Source: Annual Reports of the War Department
Source type: government document
Document type: report
Document title: “Report of Capt. Benjamin F. Montgomery, Signal Corps, in Charge of Telegraph and Cipher Bureau at the White House”
Author(s): Montgomery, Benjamin F.
Volume number: 1
Publisher: Government Printing Office
Place of publication: Washington, DC
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 1058-61 (excerpt below includes only pages 1060-61)
|Montgomery, Benjamin F. “Report of Capt. Benjamin F. Montgomery, Signal Corps, in Charge of Telegraph and Cipher Bureau at the White House.” Annual Reports of the War Department. Vol. 1. Part 2. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1901: pp. 1058-61.|
|McKinley assassination (government response); White House; William McKinley (public statements).|
|Pascual Cervera y Topete; Andrew Jackson; William McKinley; Nelson A. Miles.|
The excerpted report below constitutes Appendix No. 11 in the annual report of Brig. Gen. A. W. Greely, Chief Signal Officer, to the Secretary of War.
The report is dated 27 September 1901.
From title page: Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1901.
Report of Capt. Benjamin F. Montgomery, Signal Corps, in Charge of
Telegraph and Cipher Bureau at the White House [excerpt]
While the tragedy at Buffalo was enacted subsequent
to the close of the last fiscal year, the signal officer on duty with the late
President hopes it will not be thought untimely or improper to refer in these
supplementary paragraphs to the work during the sad hours of watching and waiting,
from the afternoon of September 6, 1901, when the fatal shot was fired, till
the closing scene on September 19, 1901, when the body of our beloved chief
was consigned to the grave.
Within fifteen minutes after the late President was struck down by the assassin’s bullet the signal officer in charge at the Executive Mansion had secured two direct and exclusive wires to Buffalo—one a telegraph wire and the other a long-distance telephone circuit—and had put the office in direct communication with the secretary to the President and those nearest to the distinguished sufferer. The terminus of the telephone wire was close beside the hospital, and from this source was first obtained the official details of the horrible crime. All during the afternoon the long-distance telephone connection was kept clear, and over this wire the news, from moment to moment, was received and freely and promptly communicated to the officials of the Government in Washington, the anxious relatives and friends of the late President, and the public. Immediately upon the removal of the late President from the hospital grounds to the Milburn residence a telegraph wire was placed in the latter building and there maintained, in good working order, from that moment, both day and night, until the body was taken away to start on its journey to the capital.
During this period there were sent and received 4,351 messages, including official dispatches, bulletins, and tidings of alternating hope and sorrow to the anxious world. It will ever be a source of pride and gratification to the officer in charge and the faithful assistants, who, without heed of time or personal comfort, that they were given the high honor and the great privilege to stand and serve with those who faithfully watched by the bedside of the dying President.
Perhaps it is well to state at this juncture that the telegraph and cipher bureau was the creation of the great mind of the late President William McKinley, and it is well known to his official advisers and intimate friends that he has often spoken with evident pride and satisfaction of this particular part of the Executive Office. On many occasions he has spoken to the signal officer in charge in complimentary terms of this bureau and often gave willing and cheerful testimony to what he termed in his annual message of 1898 as a service which “was invaluable to the Executive in directing the operations of the Army and Navy.”
The Chief Signal Officer I am sure will not think it improper or in any manner a violation of the confidence reposed if I recite an incident to illustrate the late President’s high regard for the work of the Signal Corps. The night before the late President left Canton, Ohio, for the trip to Buffalo he made request of the signal officer in Washington, over long-distance telephone, for certain data concerning the telegraph work of the Army during the late war. The result of that conversation is the following graceful tribute to the work of the Signal Corps of the Army in his last public utterance, and which I take the liberty to quote herewith:
“It took a special messenger of the Government, with every facility known at the time for rapid travel, nineteen days to go from the city of Washington to New Orleans with a message to General Jackson that the war with England had ceased and that a treaty of peace had been signed. How different now!
“We reached General Miles in Porto Rico by cable, and he was able, through the military telegraph, to stop his army on the firing line with the message that the United States and Spain had signed a protocol suspending hostilities. We knew almost instantly of the first shots fired at Santiago, and the subsequent surrender of the Spanish forces was known at Washington within less than an hour of its consummation. The first ship of Cervera’s fleet had hardly emerged from that historic har-  bor when the fact was flashed to our capital, and the swift destruction that followed was announced immediately through the wonderful medium of telegraphy. So accustomed are we to safe and easy communication with distant lands that its temporary interruption, even in ordinary times, results in loss and inconvenience. We shall never forget the days of anxious waiting and awful suspense when no information was permitted to be sent from Pekin, and the diplomatic representatives of the nations in China, cut off from all communication inside and outside of the walled capital, were surrounded by an angry and misguided mob that threatened their destruction, nor the joy that thrilled the world when a single message from the Government of the United States brought through our minister the first news of the safety of the besieged diplomats.”