(Letter of Transmittal)
Signal Bureau, Marley Creek, Maryland
I have the honour to forward, this day, the after-action report of Mr. Kevin Saville, Late Superintendent Of Telegraphy, 135th. Anniversary Re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, Penna., an action of the American War of the Rebellion, July 1863.
Respectfully submitted by
REPORT of OPERATIONS
The 135th Anniversary Gettysburg Battle Reenactment
The 135th Anniversary Battle Reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, 1863, was held July 3, 4, and 5, 1998, on a private farm located two miles west of the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) Washington DC Chapter member and Signal Corps Association Reenactor's Division (SCARD) Adjutant & Inspector General Walter F. Mathers (from Maryland) organized and lead the construction and operation of a working telegraph system at the event in addition to his aerial telegraph (flag signaling) duties as Captain and Chief Signal Officer for the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).
The reenactment site was comprised of 1,100 acres of rolling farm land and forested hills with brushy, treed fence lines surrounding open fields. This terrain was conducive to stringing surplus twin lead U.S. Army communications wire (WD-1A/TT) in the trees well above the flurry of activity. The twin wires were encased in a hard plastic insulation which proved to be very durable in the trees and brush. Several additional unused miles of this wire had arrived but was held in reserve. Branches were thick enough to make the line barely noticeable. Captain Mathers supplied a 20 foot long signal maintainer's jointed "Y" line tap pole which worked very well for stringing the line.
On July 2, one day prior to the commencement of the reenactment battles, Captain Mathers, CSO, ANV, CSA, Captain Mark Williams, CSO 1st & 2nd Section US Signal Corps, (New York) and a crew of able assistants strung nearly three miles of line which connected six "offices" emanating from the over-all Confederate and Union generals' headquarters camps. The principal line was strung first from C.S.A. Commanding General Charles H.
Hillsman's location to U.S.A. Commanding General Dana Heim's camp. The purpose of this "private" or "secured" line was to offer assistance in conducting event related schedule communications, in a period style, between both army commanders and their respective general staffs. The secondary line connected four of the six Confederate command stations: Gen. Hillsman, General Headquarters; Gen. Jack King, 2nd Division Army; Gen. Wm. Smart, 3rd Division Army; and Col. Bryan Carter, Artillery. Due to their close proximity with Confederate General Headquarters, the 1st Division of infantry, commanded by Gen. George Heffner, and Gen. Barry Shepperd's Cavalry command were not connected by wire. One of the two Federal divisions was likewise connected to General Heim's field headquarters.
The principal line, about 3/4 mile in length, was constructed over creeks, over roadways and through the woods by Walt Mathers, Pete Kerley (Pennsylvania), Steve Good (Florida) and myself. The longer secondary line was strung later in the day by Mathers, Kerley, Good, Rod Richer (New York), Brenton and Ashford Bradley (New York) and Tim Glaser (KD8TC, West Virginia). Elements of the Head-Quarter Signal Detachment, Inc. (Maryland) and Richer's Signal Detachment (New York) aided materially during the longest stretch of wire construction. Meanwhile, Mike Pechura (WA8BXN, Ohio) assembled the power supply while I established ground connections, connected instruments, and troubleshot the system.
The power supply system for the telegraph consisted of a 12 volt RV 'deep cycle' battery; 12 VDC to 120 vac, 200 watt inverter; and a six-line, 60 VDC power supply designed and built by Ed Trump (Fairbanks, Alaska). The six-line power supply took the 120 vac input, transformed it to 60 vac, rectified and filtered it, and provided overcurrent protection with a 120 volt, 40 watt light bulb on each line. The six -60 VDC terminals and two ground terminals were isolated from the ac input. 60 to 100 volts was recommended by Trump for a traditional earth ground return system.
Sixty volts, supplied by the power supply at one end only, proved to be adequate for the principal line. That fact was a tad-bit surprising considering the rocky earth under foot and no water puddles nearby. Each of two ground rods were driven approximately three feet deep at Gen. Hillsman's camp and connected to the power supply ground terminals. One was driven three feet deep at Gen. Heim's office. An initial current measurement was near 35 milliamps with sluggish operation. I consequently reverted to treating the system like an illness and feverishly promoted fluids about the ground rods at every opportunity. The "dishwater dumps" paid off with snappier operation as the event unfolded.
