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Volume 28, No. 3 – March 2015

Volume 28, No. 3
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

President’s Message

Please pay your dues! Your dues pay the rent at the Scottish Rite Hall, pay for guest speakers and the out-of-pocket costs of the Newsletter and refreshments. Dues are $40.00 and can be paid to Steve Seftenberg at a meeting or mailed to him at 2765 White Wing Lane, West Palm Beach, FL 33409. If you would like to give a program, please contact me – (561) 967-8911 or e-mail

Gerridine LaRovere, President

March 11, 2015 Program

Robert O’Neill’s talk will be on Jeb Stuart’s Christmas Raid of December 1862 and is drawn from his 2012 book, Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby, The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg. Stuart’s earlier raids in June and October 1862 had humiliated Gen. George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac. On his Christmas Raid he would encounter the troops assigned to the Defenses of Washington, rather than the Army of the Potomac. Stuart would not enjoy the success of his earlier raids, but his audacity nonetheless left a lasting mark on the Union psyche. Bob will discuss both the raid and the most important, but largely unrecognized, result. Bob also published Small But Important Riots, The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville in 1993, has published many articles in Blue & Grey, North & South and Gettysburg Magazine and has guided numerous tours of the cavalry battlefields in the Louden Valley, Virginia. We can look forward to an exciting trip.

February 11, 2015 Program

Bob Schuldenfrei introduced us to the first use of telegraphy in wartime – a real 19th Century "information revolution." Bob’s primary sources included Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails (2006), by Tom Wheeler, Chair FCC, Military Telegraphy During the Civil War ... (1882), by William Plum, and Lincoln in the Telegraph Office (1907) by David Homer Bates. Plum was Gen. George H. Thomas’ telegrapher and Bates was one of the four operators of the U. S. Military Telegraph Corps. Both were expert in this new field. Wheeler’s thesis was that before the telegraph the speed of communication at its fastest was the speed at which a horse could run. With the small exception of signal flags or fires the "iron law" of communication was that distance delayed delivery of information. Almost overnight, the telegraph overturned this law by a lightning stroke!

Prologue and the First Telegram of the War: The "hardware" of telegraphy goes back to the 1830's with Morse and others; its "software" is the coded information sent over wires, pioneered by railroads who could string up the lines in their right-of-ways. The keys to long distance telegraphy included wire insulation, powerful batteries, poles with glass insulators and relays that boosted the signal’s strength. The first telegraph customers were lottery "sharps" and stock brokers who scored by getting advance knowledge of lottery numbers or trades on the Philadelphia stock exchange. An early legitimate use were the six newspapers who organized the "Associated Press." By 1861 the lines had crossed the continent and businesses were quick to use the wires to sell their products. Remember the business card, "Have Gun, Will Travel - wire Paladin, San Francisco?" Railroad companies soon found that telegraph dispatch dramatically reduced wrecks on single track lines. Once dispatch was widespread, other uses soon took hold: scheduling, inventory control, ordering, planning, etc. The first telegram of the war was sent by Gen. Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard on April12, 1861, not to Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Alabama, but to the U. S. War Department: "Gen. Beauregard to the Secretary of War. Charleston, April 12, 1861. We opened fire at 4.30 minutes." The next day, Beauregard telegraphed Davis, "Quarters in Sumter all burned down. White flag up. Have sent a boat to receive surrender..."

Use of Telegraphy in Battle and in Strategy: As the war progressed, the wire followed the troops. The story can be told by looking at the personal styles of four men: Abraham Lincoln, George McClellan, Edward Stanton and Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln may have been slow to adopt the new technology but learned to use it effectively to establish a modern management structure to conduct the war to victory. McClellan’s sudden rise to power was due to his sophisticated use of telegrams to enlarge small victories into "great triumphs." Eventually Grant would be able to command all theaters of war from his location with Meade’s army in Virginia.

poleOperating the telegraph networks was split in at least three ways: First came private companies like the American Telegraph Company, Western Union Telegraph Company and Southwestern Telegraph Company. The Union Army had the Signal Corps, whose job it was to disseminate intelligence. As the war began, it tried to commandeer wire communications, but was beaten out by the United States Military Telegraph Corps ("USMTC"). After Fort Sumter, Secretary of War Simon Cameron recruited Thomas A. Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who was given the rank of Colonel and on April 19, 1861, he commandeered the telegraph offices in Washington. The first new line connected the War Office with the Navy Yard. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops on April 15, 1861, went out by telegraph. On February 26, 1862, Lincoln took possession of all telegraph lines and put them under the control of the USMTC.

