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Telegraph and railroads new instruments of war and sped news of battles

Dozens of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War, 1861-1865                   

Telegraph and railroads new instruments of war and sped news of battles                   

(This the eighth "Dozen of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War," a series of random columns related to brief comments on Butler County’s role in the Civil War, 1861-1865. The columns are in conjunction with the observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, 2010-2015. The reprint edition of Jim Blount’s 1998 book, The Civil War and Butler County, is available at several outlets, or by contacting Books in Shandon, 4795 Cincinnati-Brookville Road (Ohio 126), Shandon, OH 45063, or phone 738-2962 or 523-4005.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

The competing armies had to learn to use new technology during the Civil War. For the first time on American soil, the telegraph and railroads were available to both North and South. Information about the emerging instruments of war are among the eighth set dozens of facts about the 1861-1865 period:

85. Telegraph development began in the mid 1840s and the first line reached Hamilton Jan. 28, 1850, from Cincinnati. Middletown was added a few months later. By 1861, the East and West coasts were wired and 2,250 telegraph offices in were operation. By 1865, when the war ended, more than 83,000 miles of wire crisscrossed the nation. Thanks to the telegraph, communities hundreds of miles from the battlefields received details of Civil War engagement within an hour or more of the fighting.

86. A year before the war began, April 3, 1860, the Pony Express began its first run through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. On average, a rider covered 75 to 100 miles daily. He changed horses at relay stations 10 to 15 miles apart. The first mail by Pony Express from St. Joseph., Mo., to Sacramento took 10 days, cutting the overland stage time via the southern route by more than half. Just over 18 months after its start, the Pony Express ceased operation Oct. 26, 1861, after the transcontinental telegraph line had been completed."

87. Building a transcontinental railroad was considered an urgency by the Lincoln administration. Pacific Railroad bills were passed in the House (79-49) May 6, 1862, and in the Senate (35-5) June 30 and signed by the president July 1. Groundbreaking for the Central Pacific was Jan. 8, 1863, in Sacramento, Calif., and for the Union Pacific Dec. 2, 1863, in Omaha, Neb.  Completion was four years after the war, May 10, 1869. Central Pacific and Union Pacific construction crews staged a ceremonial meeting at Promontory Summit, north of Salt Lake City, Utah. Of the 1,779 miles of track, 742 miles was placed by the Central Pacific, and 1,032 miles by the Union Pacific.

88. In 1861, when the war started, it was estimated that the average American had been no more than 20 to 30 miles away from home.

89. In 1864, the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad added a third rail between Dayton and Cincinnati and provided trackage rights for the six-foot gauge Atlantic and Great Western Railroad (later the Erie) to connect at Cincinnati with the Ohio & Mississippi (also 6-foot gauge).  That meant trains could operate between New York City and St. Louis, through Hamilton, on the same track gauge. It eliminated the necessity to transfer cargo one or more times, or other perform other mechanical changes to complete the trip.

90. Total railroad mileage in the U. S. in 1860 was 30,794 with 21,847 miles in states that remained loyal and 8,947 in 11 Confederate states. In two previous census years, the U. S. Total had been 2,818 in 1840 and 8,590 in 1850.

91. Ohio led the nation in railroad miles in 1860. State mileage jumped from 575 miles in 1850 to 2,999 in 1860. Other top five Union states were Illinois 2,686 miles, New York 2,702, Pennsylvania 2,542 and Indiana 2,126. Leading states in the Confederacy were Virginia 1,771 miles, Georgia 1,404, Tennessee 1,198, South Carolina 988 and North Carolina 889.

92. Calvin S. Brice was a teen-aged Civil War soldier, lawyer, railroad entrepreneur and Ohio senator who never forget his alma mater, Miami University.

He tried to join the army at age 15 in 1861, but was sent back to Miami. He enlisted again in 1862 for three months in the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He guarded railroads in West Virginia until his term expired. He was graduated from Miami in June 1863. As a 19-year-old in July 1864, Brice enlisted and in September was commissioned a captain in the 180th OVI. Most of his military service involved guarding and rebuilding railroads in Georgia and the Carolinas.

After the war, Brice became a lawyer. After a modest start representing a railroad, from the 1870s into the 1890s he bought, sold, merged and built railroads in several states. He was best known for creating the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, commonly known as the Nickel Plate. In 1890, he was elected to the U. S. Senate from Ohio, serving 1891-97.

93. Calvin S. Brice used his railroad experience during the Civil War to attain a personal fortune, financial influence and political connections which he employed to revive Miami University in the 1880s.

June 17, 1885, he joined other Civil War veterans, alumni, former faculty members and townspeople in Oxford to recall old times at "Old Miami," which had been closed since 1873 because of financial troubles. The influential group included Indiana U. S. Sen. Benjamin Harrison, class of 1852. Three years later Harrison was elected President.

The alumni welcomed news that Miami would reopen that fall. But with only meager state support, it faced an uncertain future. Brioche, an 1863 graduate, announced he would pay the salaries of two professor, financing 40 percent of the five-man instructional staff that welcomed about 50 students Sept. 17, 1885. Later, Brioche contributed funds to pay half the cost of a science building that bore his name.

94. The 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was assigned duty in Kentucky in September 1861. It rode from Hamilton to Cincinnati by train But there was no bridge between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky where it boarded another train. John Roebling had started work on a Cincinnati-Covington suspension bridge in 1856, but problems, including finances, stopped work during the Civil War. When completed after the war, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge at 1,057 feet. It opened Jan. 1, 1867.

95. Cincinnati also lacked a railroad bridge over the Ohio River when the war began, hampering the transport of supplies to Union forces in Kentucky, Tennessee and other southern states. The first railroad bridge opened in 1877, linking Cincinnati and Ludlow, Ky. Louisville had the advantage of bridge connecting it to southern Indiana seven years earlier.

96. Robbery or act of war? That was the question May 5, 1865, when five heavily-armed men used an ax to enter an express car on a passenger train they had stopped at North Bend in Hamilton County, about 25 miles south of Hamilton.

Some believed the outlaws were remnants of a Confederate unit that had crossed the Ohio River to rob the train. Although Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant April 9, some southern soldiers continued to fight. If the North Bend incident wasn’t a military action, it is regarded as the first train robbery in the U. S.

Above: Portrayal of small group of Union troops, mostly Ohioans, stealing                     
locomotive "General" in Georgia in April 1862; depicted in books and                     
movies as "The Great Locomotive Chase."

Civil War telegraph