the splendid blackber-
ries that abound there, and the excellent repasts that the super-
intendent of construction, T>. Doren, foraged, the head-quarters
operators having reached Warrenton were, thanks to the energy
of Eckert's linemen, enabled once more to communicate direct
with the War Department office. Within a few days, the army
reached the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, and two
wires were kept in constant working order from Washington to
the front, one being used exclusively for military and the other
for railroad business. Besides these, other lines were built from
General Meade's to all the corps and some of the division head-
quarters. They proved to be of very great value to the army,
keeping all its parts in quick communication with each other and
with the National capital. In August, L. A. Rose (and C.
Douglass from the eighteenth) operated at the head-quarters of
the Second Corps at Morrisville; H. W. Cowan and W. C. Hall,
at Bealeton; J. H. Glazier, J. D. Flynn and E. A. Hall, at Ma-
nassas Junction; D. E. Rand, at Burkes Station; R. H. Brigham,
at Centreville; J. D. Tinney and A. H. Bliss, at Rappahannock


Station; R. F. Weitbrecht and W. H. Shreffler, at Kelley's
Ford; E. R. McCain and J. A. Murray, at Hartwood; R. H.
Ryan, at Warrenton; S. H. Edwards and R. Graham, at War-
renton Junction; and W. D. Wood and F. N. Benson, at Fair-
fax Station. Messrs. Bates, Tinker, Chandler, McCarty, Or-
ten, Kanode, Morrison, Burns, Safford, Barron, Nail, Nichols,
Dwight, Loucks, Moreland, Kettels, Ney and C. L. Snyder
were variously stationed in Washington, and Dorrence, Maiden,
Power, Flack and Garland in Alexandria offices.

It was about this time that sentence of death was to be exe-
cuted upon a soldier charged with desertion. His case had been
submitted to the tender-hearted President, who granted a par-
don, a few hours only prior to the time when- the soldier was to
be executed. But before the President's message could be sent,
telegraphic communication was interrupted. O. H. Dorrence,
chief of the railroad operators at Alexandria, took the despatch
by special train to the break in the line west of Burkes Station
and telegraphed it just in time to stay the execution of the sol-

Similar occurrences are by no means unknown. Mr. Shaff-
ner, m his "Telegraph Manual,'' relates with thrilling particular-
ity how he succeeded, while in St Louis, Mo. , in obtaining from
President Millard Fillmore, in 1851, a telegraphic respite in be-
half of a young Indian, who, to save his aged father from an
ignoble death for a murder the parent was innocent of, had con-
fessed himself guilty of the dreadful crime, of which he also
was guiltless, and being convicted, mainly on that confession,
was on his way to the scaifold when the order suspending the
sentence, which reached St. Louis by three telegraphic routes,
was placed in the hands of the marshal, at Jefferson City, Mo.

In the early part of the war the Confederate military author-
ities at Knoxville, Tenn., convicted an East Tennesseean of
bridge-burning, for which he was sentenced to be hung at two
o'clock in the afternoon of a certain day. On the morning of
the fatal day, a daughter of the condemned man telegraphed
from Knoxville, to President Davis, at Richmond, beseeching
him in pitiful terms to have mercy on her father, and save him
from the terrible" doom fast approaching. D. E. Norris forwarded!
the message to Lynchburg, where it was relayed to Richmond,


by operator S , at half past nine, a. m. About noon, "Rd"

(Richmond) called "Bg" (Lynchburg), saying: "Here it is!
Rush it through." S hurried with it to the Western instru-
ment, called "Kd" (Knoxville) twice, and was answered, but
before the reprieve could be told, the operator at Dublin Depot
put on his ground wire, thereby practically severing the line,
only one end of which ran to his instrument ; that unfortunately
was the western end, and the purpose doubtless was to enable
the Dublin operator to dispose of his telegraph business west-
ward without interruption from Eastern operators. Perhaps he
had to receive important train orders, after which he probably

forgot that his ground wire was on. At any rate, S remained

at his instrument until fifteen minutes before the time for the
execution of the condemned, growing more and more nervous
as each moment passed, and when the last flickering ray of hope
was about to expire, the ground wire was removed, when S- — -
quickly called Knoxville. He answered. Davis' message, stay-
ing the execution, was rapidly transmitted, but Norris said he
feared it was too late, as the officers of the law had left the jail
with the prisoner sometime before. However, the message was
received in time, and the father was ultimately restored to his
affectionate child.

Another instance : During General Hunter's raid through the
valley of Viginia, two private soldiers — substitutes — exhausted
by long marches and scant food, left behind, fell into the enemy's
hands. It is related that, after being captured they were heavily
ironed and closely guarded for some days ; that the Confederates,
to prevail upon them to enter their armies, threatened them with
death unless they joined the Confederate service — a dread ulti-
matum,, which induced acceptance in the secret hope of escaping.
They accompanied the command of the notorious Harry Gil-
more, in a raid upon the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and were
captured by the Federals and taken to Harpers Ferry in irons.
There they were recognized, accused of bounty-jumping, deser-
tion and bearing arms against the Government. Appearances
were all against them, and though they told a consistent story
as above related, it was disbelieved, and they were sentenced to
be shot. The day preceding the time fixdd for the execution, a
Catholic Chaplain heard the prisoners' story and the corroborat-


ive statements of a rebel prisoner, whose evidence was not heard
by the court martial, whereupon Father F , the priest, tele-
graphed the President his understanding of the case, and asked
mercy for the prisoners. D. J. Ludwig, operator at the Ferry,
anxiously awaited for eighteen hours a reply from the President,
but at daylight all the wires to "Washington and Baltimore were
down. At noon they were yet as still as death. No current
could be " tasted." The prisoners had but one hour yet to live.
Sadly and anxiously Ludwig sat adjusting his. instrument for the
slightest current. He saw the procession pass by, in which were
the condemned, sitting upon their coffins. He heard the band
play the "Dead March," but though his hope waned, his vigil-
ance did not relax. At ten o'clock that forenoon, W. D. Gen-
try, operator in Baltimore City office, received a telegraphic
reprieve for the condemned men, who were eighty miles away.
Feeling the trying responsibility thrust upon him, Gentry tried
every means then known to telegraphy to raise Harpers Ferry
office, but was unsuccessful. At a quarter past twelve he heard
the armature of the magnet on that line splutter as if somebody
was at work with two ends of the wire; an instant more the
lever of the sounder fell with a heavy click, and before Gentry
could make "H. F." twice, Ludwig answered and received the
respite and dispatched his mounted orderly therewith before
stopping to give O K to Gentry. The place fixed for the execu-
tion was some two miles away, on the heights beyond the little
village of Bolivar, and the road for nearly a mile extended up
the side of a mountain. The orderly lost no time, but whipped
his horse into his fastest gait, and maintained it to the end. As
he approached the party having the dread work in hand, and
discovered the soldiers who were to fire, were getting into posi-
'tion, the orderly, yet several hundred yards away, redoubled his
exertions to urge his horse, which, when witliin a few yards of
the prisoners, gave out and fell to the ground, dead. His com-
ing was however, heard by the soldiers, who stood awaiting the
signal to fire. They rested their guns, and the doomed men
were saved.

The army having left the neighborhood of the Potomac, ope-
rator Douglass, at Poolesville, Md., was in constant, danger of
being carried off by guerrillas from the Virginia side. But

Online LibraryWilliam Rattle PlumThe military telegraph during the Civil War in the United States : with an exposition of ancient and modern means of communication, and of the federal and Confederate cipher systems ; also a running account of the war between the states → online text (page 11 of 37)