The secondary line was completed to all but Col. Carter's artillery camp by Thursday night. Instruments were connected at the ends of the line, i.e. Generals Hillsman and Smart's offices (Gen. King's office lying in between) and communications were begun. As a matter of curiosity, and with plans to extend the line to Col. Carter's
location, no ground rod was driven at Gen. Smart's location. Instead, a hardwired loop circuit was created by using the twin lead wire. Instead of using the 60 volt supply, the 12 volt battery and two six-volt lantern batteries were connected in series for a nominal 24 volt supply at Gen. Hillsman's office. This system worked remarkably well and continued to be utilized throughout the weekend.
The secondary line was extended to Col. Carter's location on Friday morning. Captain Mathers was able to secure the services of Major Reed Settle's 3rd.C.S. Engineers, Co. E, whose unit traveled from Southern California to serve "and work" at Gettysburg. Members of Company ' E' adeptly planted two 15 ft. high poles in the middle of an open span of field and thoroughfare though which much vehicular and foot traffic (horse drawn and otherwise) traveled. The line was attached to "V's" left in the tops of the newly cut tree poles and conveyed to Col. Carter's location by 11:00 a.m. Line tests verified that the system was operational to that point.
Each office was equipped with a receiving instrument known as a main line telegraph rely. Each relay was wound with a double coil of wire which created a resistance between 150 and 200 ohms. To transmit messages, each office had a "correspondent" or key. Confederate General Headquarters had two such sets of instruments. Likewise, Federal General Headquarters had two sets, one of which connected with another line extending out to one of the U.S. divisions. U.S. line construction and operation was conducted under the guidance of 1st. Lieutenant Ted Bleck and the Second Section, New York Signal Corps. In total, there were thus eight sets of telegraph instruments in operation at the event. This constituted reenacting history!
A telegraph "straight" or "hand" key with closing lever was the "correspondent" at each location. The wire carried constant current until an operator wished to send a message. When he chose to open communication with another station, the operator would open his closing lever. This in turn caused the magnets on all of the other relays to release their magnetic hold on the armature (the clicking lever on a sounder or relay). A spring, attached to the back of the armature, would abruptly pull the armature back to an adjustable post or stop causing an audible click. Once the sending operator depressed the key, the current would momentarily be restored to the magnet, thus causing the armature to clap once again in the direction of the electromagnet. The message would always begin with the address or call of the station he (or she) wished to communicate with. (Incidentally, the U.S. Military Telegraph employed at least four female telegraphers during the Civil War.) When each message was completed, the key would again be closed. This was the indication to all that the line was again free and that another operator could begin sending the next message. Each station was assigned its own
"call" or station letter, i.e. "A" for "Artillery Park";
"S" for General Smart; "C" for Confederate headquarters; "U"
for Union headquarters and so forth.
Vivian Havrilla, a former Virginian Railroad tower operator and Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) member from Alexandria, Virginia, was the only Morse (American) code telegrapher reporting for duty at this event. The majority of the operators working the circuits were familiar with Continental (today called International Morse) code established during a convention at Berlin, Germany, in 1851. Many of our operators had experience with wireless telegraphy via amateur radio work. In order to facilitate their participation and utilize their talents during this event, 555-timer based tone oscillators were made available at each location so that a tone or beeping output could be heard via discreet ear-plugs. The plugs were designed to be worn with the wire extending up from beneath the operator's sack coat. Each operator sat side ways with his ear-plugged ear away from his audience. Thus, spectators heard the clicking instrument while the operator heard an audible tone.
Each oscillator was connected to the relay contacts or "local circuit" binding posts. A six volt lantern battery powered the oscillator. Between messages, when the closed circuit provided a constant tone, a piece of paper was placed between the contacts of the armature and magnets to break the tone circuit. This feature, repeated on each of the instruments where a Continental man was on duty, even made it possible to sleep without worrying if a message would be missed...the paper would fall out when the contacts opened. This innovation enabled the telegraph system to be available continuously, around the clock and throughout the course of the reenactment. Roger Kuchera (K1TG, Connecticut) and Tim Glaser (KD8TC, West Virginia) provided the necessary oscillators and earplugs. Tim's local amateur radio club spent one of their meeting nights building five such units which they donated for service at Gettysburg.
