OFFICE U.S. MILITARY TELEGRAPH, WAR DEPARTMENT,
Washington, December 8, 1864.
GENERAL: In compliance with General Orders, Quartermaster-General's Office, No. 29, dated July 6, 1864, I have the honor herewith to submit my annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1864:
General Orders, No. 29, was not received by me until November 6, and this report has been prepared as rapidly as possible since that date. I respectfully refer to my annual report for the previous year, dated November 30, 1863. First. I have been throughout the entire year on duty at the War Department as assistant superintendent U.S. Military Telegraph, and as such have had direct charge of the construction, operating, and management of all military telegraph lines in the Department of the Potomac, Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and the Department of the South. At the beginning of the fiscal year the Army of the Potomac, under command of Major-General Meade, was in the vicinity of Gettysburg, Pa. Telegraph wire, instruments, material, &c., together with a full force of builders and operators, were on hand with the army, but the commanding general did not think it expedient to have telegraph lines established to the army. Communication was kept up, however, by means of a line of couriers from Frederick City, Md., and from Hanover, Pa., to both of which points we telegraphed directly from the War Department. Within a short time after the 1st of July the army moved to Frederick, having defeated the rebel army in a severe engagement at Gettysburg. From Frederick our army moved toward Hagerstown and Williamsport, and lines were at once extended from the first-named place to the headquarters of General Meade and to the several corps headquarters. These lines were worked continually until after the rebel army had evacuated Williamsport, when the main force of our army moved to Pleasant Valley, Md., the headquarters of General Meade being established at Knoxville. Lines were then built to the army, connecting with our line to Harper's Ferry.
July 19 and 20, our army crossed the Potomac near Berlin, Md., and immediately moved to Gainesville, Va., where telegraph communication with Washington was renewed via Manassas Gap Railroad. Within a few days the army marched to the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. From this time until May, 1864, when the army began its spring campaign, two wires were kept in constant working order from Washington to the army, one being used exclusively for military, the other for railroad business. In addition to these lines others were built from General Meade's headquarters to all of the corps and some of the division headquarters. These lines were of very great value to the army, keeping all its parts in quick communication with each other and with Washington. In March, 1864, the Secretary of War ordered the construction of a telegraph line from Washington, D.C., via Port Tobacco, to Point Lookout, Md., that being the new depot for rebel prisoners of war. This line was commenced March 14 and finished April 3, offices being opened at Point Lookout, at Saint Mary's, the headquarters of the Potomac flotilla, at Port Tobacco, and afterward at Leonardtown, Md. The use of this line has been of immense advantage to the Government. From June, 1862, a field telegraph had been worked in the Army of the Potomac under the supervision of the Signal Corps, the wire used being of steel (six strands), covered with rubber, and the instrument the Beardslee magneto-electric machine. This instrument was found to be inefficient for speedy communication and failed to accomplish the result desired. In March, 1864, by an order of the Secretary of War, these field telegraph lines and instruments were turned over to me to be worked. I gave them a thorough trial. The instruments proved to be of very little practical use, and were sent to the rear, by order of Major-General Meade, previous to the movement of the army.
In contemplation of the spring campaign of the Army of the Potomac, a complete field telegraph construction and working party was organized under charge of D. Doren, superintendent of construction, and A. H. Caldwell, chief operator. An arrangement for the speedy running out of telegraph wire was made as follows: Pack-saddles were fitted for reels, each containing one mile of wire, and were placed on pack-mules. By making fast the end of the wire and starting the mule off the wire was unwound and run out with great rapidity. This arrangement has enabled us to construct field lines with great promptness, many times having them up and working before the troops themselves had changed position. To furnish current for the army lines, I fitted up a portable battery, consisting of sixteen sections of six cells each. The cells are of copper, about four inches in diameter and nine in depth, and contain a solution of blue vitriol and water. In this solution is placed a leather cup one-half the diameter of the copper, containing a zinc plate and water. Each cell is insulated by a casing of thin sheet rubber, and fitted on the tap is a bone rubber cap, thus making the cells water-tight. Each section is inclosed in a strong box, and the whole securely packed in a common army wagon, in which is also placed a box of blue vitriol, the only article necessary to replenish the battery and keep it in working order. A table is arranged in the wagons with instruments, tools, &c., thus making in itself a complete telegraph office, with everything necessary to the working of any number of lines required at a moment's notice. This wagon was placed at General Meade's headquarters and has accompanied them throughout the operations of the spring and summer campaign. It has proved successful in every respect. By its aid battery has been furnished the field lines at all times.
