David Homer Bates

David Homer Bates (1843–1926). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # ppmsca 31625

The chief chronicler of President Lincoln’s telegraph operations, David Homer Bates (1843–1926) was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to Francis and Catherine Bates. As a teenager, he moved to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and entered the telegraph service in the Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which at that time was under the supervision of Andrew Carnegie. In April 1861, Bates and three other cipher operators were ordered to Washington, D.C., to form a new telegraph corps within the War Department—the first time a federal government department had telegraph service. Major Thomas Eckert was appointed superintendent of the telegraph corps shortly after their arrival. Except for two weeks of service in early 1865 as the operator for General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point, Virginia, Bates was stationed for the duration of the war within the telegraph room of the War Department, located directly across the lawn from the White House. Lincoln visited the telegraph room on a daily basis and came to know Bates and the other operators well. Following his 1867 marriage to Sallie Raphael Kenney, Bates began a twenty-five-year career with the Western Union Telegraph Company, rising to the position of vice president. As was the case during the Civil War, his service at Western Union was under the supervision of Thomas Eckert. In 1907, David Homer Bates published Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, a well-received account of his Civil War reminiscences. At the time of his death, he had completed a book of anecdotes of the sixteenth president entitled Lincoln Stories Told by Him in the Military Office in the War Department during the Civil War.

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