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How did the telegraph help win the American Civil War?

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“Nearly 150 years before the advent of texts, tweets, and e-mail,” begins, “President Abraham Lincoln became the first ‘wired president’ by embracing the original electronic messaging technology—the telegraph.”

A technology invented by Samuel F. B. Morse in 1844, The Telegraph “played a vital role in tactical and operational maneuvers” during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

This Untold History animation shares how President Lincoln’s short yet strategic messages—almost 1,000 over four years—helped him communicate with his generals and direct troop movements “in nearly real time.”

civil war telegraph station
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“After the war’s outbreak, the newly created U.S. Military Telegraph Corps undertook the dangerous work of laying more than 15,000 miles of telegraph wire across battlefields that transmitted news nearly instantaneously from the front lines to a telegraph office that had been established inside the old library of the War Department building adjacent to the White House in March 1862.”

“David Homer Bates, one of the four original members of the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps, recounted in Lincoln in the Telegraph Room that several times a day, Lincoln sat down at a telegraph office desk near a window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue and read through the fresh stack of incoming telegrams, which he called ‘lightning messages.’ As telegraph keys chattered, he peered over the shoulders of the operators who scribbled down the incoming messages converted from Morse Code. He visited the office nearly every night before turning in and slept there on a cot during pivotal battles.”

Lincoln's use of the telegraph

• Invention of the Telegraph at the Library of Congress.
• The Telegraph and the Civil War, a PBS Learning Media video for grades 6-12.

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• Morse Code – Museum of Obsolete Objects
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