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The telegraph — its use by the Federal Commander.

The following from a letter from Parker Spring, superintendent of construction of the U. S. military telegraph lines, gives an interesting account of the services of the Morse telegraph to the army, and of Gen. McClellan's use of it. The letter is dated from Gaines's Hill, June 2d. It says:

‘ From the time the army of the Potomac first left Washington, the United States military telegraph has never for an hour been allowed to remain in the rear. Before reaching his new headquarters, Gen. McClellan almost invariably learns that the wire is on the advance; that an office has already been opened at the point designated before he left his old camp, and that communication to the War Department at Washington is open for him. In several instances, when the army had marched fifteen miles in one day, the telegraph had reached the new quarters two hours in advance. When our troops are obliged to remain a few days in one position, wires are immediately run from Gen. McClellan's headquarters to the headquarters of all commanders of divisions, thereby placing the entire section of country occupied by our troops under his instant control.

The telegraph has been called upon to perform a still more mysterious wonder. For sometime past I have been ordered by Col. Eckert (our superintendent of mill telegraphs) to try a telegraphic experiment front a balloon. Saturday morning, when we heard that a great battle must be fought, Prof. Lowe notified me that I should extend the wire to his balloon, and we would try it. In one hour we had brought the wire a mile and a half, and I was ready to ascend with the professor. The battle had commenced. When it had reached its zenith, Prof. Lowe and myself, with the telegraph, had reached an altitude of 2,000 feet. With the aid of good glasses, we were enabled to view the whole affair between these powerful contending armies. As the fight progressed, hasty observations were made by the professor and given to me verbally, all of which I immediately forwarded to Gen. McClellan and division commanders, through the agency of the obedient field instrument which stood by our side in the bottom of the car. Occasionally a masked rebel battery would open on our brave fellows.

In such cases the occupants of the balloon would inform our artillerists of its position, and the next shot or two would, in every case, silence the masked and annoying customer. For hours, and until quite dark, we remained in the air, the telegraph keeping up constant communication with some point, From the balloon to Fortress Monroe, a distance of over 100 miles, this wire worked beautifully. A number of messages were sent and received between these two points, and had it not been for the tremendous rush. of business on the wire, I should have telegraphed you directly from the balloon white the battle was raging. Sunday morning, at daybreak, we again ascended. Early in the morning the battle was renewed, and with more fierceness than the day before. Incessant firing of musketry and artillery was kept up until noon, when I had the extreme pleasure of announcing by telegraph from the balloon that we could see the enemy retreating rapidly toward Richmond.--At this time we could see firing on James river to the left of Richmond, distance from the balloon (some said) fifteen miles. This fire was of short duration.

The streets of Richmond, in the morning, presented a deserted appearance, but very few people were to be seen in the streets. During the afternoon and evening of Sunday, nothing of interest transpired beyond the removal of the rebel dead and wounded, all of which we could distinctly see from the balloon. Every available machine that had wheels was brought into requisition for this purpose.--From the scene of battle into the city of Richmond the read was literally lined with ambulances, wagons and carts, conveying the dead and wounded.--About twilight we saw camp fires innumerable around the city; smoke issued from all their hospitals and barracks, which showed us to a certainly that the main body of their army, had fallen back to Richmond. Monday morning we made several ascensions, and found a small force near the last scene of action, and thousands of troops marching out from the city — so you may look momentarily for a report of another severe battle.

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February, 6 AD (1)
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