Special instruments of note that were utilized on the lines included two handmade 1860's period telegraph sets. One had an early "cantilever" sounder design, modeled from a pre-war design while the other represented an 1860's period "box" relay. Both were outfitted with camelback keys. Each set was built and donated to one of SCARD's affiliate units, the Head-Quarters Signal Detachment, Inc. by Ed Trump. Another Trump camelback key and period-style relay were brought from Washington State by myself and installed at Col. Carter's office. There was also a pocket relay on hand for troubleshooting purposes.
In order to monitor the lines for traffic, all keys were kept closed and enabled the first couple of nights. A steady 0.8-0.9 amp battery drain took its toll by Saturday afternoon, when the inverter turned off due to low voltage. "Pittsburgh" Pete Kerley saved the day by providing another car battery which carried the operation through Sunday afternoon.
As the telegraph superintendent, I want to extend my most sincere thanks to the people who made the Gettysburg telegraph operation possible. First and foremost, the whole operation was the brainchild of Walt Mathers, who inspired me to join in the great adventure. Generals Hillsman and Heim were ardent supporters of the project. Many individuals brought their own
equipment for use during the event. Some, like Roger Reinke,
of Alexandria, Virginia, loaned a number of valuable instruments even though they themselves could not attend. Individual and group contributions of wire, batteries,
instruments, and other supplies such as lean-to tentage, telegraph forms, and an
occasional tin cup of coffee were greatly appreciated.
The Confederate and Union general staffs as well as many signal corps personnel provided invaluable assistance. Help came from unexpected resources as well. For example, a nimble lad from Charleston, South Carolina, assisted us in the line construction by shinnying up a score of trees, like a South Sea Islander would to get coconuts, with only his arms and legs wrapped around the trunk for support. Our own Rod Richer, inspired by such audacity, soon followed suit. Likewise, Steve Good an infantryman from Florida whom I met on the event shuttle bus on the evening of arrival, expressed interest in the telegraph operation and assisted as a lineman the following day. On a personal note, Steve saved me from exhaustion the first night as we trudged for two hours over hill and dale looking for Gen. Hillsman's and Col. Carter's camps. Like many a good soldier, I carried all of my provisions on my back ...including four days' rations (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), poncho, gum blanket, wool blanket, haversack, two canteens, two jackets, two pairs trowsers, two vests, pocket watch, extra socks, tin cup and boiler, plate and utensils, etc. (Admittedly, that was more than any sane soldier would pack.) For telegraph duty, another bag contained an operating board, relay, sounder, key, pocket relay, multimeter, 2-meter handy-talkie (HT) and accessories, 12 volt battery, wire, hand tools, camera and film, paperwork and handouts, etc. All of this amassed a weight in excess of 95 pounds.
Needless to say, without this dedicated crew of signallists, linemen and telegraphers, the operation would not have been possible. Telegraphers that provided highly commendable and tireless service included James L. Wilson (K4BAV, Alexandria, Virginia) at Gen. Hillsman's office, Roger Kuchera at Gen. Heim's office, and Pete Kerley at Gen. Smart's office. Others that worked the line as needed and deserve my grateful appreciation include Mary Brophy (New York) at Gen. King's office; Tim Glaser at Gen. King's and Col. Carter's offices; Walt Mathers, Denise Richer (New York), and Valerie Smith (Maryland) at Gen. Hillsman's office. All operators used Continental code except for Brophy, Richer, Smith, and myself who were Army Dot code operators. Mathers demonstrated the proper use of Army Dot code in electric telegraph service (Army Dot code was adapted from the flag signal code developed for the U.S. Army by Chief Signal Officer and Major Albert James Myer.) Dot code was found to be a most reliable (albeit slower) mode of operation for those unfamiliar with Morse code. Telegraphers also employed a modified version of Western Union's 1859 "92 code" which uses a numeric system to signal commonly used operator phrases. The phrase "30" meaning finished, end or done, was incorporated in this code, as well as "73" meaning Compliments to, or Best Regards.
The 135th Gettysburg reenactment was a grand event to be involved with. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as gun crewman with the Cherokee Artillery from Rome, Georgia, as well as telegraph superintendent for the Army of Northern Virginia in service with the Army of the Potomac. As I return to my roll at Washington and Oregon reenactments as Superintendent of the Military Telegraph, I will carry those memories with me as I strive to continue to honor and remember this country's fighting soldiers and citizens who served their nation and oftentimes perished in its defense.