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Secretary of State William Howard Taft awards a Certificate of Honorable Service to an "Operator in the Military Telegraph Corps of the Army of the United States, during the late Civil War".
Partly Printed DS: "Wm H Taft" as Secretary of State. 1p, 18¼x14¼. Washington 24 April 1908. Full 2¼-inch blue War Department seal at lower left. Engraved vignette of Union field telegraph operators with illustration of the telegraph machine at top center. In part: "Know Ye; that it appearing from the records of the War Department that B.W. Flack served as an Operator in the Military Telegraph Corps of the Army of the United States, during the late Civil War, to wit: from April 14 1863, to January 17 1864...the Secretary of War hereby issues this Certificate of Honorable Service as authorized and directed by the Act of Congress approved January 26, 1897 as follows: 'Be it enacted...Congress assembled, that the Secretary of War is hereby authorized and directed to prepare a roll of all persons who served not less than ninety days in the operation of military telegraph lines during the late Civil War, and to issue to each...suitable certificates of honorable service...Provided that this law shall not be construed to entitle the persons herein mentioned to any pay, pension, bounty, or rights not herein specifically provided for.'" The Military Telegraph Service is a title that plays on its words--as the service came under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of War, became a civilian bureau attached to the Quartermaster's Department. As a result, the telegraph operator in the field was a civilian. He was poorly paid, barely protected and often found himself at odds with military commanders whose orders often contradicted those from his own commander. As a consequence, he had a thankless, life endangering job and was not eligible for any government benefits (as was a soldier) after the war. The effort put forth in this document marginally tries to correct the status of the operators. While it recognizes the operator's service, it does not award any pension or disability benefits. The use of the telegraph in the Civil War was revolutionary to warfare. The telegraph was a valuable field instrument as well as essential to long-distance communication. Authorities in Washington often held "talks" of telegraph with commanders in the West and hastily strung wires often carried battlefield orders and information. A lack of operators and equipment handicapped the South, but the North was able to put the telegraph to full use. The United States Military Telegraph grew to 15,389 miles of line constructed during the war, plus all the existing lines. The Telegraph Office of the War Department in Washington became the nerve center of the war. The telegraph had seen active service in the Crimea, but in the American Civil War it proliferated and gained an impetus in its wartime use that carried over into civilian development in the postwar years. Uniformly browned. Lightly stained at blank left and lower margins. ½-inch vertical tear at mid-upper blank margin (all paper intact). Fine condition.

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Born: September 15, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Died: March 8, 1930 in Washington, District of Columbia

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