The War’s Over. Now What?
2 AM 5th Gen Eckert Nashville Tenn Mch 5 1866
Orders dated Feb 27th just recd & will be
promptly obeyed – please say by telegraph whether
supply of teleg stationary & battery material on
hand in ware house wire & tools not
in actual use & the Beardsly instruments and
tools are to be turned over to the
companies or to Qr Mr – the president of
the So Westn Teleg Co claims all teleg property of what
ever description in my possession and says that
was understanding sig
Capt J C Van Duzer
Supplying yourself for war is a tricky proposition. You certainly don’t want to be under-stocked (running out of ammunition in the middle of a battle is both embarrassing and dangerous), but if you order too much you’ll be eating K-rations for two decades after it’s over. It’s like a life-and-death version of preparing to go on vacation – you want to clean out your fridge, but you need enough to eat to last until you leave.
For the military telegraph, the need for new parts and repairs was constant, so there could be no let-up in supplying. In fact, near the end and after the war, responsibilities and the need for supplies expanded as the USMT took over operation of southern telegraph lines to ensure constant communication. However there was an issue that need to be resolved. The USMT was a civilian, quasi-commercial outfit affiliated with Western Union and headed by a corporate executive, staffed with civilian employees, and reporting directly to the Secretary of War and the Commander-in-Chief.
So, despite the enormous amount of labor and material that the USMT poured into updating and expanding the newly re-united nation’s telegraph system, the functioning and property of these lines was returned, or sold, to private companies. One such company was the Southwestern Telegraph Company, mentioned in this message.
In this message, Van Duzer was looking for clarity: supplies to the Quarter Master or to the company? The Southwestern Telegraph Company’s president’s claim to equipment and supplies may be confirmed or denied in a later message. We are lucky to have ledgers in which much of the business of the military telegraph was recorded. The clarifying message had to come from Washington, from Eckert, and until then Van Duzer would have to wait.