On the night of May 3 the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan at Ely's, Germanna, and Culpeper Fords, and advanced to the vicinity of Chancellorsville, where the engagements known as the battles of the Wilderness took place. From here the army moved to near Spotsylvania Court-House, on May 10, where another sanguinary battle was fought, continuing through three days. After those engagements the town of Fredericksburg was taken possession of by our forces and constituted a temporary base of supplies. To open communication with the army by this route a line was built from Port Tobacco, Md., to Maryland Point, on the Potomac, where a submarine cable, six miles in length, was laid, and the line extended thence via Belle Plain to Fredericksburg, from which point a line of couriers was established with the army. The office at Maryland Point was opened May 16 and those at Belle Plain and Fredericksburg within a day or two thereafter. On the night of May 20 the Army of the Potomac moved from Spotsylvania Court-House to Bowling Green and Milford Station, on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, and a temporary base established at Port Royal, on the Rappahannock, below Fredericksburg. A line was built from Belle Plain to Port Royal, the office at the latter place being opened on May 24. After a short halt the army moved forward from Bowling Green and vicinity to and across the North Anna, where several spirited engagements took place.
On May 28 our forces withdrew from south of the North Anna and marched to Hanovertown, on the Pamunkey, where they crossed and took position about Cold Harbor. The offices at Belie Plain, Fredericksburg, Port Royal, and Maryland Point were closed about May 30, the base of supplies having been changed to White House, Va.
The line from Fortress Monroe, Va.. to Yorktown was extended along the north bank of the York from Gloucester Point to West Point, with submarine cables crossing the York at Gloucester and the Mattapony at West Point. From the latter place a line was built on the north bank of the Pamunkey to White House. The office at West Point was opened June 2, and at White House the day following. Between White House and Cold Harbor a line of couriers was established. In the construction of the line from Gloucester to West Point the building force had several serious skirmishes with guerrillas in which the guerrillas were driven off. Two of our men were killed and several wounded.
While the operations of the Army of the Potomac were going on General Butler, commanding the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, landed a force at Bermuda Hundred and threatened Richmond and Petersburg. The telegraph line from Fortress Monroe to Williamsport [Williamsburg] via Yorktown was extended to Jamestown Island. Dispatch boats were kept running between the last-named place and Bermuda Hundred. Lines were built from Bermuda Hundred to the headquarters of General Butler on Proctor's Creek, and to both wings of his army, and were invaluable to General Butler in conducting his operations. The telegraph lines in this department were under the direction of Richard O'Brien, chief operator, who has been indefatigable in his exertions to render them of service to the Government. June 12, 13, and 14 the Army of the Potomac moved from its position about Cold Harbor to Bermuda Hundred and City Point, crossing the James River immediately above Fort Powhatan. A telegraph line was built on the south side of the James from City Point to Swan Point, there connecting with a submarine cable to Jamestown Island, but owing to interruptions by guerrillas this line was not worked successfully until June 24, at which time a sufficient force was stationed along the line to protect it from guerrilla raids. From City Point lines were built to General Meade's headquarters, two miles and a half southeast of Petersburg, and to General Butler's headquarters at Point of Rocks on the Appomattox, crossing at that place with submarine cable. Lines Were also constructed to all the corps headquarters and to our advanced works. During the operations at Spotsylvania, on the North Anna, at Cold Harbor, in the march from Cold Harbor to City Point, and in the battle in front of Petersburg in June, the field telegraph lines were worked with great success, and invaluable aid was thus rendered the Government. General Grant and General Meade were kept in almost constant communication with each other and with the different corps of the army. In the above-mentioned operations 150 miles of field telegraph were constructed and worked, and when the army moved were taken down, thus making it necessary for the construction party to travel a distance of 300 miles. To D. Doren, superintendent of construction, A. H. Caldwell, chief operator, and the men under them, is due much of the success attending these lines. They have worked many times in the face of the enemy, exposed to fire without shelter, have been kept up day and night whenever required, and have had innumerable difficulties which can never be known to but few. They deserve the highest commendation.(*)
T. T. ECKERT,
Major and Assistant Quartermaster of Volunteers.
Bvt. Maj. Gen. M. C. MEIGS,
U.S. Army, Quartermaster-General, Washington, D.C.
[27, 36, 40.]
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