The South’s Superior Use of the Telegraph in the First Battle of Bull Run Leads to Victory: The North’s telegraph line inexplicably halted at Fairfax Courthouse, leaving a gap between there and McDowell’s army. Worse, Gen. Paterson, in Harper’s Ferry, was also "off the grid" and could not quickly be ordered to support McDowell. In contrast, Beauregard telegraphed the South’s Secretary of War, who relayed the message to Joe Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley to move most of his troops to Manassas. This permitted the South to pull off a very difficult military maneuver – to get three groups, separated by many miles, to converge on a single spot, if not instantly, certainly far quicker than the Northern armies. A fatal result for McDowell was that as the battle joined, he no longer had a larger army. Bob noted that both sides tried the strategy of converging forces to obtain numerical advantage, the side successfully utilizing the telegram usually won.

telegraphersMcClellan’s Star Rises: On July 8, 1861, in what is now West Virginia, McClellan sent his troops forward to meet the rebels at Rich Mountain. McClellan’s staff worked closely with the telegraph service and when the battle was won by General Rosecrans on July 11th, McClellan’s telegram reported, "Our success complete and almost bloodless," which greatly elated the North. He also issued a congratulatory order to his troops using a portable printing office for the first time in the field. Clearly, old George understood public relations. His telegram secured McClellan’s reputation as a "winning" general and a "Young Napoleon" and quickly led to his appointment by a shaken but not panicky Lincoln by telegram as commander of the Army of the Potomac on the day after First Bull Run. That same day Lincoln signed the bill calling for 500,000 troops to serve for three years. McClellan shone as a superb organizer, taking a collection of dispirited men to form a cadre to which he added raw recruits as they showed up. He got rid of bad officers, installed discipline and pride in "his" troops who repaid him with admiration they felt for no other Northern general. Prior to embarking on the "Peninsular" campaign, McClellan organized a "corps d’ armee," led by five generals of modest abilities, whose job it was to open and protect communication over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, guard Maryland and Pennsylvania from surprise attack by the rebels and, if needed, to help defend Washington. Halleck was in overall command. Thus there was unity of command assured by good telegraphic communications. This should have allowed theater concentration of force to overwhelm the South, but for Stonewall Jackson who was sent North by Lee.

Jackson Outmaneuvers two Northern Generals and Frustrates McClellan’s Grand Plan. Jackson first defeated Fremont at McDowell, Virginia on May 8, 1862, freezing Fremont. He then faked moving East to reinforce Johnston and headed up the Shenandoah Valley where together with Ewell he trounced Banks at Front Royal on May 23rd. The next day he captured a treasure trove of supplies (leading to Banks’ derisive nickname of "Commissary Banks") and on May 25th, he won again at Winchester. Banks pulled back and Lincoln sent Gen. Irwin McDowell to aid him in the Valley. Only then did Jackson head for the Peninsula, leaving behind Northern forces totaling about 60,000 troops that "could have/should have" helped McClellan to enter Richmond but for Jackson’s audacity. How effective this was is shown by a telegram to McClellan from Lincoln (not Halleck) saying, "In consequence of General Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell’s movement to join you..." McClellan was not pleased.

Lincoln’s "Electronic Breakout:" With this telegram to McClellan, in what Wheeler calls his "Electronic Breakout," Lincoln dramatically changed the way he exercised his leadership. There was no "general-in-chief" (Halleck was AWOL). Instead, the "commander-in-chief" took to the wires, projecting his personal authority into the field, using his instincts, natural abilities as a leader and rapid student of war. The technology lengthened his long arm of command. This was the day the universe changed. The telegram informed the public, taught Lincoln how to take command and taught the Northern military how to implement Lincoln’s commands from a distance.

Informing the Public: Unlike First Bull Run, reporters were on the scene beginning in March 1862. In February an underwater cable had been laid from Fort Monroe to the tip of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and thence to the War Department. The Army paid for the construction but traffic on this line was available to the news outlets, including the AP and The New York Times. One of the earliest communiqués was a truly "live" report from George Cowlam on March 9, 1862, of the damage inflicted by the CSS Virginia: "She is steering straight for the Cumberland" – a pause – "The Cumberland gives her a broadside" – anxious watching – "She has struck the Cumberland and poured a broadside into her. God! The Cumberland is sinking!" – breathless suspense – "The Cumberland has fired her last broadside." The next day, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and the whole nation learn of a major shift in naval warfare with a real time account by telegraph of the action between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia: G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary to Welles: "These two ironclads fought part of the time touching each other, from 8 a. m. until noon, when the Merrimack retired. Whether she is injured or not is hard to say. . . . The Monitor is uninjured and ready at any moment to repel another attack." From now on, Northern citizens will learn about the events of the war at almost the same time as their leaders.

