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Parker's Office

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Pitts (2).jpg

The above image depicts a scene sketched at Pittsburg Landing in April 1862 that most have never seen before.

What was "Parker's Office?"


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Thanks for having a look at the Pittsburg Landing image (the signature appears to read "Velage").

As for the "story behind the image..."

The Telegraph in Grant’s Tennessee Operations

Not only was General U.S. Grant slow to incorporate The Signal Corps into his operations, but use of the telegraph seems to have been viewed as “a necessary evil, required by higher authority to find out what Grant had been up to.” It was not until Grenville Dodge was introduced into General Grant’s operations (at the suggestion of John Rawlins, late in 1862) that Grant came to appreciate the value and application of military intelligence, the Signal Corps, and the Military Telegraph System.

Meanwhile, the telegraph (a favourite tool of Henry Halleck) seemed to follow U.S. Grant wherever he went; and the men most responsible for extending the telegraph into Grant’s recently acquired territories were J.J. Speed Wilson and George H. Smith. Colonel Wilson, 32 years old, was Superintendent of telegraph operations in Illinois before the war, and was quickly absorbed into the United States Military Telegraph (under leadership of Anson Stager, based at Washington, D.C.) It was Stager who assigned Wilson to extend the telegraph into Kentucky (which Colonel Wilson accomplished by extending the existing telegraph east from Cairo, and then laying a water-tight cable in the Ohio River, directly across to Union-occupied Paducah.) Later, after Grant’s victory at Fort Donelson, Wilson was tasked with connecting Fort Henry and Fort Donelson… and extending that telegraph through Clarksville to Nashville. But, there arose a conflict.

George H. Smith was managing the Consolidated Telegraph Office in St. Louis when Major General John Fremont arrived in July 1861. As part of the effort to fortify and strengthen St. Louis as “base of operations,” a Battalion of Telegraph Operators was created by Fremont, with George Smith (given rank of Major) at its head. The telegraph was networked throughout the Gateway City, connecting Fremont’s HQ to the Arsenal and Jefferson Barracks, and Fremont’s HQ to the main line to Washington, D.C. From St. Louis, the telegraph was repaired and extended to the ends of all the railroad lines in Missouri. When Fremont was relieved of command in St. Louis his Telegraph Battalion was ordered disbanded… but the most important members (including Major George Smith) were absorbed into Major General Halleck’s Missouri Department.

Following U.S. Grant’s success at Fort Donelson, General Halleck ordered George H. Smith to Smithland (which already possessed a telegraph station, connected to Paducah) and ordered the telegraph extended to Fort Henry. A turf war erupted between Major General Halleck and Anson Stager (who worked directly for the Secretary of War) concerning, “who controlled telegraph creation and operation in Kentucky.” After Halleck complained that “Paducah suffered from frequent outages to service (implying that Colonel Speed Wilson was incompetent)” the Secretary of War persuaded Stager to remove Wilson, and assign Major Smith to the Kentucky territory. The line from Smithland was completed on 3 March 1862, and Fort Henry became the “end of the telegraph line” for General Grant. (And George H. Smith inherited the task of connecting Fort Henry to Nashville, through Fort Donelson and Clarksville.)

On 11 March 1862 Henry Halleck absorbed Don Carlos Buell’s district, which became just another component in Halleck’s Department of the Mississippi. Soon afterwards, Halleck ordered Buell to reinforce Grant at Savannah, preparatory to a move against Beauregard and Johnston, and directed Buell to extend the telegraph as he marched. (The man responsible for operation of General Buell’s telegraph system was Samuel Bruch, whom he inherited from William Tecumseh Sherman. Bruch had a reputation for “completing the job, properly” and his lines only failed if deliberately cut.)

In late March, as Buell approached Savannah from the northeast, it was decided to extend a telegraph line from Savannah towards the Army of the Ohio, to expedite the completion of that telegraph line (which would also permit Halleck to communicate – instantly – with Grant at Savannah.) A battalion of Curtis Horse was tasked with the project; they proceeded east from Savannah with plenty of wire… but insufficient insulators. And they made use of live trees whenever possible (resorting to erection of poles only as last resort.) On April 3rd, with 37 miles of wire connecting Savannah to Waynesboro, Brigadier General William Nelson wade first use of the new line, advising General Grant that “he was only two days’ march from the Tennessee River.” The telegraph operator at Waynesboro is not recorded; but the operator at Savannah (his office in a store, on the Main Street) was George A. Purdy.

Buell’s telegraph line reached Waynesboro shortly afterwards… but Samuel Bruch refused to connect his properly constructed line to Grant’s line, because the uninsulated line from Savannah sapped his battery power. Instead, a dual telegraph office was established at Waynesboro, involving operators Con Dwyer, Sargent P. Peabody, Ellis J. Willson and Claud Knox doing their best to read traffic on the Savannah line, and relay that information up the Nashville line. (This “system” was continued until August 1862, with additional operators added to the force at Waynesboro.)

At Savannah, George Purdy continued on alone until operators Wayne H. Parsons and Leander H. Parker arrived aboard a steamer in the pre-dawn of April 6th 1862. But, instead of reporting to Purdy, these two accompanied General Grant aboard Tigress to Pittsburg Landing, to act as special couriers, should the need arise. (At least one of these telegraph operators reported to George Purdy on Sunday evening, and found the Savannah Office almost overrun by wounded men, making telegraph operation difficult. The primary use of the Savannah Office for the next several days was relaying Lists of Casualties to the North.)

References:  The Military Telegraph during the Civil War, volumes 1 and 2, by Wm. R. Plum, Chicago: Jansen, McLurg & Co. (1882).

SDG post “Grenville Dodge, Spy Master”

SDG post “They also serve, who stand and wait…” 18 SEP 2017.


N.B  As concerns “Parker’s Office,” shortly after General Halleck arrived at Pittsburg Landing it was decided to extend the telegraph from Savannah, to the bank opposite Pittsburg, and across the bottom of the Tennessee River directly to Pittsburg Landing… but the length of special water-tight cable was found to have been cut a couple of feet too short. It did not quite reach the bank on the western side. While waiting for a new (longer) bit of water-tight cable to arrive, Telegraph Operator Leander Parker found a dead tree extending into the Tennessee River; and from his perch atop the tree trunk, was just able to operate the telegraph line from Pittsburg Landing (and hence, the image at top.)

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