During the Civil War the telegraph was the fastest form of communication yet developed. It helped change the course of battles, allowed tactical information to be sent quickly, and was used to keep the public throughout the nation informed of the status of the war. The technology even took to the sky as telegraphers were sent up in balloons trailed by hundreds of feet of telegraph wire to act as forward observers of battles and troop movements.
The telegraph played an important role during Morgan’s Raid. Even before Morgan crossed into Indiana the telegraph brought warnings he might try to invade the state. Once in Indiana reports (some conflicting) of the location of Morgan and his men were sent to Governor Morton and Union commanders. The telegraph was used to direct the efforts of the Indiana militia and Federal troops in hot pursuit of the raiders.
Morgan also used the telegraph. Accompanying him was a master telegrapher named Henry “Lightning” Ellsworth. Ellsworth has the ability to mimic the “hand” of other telegraphers. He would climb telegraph poles or take over telegraph offices to send false reports about the raiders’ location and intentions to confuse the forces chasing them. After the war Ellsworth worked for Thomas Edison and later became a notorious train robber and gunman in the American Southwest.
Photo - "The Army Telegraph," purchased with funds donated by the Derby Refining Company, a Unit of Coastal States Gas Corporation, Wichita Art Museum, Wichita KS.