A week in Lincoln’s telegraph office – Part 4

Lincoln-in-the-Telegraph-OfficeIt’s amazing the things we learn when we read a book.

For example, I’m reading David Bates’s account of the years he was a telegrapher in the War Department during the Civil War, the book “Lincoln in the Telegraph Office.”

Getting to Washington in the early days of the war was a harrowing experience. Bates and three other telegraph operators caught a train in Pittsburgh on April 24, 1861, and traveled via Harrisburg and Philadelphia to Perryville, Maryland, where their train was stopped. Rebels from Baltimore had blow up the railroad bridges over the Bush and Gunpowder rivers.

Bates and his compatriots abandoned the train for a river steamer and sailed to Annapolis. During the voyage, they slept on coffee sacks.

At Annapolis, they loitered at the railroad station until they could get seats on a train jammed with troops from the Eighth Massachusetts Infantry.

In Washington, the telegraphers found rooms in a boarding house. The Eighth Massachusetts, however, formed up and marched to the White House where Lincoln reviewed the troops. They were then ordered to bivouac in the Capitol Rotunda.

Washington at this time, in the weeks following the fall of Fort Sumter, was so crowded with soldiers ordered in to protect the city and prepare for the assault on Richmond, that even the Capitol building was requisitioned for troop housing.

I didn’t know that . . . and never would have had I not bought Bates’s book . . . and finally sat down to bend a few pages.

Tomorrow: Bates and his colleagues do the impossible

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