Command at a Distance: Until April 1, 1862, the only telegraphic traffic was between McClellan and the Army headquarters in Washington. Lincoln monitored the messages but remained silent. McClellan’s messages are lengthy and flowerily, but one example suffices to show his shocking lack of good intelligence about his enemy: With an army of 80,000 men, "I must attack in position, probably intrenched [sic] a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers." (Emphasis added) Lincoln, who was famous for what is now called "management by walking around." takes a boat to Fort Monroe where he was livid to learn that McClellan had sat before Yorktown. Lincoln took off his stovepipe hat and slammed it to the ground. He alone and not the army commander ordered a successful attack on Norfolk which led to the scuttling of the CSS Virginia. Lincoln sailed back to Washington a changed man. McClellan missed this sea change in his commander and continued to wire for more troops. Lincoln, who was as brief as McClellan was verbose, replied to one 10-page telegram with "I am still unwilling to take all of our forces off the direct line between Richmond and here."

On May 24, 1862, Lincoln sent nine telegrams (more in one day than he had sent in total up to that time) to his far-flung commanders: Fremont, McDowell, McClellan and Saxton. As the battle progressed, McClellan whined that he was in no way responsible for his defeat; it is all Lincoln’s fault. As the army retreated, Halleck and McClellan engage in a shouting match by telegram. Halleck: "come home." McClellan: "Army is in great position to take Richmond." Halleck: ". . . withdrawal order will not be rescinded." McClellan: "Why not reinforce me here?" McClellan: "I do not have enough ships." While McClellan used the telegraph effectively with his subordinates, his strategic goal failed because he was ineffective in the field. No amount of telegrams, however long, could convince Lincoln and Halleck to see things his way.

McClellan Leaves Pope in the Lurch; Haupt Comes to Lincoln’s Aid: McClellan "slow walks" toward Bull Run because he did not want to see Pope score a big victory. He even all but disobeys a direct order to go to Pope’s aid. On August 26, 1862, Jackson destroys the massive supply dumps at Bristol Station and Manassas Junction and in the process cuts the line between Pope and Washington. The best information Lincoln could get was from Col. Herman Haunt, in charge the railroads, especially the telegraph line along the track bed of the Orange & Alexandria RR. Lincoln and Haupt then exchanged telegraphic messages much like texting in a chat room today. Despite the bitter loss at Second Bull Run, Lincoln was impressed by Haunt and promoted him to Brigadier-General of Volunteers "for meritorious services in the recent operations . . . near Manassas."

operatorsTelegraphy in the West; Civilian Heroes: Telegraph communication was vastly more difficult in the western theater – distances are greater, railroad tracks are less plentiful and protecting the wires from sabotage was a real challenge. Also, much of the fighting was along the rivers, which made installing lines impractical and the North’s western generals did not yet appreciate the advantage of using telegraphy in battle management. Instead, the use of courier dispatches to the nearest telegraph station produced a hybrid of old and new technologies. Even Washington did not learn of the fall of Fort Donelson until the day afterward. Grant’s reputation grew, in part because of his famous statement to Confederate General Bruckner, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." Grant’s use of "unconditional surrender" was not original – both Admiral Foote (at Fort Henry) and Brig. Gen. Smith (at Fort Donelson) had already used it. As the war moved south along the Tennessee River, the telegraph followed (from Paducah to Fort Do nelson and then south). The men who laid and maintained the wires were civilians and therefore got little credit and their widows got no benefits. George H. Smith kept mounted repairers at each station who rode their circuits daily. This was very hazardous duty. Plum wrote that the man who responds promptly to a call to repair a broken line in a guerrilla-infested region has a degree of courage rarely required in actual battle.

Grant had excellent communications with Halleck until he reached Shiloh, which is on the other side of the river and therefore was cut off from Halleck until a wire was laid across the river after the battle. Since the wire was several feet too short, L. D. Parker set up shop on a tree trunk leaning over the river; a limb held his letter clip, cipher book and paper, sending and receiving while being harassed by mosquitoes. Buell also had excellent communications with Halleck and with Washington. A telegram from Halleck to Buell makes the point: "Events are pressing so rapidly that I must be in telegraphic communication with Curtis, Grant, Pope and Commander Foote. We must consult by telegraph."

