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How modern technology saved Vicksburg

Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 8
edited by Franklin Lafayette Riley, (my cousin! D.U.) 1905...

By Stephen D. Lee.

As is well known now, telegraph operators were at a premium in the Confederacy during the war, 1861-1865, as most of the operators in the South before the war were Northern men, they returned home when the struggle began. Major L. L. Daniel, of Victoria, Texas, now on General Van Zant's staff, U. C. V., and Col. Philip H. Fall, of Houston, Texas, on Gen. S. D. Lee's staff, U. C. V., early enlisted at Vicksburg, one in an artillery company and the other in the Vicksburg Southtons Company. They were soon detailed for telegraph work. The writer has recently come into possession of some interesting minutiae of their work, which played an important part in preventing the almost complete surprise of the Confederate army at Vicksburg in December, 1862; and being personally cognizant of the incident of the breaking up of the dance or ball on Christmas Eve, 1862, at Vicksburg, he feels it is due to the two operators to put on record an account of their valuable service. Such accounts bring out, too, the important part played by the telegraph in war and show that the real scouting duty was performed in many ways. The operators frequently ran great risks and endured many hardships in common with the soldiers in campaign. This incident too gives an insight into the vigilance of both armies in that mighty struggle.

..."Major Earnhearst, after telling me of the danger of a picket out post, asked me to go to Point Lookout, La., eleven miles below Lake Providence and sixty-five miles above Vicksburg (about 30 miles as the crow flys really, and 50 by road, but I wont quibble.. D.U.), the terminus of the little private telegraph line owned by that rich planter Horace B. Tibbotts, and you [Philip H. Fall] were stationed at the Vicksburg end of it; that is, at DeSoto, just across the river * * ;and I was strictly instructed to watch the river day and night and report to you morning and evening.. * * And it was Christmas Eve about 8.45 P. M., dear old Major E . P. Earnhearst and I were in our 'eerie' playing 'Old sledge,' when a little negro girl, who lived on the place came in and said, 'Marse Ainhart, you and Marse Daniel better come out here, I hears a boat a coming.' 'Come now,' says the Major 'you are dreaming, Arty.' 'No sah! I hears it say, choo, choo, pat, pat, pat.' Thus illustrating the steam escape and pat of the wheels. We went on the porch and listened intently; the sounds which we had not heard for months, were just audible, the little one's acute ears had detected it miles away. Major Earnhearst and I were smoking, Indian fashion, a large meerschaum pipe (owned jointly) * * We went to the river bank, about one-eighth of a mile from our watch house, and waited perhaps thirty minutes. We could hear the pantirT and pat, pat; directly a monster turned the bend, two miles above us, and came slowly as if feeling the way. It was the gunboat. I was ready to send the news to you, [Fall] but no—'hello Major here cames another,' this in a whisper; just then some sparks flew out of the Major's pipe, and I grabbed the pipe, and extinguished the fire, telling him those * * * would fire a volley at the crack of a match. By now, the large black devil was abreast of us, in easy gun shot from our double barrels, but suicide to fire. We counted, counted, counted in all seven gunboats, fifty-nine transports loaded with blue coats.

"It was a dark, cloudy night, cold and drizzly; just as soon as we were satisfied the last one was by, I jumped on my little bay filly and fairly flew to the little telegraph office, three miles back in the woods and began calling you. This was just after midnight. I was so agitated at the prospect of the capture of my dear old home, Vicksburg, before I could give the alarm, that I thought it was almost daybreak when you answered; and I was simply frantic; now the fact is and after I called you but about twenty-seven seconds. You were right there and said: 'Golly, old fellow, what's up?' Then it was for you to get frustated. * * I gave you the fullest information possible in the fewest words possible, and they are indelible in my brain this hour. 'Great God, Phil, where have you been. I have been calling, (I am afraid half an hour instead of half a minute) and the river is lined with boats, almost a hundred have just passed my lookout. Seven gunboats and fifty-nine transports chock full of men. God speed you, rush across and give the alarm.' You said: 'God bless you Lee, bye, bye, we may never meet again.' You can best tell the remainder on your end, for after a short nap, I went again to the little telegraph hut and tried the circuit, but no battery. * * And I learned sometime after wards that the huge flotilla landed at various points below, viz: Omega, Millikens Bend and Youngs Point and cut down the poles for a mile and chopped the wire into bits.

"Major Earnhearst, bidding farewell to his wife, two little daughters, myself and wife, rode rapidly through the awful muddy swamps to the hills, then to Delphi and wired the news to Gen. Kirby Smith, Gen. John G. Walker and others. History has the incident, but the minutiae interest but ourselves and families and friends. Next morning I was preparing to shoot some ducks near the house, when my wife came to the porch and said: 'Look Lee! quick.' Of course I looked for ducks or geese, but discovered drakes and ganders in some sixty blue-coated cavalry approaching from the North. I learned that two regiments had landed at Lake Providence and picketed the country for miles. This leader, Lt. Thompson of Kansas, jayhawker, halted at gate, called me with army colt six shooter cocked, held menacingly at my anatomy, while interrogating me. Question after question plied and answered promptly. The interview ended by: 'Young fellow, you are truthful, our army is fully posted on every thing for a hundred miles, and you have answered me correctly; one lie would have laid you out; now you are my prisoner, I want your telegraph instruments and all records and your old shot gun with bayonet; and don't you try to escape for death is sure.' * * * Well we were all held prisoners on the plantation from Dec. 26th, 1862, until 29th June, 1863, when Major Earnhearst with two squads of cavalry headed by Gen. Tom Harrison and Col. W. H. Parson came in from the hills, cleaned out the guards, took us to Delphi."
Colonel Fall tells the rest:

"Christmas Eve, the night of the ball, was a tempestuous night and I was in dread of my red light being extinguished by the high waves. The Mississippi was very rough; had my light gone out our batteries would have annihilated me, but with what information as I possessed, I would have made the attempt in face of certain death. A half hour after Daniel at Lake Providence gave me the news, it was imparted to Gen. Smith. No courier could have come seventy-five miles in half an hour. I was muddy and woe begone as I passed through the dancers and they gave me a wide berth, when I stopped in front on Gen. Smith, he scanned me critically and frowned with the exclamation, 'Well sir, what do you want?' I told him eighty-one gun boats and transports had passed Lake Providence and were still passing. He turned very pale, and in a loud voice exclaimed! This ball is at an end; the enemy are coming down the river, all non-combatants must leave the city.' He had presence of mind enough to thank me and apologize at the harsh tones. In regard to his report, I see no mention as to how he got his information. I suppose he lost sight of me in the excitement following. * * I received a letter sometime ago from Mrs. Roach, of Vicksburg, reminding me of how I broke up the ball that never to be forgotten night."

The details, as given above by the two participants, are essentially correct. My recollection is distinct as to this ball and its sudden collapse soon after midnight, December 24th, by the arrival of the bearer of the important information. The writer on Christmas day moved out of Vicksburg with six regiments of infantry and two batteries to check General Sherman in his landing on the Yazoo river, between the city of Vicksburg and Snyder's Bluff on the Yazoo river, thirteen miles distant. On December 29th was fought the decisive battle of Chickasaw Bayou, which compelled General Sherman to turn back his army and abandon the attack on the city. The movement on Christmas day was the result of the telegram sent by Daniel near Lake Providence and received by Fall at DeSoto, La., and delivered to General Smith at the ball in the city of Vicksburg.