Sunday, October 23

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Oct. 23

Wired: Telegraph from coast to coast

The nation is divided by war but now is linked at last from coast to coast by a transcontinental telegraph this week in 1861. For some time, the telegraph's eastern terminus only extended from the Atlantic to Nebraska and its western terminus stretched from the California coast to Nevada. But Western Union and allied companies succeed in the Herculean task of stringing the slender telegraph wire over deserts and mountains, putting East and West into a new dawn of instant communication. It has been hard, dirty work for laborers who cut down forests to make stout telegraph poles, carting them in oxen-pulled wagons across rugged passes to be planted and strung with mile after mile of wire. The fabled Pony Express continued to bridge the gap for a while. But now both sides of the continent can instantly trade messages of battles lost and won, news large and small. One of the first messages sent announces the death to Oregon of its popular senator, Edward Baker, killed days earlier in fighting in Virginia. The telegraph soon will revolutionize battlefield communications while allowing a new conduit for the news dispatches of The Associated Press. Also this week, a public referendum is held on Oct. 24, 1861, in which a majority in the future state of West Virginia votes for statehood. The intent is to break away from Virginia amid opposition to the Confederacy. In June 1863, West Virginia will become the 35th state, allied with the North as war drags on. This week also sees feverish recruiting of thousands of young men on both sides. The Cleveland Plain Dealer of Ohio - for one - runs a recruitment ad urging prospects to sign up: "If You Do Not Want To Be Drafted, Rally Under the Good Old Flag! Wanted ... Young men that have any regard for their Country."

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