Report of Major Thomas T. Eckert, Assistant Quartermaster, U. S. Army, Assistant Superintendent U. S. Military Telegraph, of operations July 1, 1864, to June 30, 1865.1
WASHINGTON, D. C., October 9, 1865.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit herewith my annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1865, pursuant to General Orders, No. 39, dated Quartermaster-General’s Office, July 1, 1865:
My annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1864, was forwarded to your office December 8, 1864.
I have been on duty during the year as assistant superintendent U. S. Military Telegraph, in charge of all telegraph lines in the Departments of the Potomac, Virginia, North Carolina, and the South. My headquarters have been at Washington, D. C.
At the beginning of the fiscal year the armies under Lieutenant-General Grant were operating in the vicinity of Richmond and Petersburg, and communication was had from Washington via Wilmington, Del., thence along the Eastern Shore to Cherrystone Point, connecting there with cable to Fort Monroe, and thence via Yorktown, Jamestown Island, Surry Court-House, Fort Powhatan, and City Point. The line from Swan Point, opposite Jamestown Island via Surry Court-House, being frequently interrupted by guerrillas, and as a sufficient force could not be spared for its proper protection, it was decided to lay a cable from Jamestown Island to Fort Powhatan, a distance of twenty-two miles by water. This cable was [laid] in July, 1864, and with but few interruptions, occasioned by passing vessels, has worked more successfully than was anticipated. The total number of miles of cable in the line between Washington via Wilmington to City Point, is fifty-two, and this circuit has been worked direct (that is, without repeating stations) and almost continually.
The headquarters of the different corps of the armies were in direct communication with each other and with Lieutenant-General Grant’s headquarters by means of the field telegraph. In case of a temporary advance of our troops the field telegraph wires, arranged on reels placed on the backs of mules and supported by small poles prepared for the purpose, were strung out and offices established at the advanced posts almost simultaneously with the advance.
During the month of July, 1864, a rebel force, under General Early, made a raid into Maryland, cutting the telegraph line leading from Washington to Harper’s Ferry a short distance from this city, and all the lines connecting Washington with the North at a point near Beltsville, nine miles from Washington, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Field lines were rapidly built to the forts around Washington, and offices opened at Forts Lincoln, Totten, Stevens, Reno, and Corcoran, at Chain Bridge and Arlington. These offices were kept open until the rebel army, had retreated, and were of great service in affording a means of rapid communication between all parts of our line. The military telegraph line to Point Lookout was the only line extending from the city any considerable distance, and for three days all telegrams for the army of Lieutenant-General Grant and for the North were sent to Point Lookout, and thence by dispatch boat to Fort Monroe, from which point they were transmitted to their destination. By this means but little delay was occasioned in reaching the lieutenant-general by telegraph. As our forces gradually advanced toward Richmond by way of Chaffin’s farm and to the southwest of Petersburg across the Weldon railroad, the telegraph lines were thrown forward to all of the advanced positions. Until the movement by General Grant, about the latter part of March, the lines remained in about the same condition. Immediately after the evacuation of Richmond the line was extended to that city, and an office opened there early on the morning of April 4. An office was also opened in Petersburg on the same day. The telegraph line on the South Side Railroad was repaired as fast as the troops advanced in pursuit of Lee, communication being had direct from City Point to headquarters of Lieutenant-General Grant each evening. An office was opened at Appomattox Court-House two hours after the surrender of Lee with the army under his command. Measures were at once taken to repair the telegraph lines leading west and south. An office was opened at Lynchburg April 16, and at Danville April 21.
The lines of the Department of the Potomac and Department of Virginia were in charge of A. H. Caldwell, chief operator, and D. Doren, superintendent of construction, both of whom, with the men under
their charge, deserve great credit for the skill and energy displayed in establishing and maintaining communication with the advance of the army. When General Schofield went to North Carolina, in January, a telegraph party under Richard O’Brien, chief operator, was sent with him. A line was already [established] from Morehead City to a short distance beyond New Berne, N. C., connecting the different military posts with district headquarters. As General Schofield advanced, the line was extended from New Berne toward Goldsborough.
To assist in the operation of the force advancing against Wilmington by way of Fort Fisher a line was built from the fort up the Peninsula toward the city, and immediately after the capture was extended into the city, and an office opened there February 23. From there the line was extended to Goldsborough, and thence to Raleigh; the office at the former place being opened March 23, and at the latter place April 14. Mr. O’Brien is deserving of special notice for his energy and perseverance in establishing prompt communication by telegraph in this department, and the men under him for their vigilance and faithful attention to the interests of the service.
After the surrender of General Johnston and the forces under his command arrangements were made to open telegraphic communication with all important points in the South as speedily as possible.
In April a line from Petersburg to Weldon was built, and the line from there to Raleigh and to Goldsborough repaired. The lines from Raleigh to Greensborough and from Danville to Greensborough were also repaired.
In May a new line was built from Alexandria to Fredericksburg, and the railroad line thence to Richmond repaired. During June a line was built from Richmond to Williamsburg, Va., connecting there with the line to Fort Monroe.
By these means communication was had with all important points south, and all telegraph lines placed under direct supervision of the Waough the military telegraph.
For a report of the operations of the military telegraph in Department of the South, I respectfully refer you to the annual report of Captain James R. Gilmore, assistant quartermaster, and assistant superintendent U. S. Military Telegraph, who had charge, under my direction, of the lines in that department.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOS. T. ECKERT,
Major, Assistant Quartermaster, and
Assistant Superintendent U. S. Military Telegraph.
Bvt. Major General M. C. MEIGS,
Quartermaster-General U. S. Army, Washington City, D. C.
[40, 42, 46.]
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume LI, Part 1 (Serial Number 107), pp. 261-263 ↩