Fuller’s Field Glasses and Revolver: Time for some comic relief: George A. "Lightning" Ellis, a Kentucky telegrapher, joined Morgan’s raiders. He was to send telegrams for Morgan, both real and fake. Morgan was never a strategic threat to the Union but he did tie up a number of Federal troops who futilely chased him around. He belongs here because of his communications with William G. Fuller, a USMTC supervisor. Near Lebanon, Kentucky, Morgan pounced on Fuller’s wagon and took his navy revolver, new boots, fur cape, gloves and fine field glasses. Six months later, Morgan walked into the telegraph office in Somerset, Kentucky and sends a telegram to George D. Prentice, the editor of the newspaper in Louisville. Fuller heard of this and sent a telegram to Morgan, saying, "General, I am informed that you have my field glasses and pistols ... Please take good care of them." Morgan responds, "Yes, I have your field glasses and pistols. They are good ones and I am making good use of them. If we both live til the war is over, I will send them to you." Alas, Morgan did not survive the war; he was killed during a raid on Greenville, Tennessee.

officeGettysburg: Lincoln knew Lee was "going North" as well as Lee’s troop strength, movement and position after Pleasanton’s cavalry engages Stuart’s cavalry near Charlottesville. Everything the Union screeners learn was sent at near lightning speed to Washington. Not only can Lincoln warn the Northern states of Lee’s movements but the Northern newspapers also keep their readers informed. In contrast, Lee does not know where the Union army is or where it is headed. Doris Kerns Goodwin, in Team of Rivals (2005) states Lincoln was a constant fixture at the telegraph office, even napping there, before and during the Battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln’s anxiety grew as his communications with his generals became intermittent. But as the Union army moved Northward, it crossed rail line after rail line, each of which had telegraph stations so intelligence and orders could be transmitted promptly to and from Washington. While the Union army is still well South of Lee’s army, Union cavalry haunted Lee’s right flank. Then Lee commits a colossal blunder by allowing Stuart to take a joyride around the State of Pennsylvania. Thanks to a Confederate spy, Lee finally learns that he must order his scattered units to converge on Gettysburg. The Northern wires are humming with military traffic but the newspapers are getting nothing, on purpose. Unlike previous engagements, Meade had telegraphic communication with his corps and divisional commanders during all three days of the battle. However, having the telegraph and using it effectively turned out to be two different things. At the height of Sickles’ foolish advance, Gen. Gouverneur Warren went on horseback to persuade Gen George Sykes to send a brigade double-timing to the crest of Little Round Top just in time to blunt the charging rebels. For once, a horse and not the telegraph was the communications vehicle of choice that day.

A Logistical "Miracle" Saves the Day: Following Gen. William Rosecrans's defeat at Chickamauga on September 19, 1863, the Union was in despair – if it had not been for "Pap" Thomas’ stand the Union army could have been destroyed. Ironically, it was a reporter, Charles Dana, who was in the field, who wired for help. Stanton and the Northern railroad and telegraph men were pivotal in moving two Union brigades from Virginia 1,233 miles to Tennessee by rail in only 12 days! In Lincoln’s war council, on September 23, 1863, Halleck had estimated this move would take three months while Maj. Thomas Eckert, the senior telegrapher present, reduced this figure to forty days and in a written report the next day reduced it further, to 15 days. Actually it took only 12 days! The true heroes of this tale are Eckert, John Garrett of the B&O, and Maj. Gen. Daniel Craig McCallum, Director of the Department of Military Railroads in the War Department (an early management pioneer who developed the first modern organizational chart) who took over military control of all railroads on the route west. Eckert ingeniously suggested using coal barges as pontoon bridges, ready in 24 hours. He also proposed that a force of cooks and waiters be placed at "eating stations" every 50 miles or so along the route. As a train reached an eating station, they would board the train, feed the troops en route, get off at the next eating station and return to their original position by train to do it over. McCallum took over military control of all railroads on the route. Stanton sent a blizzard of telegrams with orders and questions. This episode is an excellent case study of management planning and follow through.

Lincoln Spared the Lives of Scores of Young Men: Of the more than 1,000 telegrams Lincoln sent out during the war, the majority of them involved suspension of executions. Without the telegraph, the President’s power of pardon would have been to late to save lives. In one example, he spared the life of a Confederate spy being held in Fort Monroe. In another, he spared the life of an underage deserter named August Bittersdorf, saying, "I am unwilling for any boy under eighteen to be shot; and his father affirms that he is yet under sixteen." Lincoln also delayed numerous executions so that all possible avenues of review could be exhausted. Over 500 soldiers were executed during the war, of which 276 were Union troops. The vast majority of executions were for violent criminal offenses, although by 1864 the number of executions for desertion was increasing as commanders both North and South faced increasing desertion rates.

At the conclusion of his talk, Bob received a warm round of applause for explicating a little known topic.

Last changed:  02/19/15

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