Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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On the 9th of May headquarters moved from Williamsburg, and on the following day they were at Roper’s Meeting-house. While here a line of repeating stations was formed, connecting the headquarters of the army with the troops at West Point. It did not work well, however, and was used only for the practice of the officers. At this place the corps was joined by a detachment from the camp at Georgetown, bringing with it the first field telegraph train ever used in the field by an army of the United States. It was that of which mention has been made as partially completed and as used at the camp of instruction. [237] It was a light structure, on wheels, carrying reels, from which there could be spun out insulated wire. It was fitted with telegraphic instruments of a kind before unused. It had been intended that the reels of this train should carry 10 miles of wire, so prepared that it might be laid on the ground and used anywhere without the escape of the electric current.

Different hinderances had made it impossible to furnish more than 4 miles of a copper wire, coated with gutta-percha, and of a rather inferior quality. The magnetic electric instruments, devised for the train by a mechanic of New York, were of new invention. The working current for these instruments when placed on telegraphic wire is generated by a pile of magnets—a part of the instrument itself. The letters of the alphabet are plainly marked on the dial. To cause the letters to be indicated at either end of the line, or to read them, are operations so simple as to be within the power, with little practice, of almost any soldier who can easily read and write. The instrument is used without fluids, without galvanic batteries of any kind, and is compact, strong, and portable. For use with flying telegraph trains on the field of battle, and for military telegraphing in general, I have regarded such instruments as necessary. I am of the opinion that it will be recalled at some time hereafter, with no little pride, that field telegraphic trains of this character and thus equipped were first brought into use by the Signal Corps of the Army, and were first used with the Army of the Potomac. The remains of’ this train, to which some historic interest already attaches, are now preserved at signal camp of instruction, Georgetown, D. C.

In the first attempts to experiment with and use this train an unexpected difficulty was encountered. The soldiers, unused to the coated wire, and seeing it stretched for miles along fences or lying on the ground near the road, would cut it and break it to examine its character. Some of them thought it an invention of the enemy.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.236-237

web page Rickard, J (19 November 2006)