On October 17, 1863 a reply to my telegram arrived from Cairo [Missouri] directing me to proceed immediately to Galt House, Louisville…Just as the train I was on was starting out of the depot at Indianapolis a messenger came running up to stop it, saying the Secretary of War was coming into the station and wanted to see me.
I had never met Mr. Edwin M. Stanton up to that time, though we had held frequent conversations over the wires the year before, when I was in Tennessee. Occasionally at night he would order the wires between the War Department and my headquarters to be connected, and we would hold a conversation for an hour or two. Chapter 40 Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
I started on this trip [Knoxville on the latter part of December 1863]. I was back in Nashville by the 13th of January 1864. It was necessary for me to have some person along who would turn dispatches into cipher, and who could also read the cipher dispatches which I was liable to receive daily and almost hourly. Under the rules of the War Department at that time, Mr. Stanton had taken entire control of the matter regulating the telegraph and determining how it would be used, and of saying who, and who alone, should have the ciphers. The operators possessed of the cipher, as well as the ciphers used, were practically independent of the commanders whom they were serving immediately under, and had to report to the War Department through General Stager all the dispatches which they received or forwarded.
I was obliged to leave the telegraphic operator back at Nashville, because that was the point at which all dispatches to me would come, to be forwarded from there. As I have said it was necessary for me also to have an operator during the inspection [at Knoxville] who had possession of this cipher to enable me to telegraph to my division and to the War Department without my dispatches being read by all the operator along the line of wires over which they were transmitted. Accordingly I ordered the cipher operator to turn over the key to Captain Cyrus B. Comstock, of the Corps of Engineers, whom I had selected as a wise and discreet man who certainly could be trusted with the cipher if the operator at my headquarters could.
The operator refused point blank to turn over the key to Captain Comstock as directed by me, stating that his orders from the War Department were not to give it to anybody — the commanding general or anybody else. I told him I would see whether he would or not. He said that if he did he would be punished. I told him if he did not he would most certainly be punished. Finally seeing that punishment was certain if he refused longer to obey my order, and being somewhat remote (even if he was not protected altogether from the consequences of his disobedience to his orders) from the War Department, he yielded. When I returned from Knoxville I found quite a commotion. The operator had been reprimanded very severely and ordered to be relieved. I informed the Secretary of War, or his assistant secretary in charge of the telegraph, Stager, that the man could not be relieved, for he had only obeyed my orders. It was absolutely necessary for me to have the cipher, and the man would most certainly have been punished if he had not delivered it; that they would have to punish me if they punished anybody, or words to that effect.
This was about the only thing approaching a disagreeable difference between the Secretary of War and myself that occurred until the war was over, when we had another spat. Chapter 45 Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
It may be as well here as elsewhere to state two things connected with all movements of the Army of the Potomac: first, in every change of position or halt for the night, whether confronting the enemy or not, the moment arms were stack the men entrenched themselves. For this purpose they would build up piles of logs or rails if they could find them in their front, and dig a ditch, throwing the dirt forward on the timber. Thus the digging they did counted in making a depression to stand in, and increased the elevation in front of them. It was wonderful how quickly they could in this way construct defences of considerable strength. When a halt was made with the view of assaulting the enemy, or in his presence, these would be strengthened or their positions changed under the direction of engineer officers. The second was the use of the telegraph and signal corps. Nothing could be more complete than the organization and discipline of this body of brave and intelligent men. Insulated wires — insulated so that they would transmit messages in a storm, on the ground or under water — were wound up on reels, making about two hundred pounds weight of wire to each reel. Two men and one mule were detailed to each reel. The pack-saddle on which this was carried was provided with a rack like a sawbuck placed crosswise of the saddle, and raised above it so that the reel, with its wire, would revolve freely. There was a wagon, supplied with a telegraph operator, battery and telegraph instruments for each division, each corps, each army, and one of my headquarters. There were wagons also loaded with light poles, about the size and length of a wall tent pole, supplied with an iron spike in one end, used to hold the wires up when laid, so that wagons and artillery would not run over them. The mules thus loaded were assigned to brigades, and always kept with the command they were assigned to. The operators were also assigned to particular headquarters, and never changed except by special orders.
The moment the troops were put in position to into camp all the men connected with this branch of service would proceed to put up their wires. A mule loaded with a coil of wire would be lead to the rear of the nearest flank of the brigade he belonged to, and would be lead in a line parallel thereto, while one man would hold an end of the wire and uncoil it as the mule was led off. When he had walked the length of the wire the whole of it would be on the ground. This would be done in the rear of every brigade at the same time. The ends of all the wires would then be joined, making a continuous wire in the rear of the whole army. The men attached to brigades or divisions, would all commence at once raising the wires with their telegraph poles. This was done by making a loop in the wire and putting it over the spike and raising the pole to a perpendicular position. At intervals the wire would be attached to trees, or some other permanent object, so that one pole was sufficient at a place. While this was being done the telegraph wagons would take their positions near the headquarters they belonged to were established, and would connect with the wire. Thus, in a few minutes longer time than it took a mule to walk the length of its coil, telegraphic communications would be effected between all the headquarters of the army. No orders ever had to be given to establish the telegraph. Chapter 51 Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.