Tim Crumrin - Experience Delivery Director/Senior Historian
I think the most intriguing character to emerge from our research into Morgan’s Raid for the 1863 Civil War Journey
experience was his rogue telegrapher George “Lightning” Ellsworth. “Lightning” (accounts vary as to whether his nickname resulted from his speed at transmitting messages or the sang froid he exhibited while sending messages from atop a telegraph pole during a storm) had the ability to mimic the “hand” of other telegraphers. He would climb telegraph poles or take over telegraph offices to send false reports about the raiders’ location and intentions to confuse the forces chasing them. In effect, he was running a disinformation campaign, a vital element of 21st-century warfare.
It seems fitting that a master of disinformation led such a mysterious and peripatetic life. Born in Canada in 1843, Ellsworth turned what seems to have been a family interest in telegraphy into his career. He migrated to the US in his early teens and by the coming of the Civil War he had worked as telegrapher in several Midwestern towns, including Evansville.
If possible, his life became even more intriguing after the war. The war’s end led him to Cincinnati where he worked alongside another telegrapher, Thomas Edison. A man of indiscriminate habits, a drunken Ellsworth killed a bartender in a gambling joint in Kentucky in 1867. Thrice escaping jail, he headed west, likely working as an itinerant telegrapher. There he sometimes exchanged the telegraph key for a gun, as when he was arrested while trying to rob a train in Wills, Texas in 1875. The last two decades of his life were quieter. Eventually married, George Ellsworth settled down in Louisiana. In 1899 he was found dead in the telegraph office. It was said that his now-quieted hand was on the key.
For more information on “Lightning”, see the excellent article on Ellsworth co-authored by Stephen Towne of IUPUI at https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/2495.
Stephen served as a consultant for the Civil War Journey project.
Has your petticoat ever fallen around your feet? When I was young, I read about a girl losing her petticoats during a parade, and I couldn’t imagine my elastic-waisted petticoats ever falling down. Nowadays, many girls can’t even tell you what a petticoat is; we’ve left them behind. (It’s really just a skirt worn under the dress.) How many other garments that were commonly worn in the 19th century are only words in a book to most people these days?
It’s easy to notice the women wearing hoops in our Civil War Journey
, but what else are they wearing to get that mid-19th century look? Hoops are nearly the last garments donned before the dress. Stockings, garters to hold them up and shoes are donned before the corset; it’s really hard to bend down to tie your shoes with corset boning fighting to keep you straight! The chemise is a low-necked, short-sleeved garment that looks like an old-fashioned nightgown and is worn over drawers (think loose capris).
The chemise protects the corset from body oil; they work together to shape the “bosom”. Some women wore a corset cover which kept corset ridges from showing.
Hoops (more accurately called cage crinolines) replaced most of the layers and layers of petticoats used to hold the skirts out in fashionable silhouettes from the 1820s on. However, there’s at least one petticoat over the cage crinoline to hide the lines of the hoops and one underneath for coverage in case the contrary hoops pop up or tilt unexpectedly, which they can and do.
Have you ever seen a photo from the Civil War and thought the woman was wearing a blouse under her dress? Usually, you were seeing two separate pieces, undersleeves and collar or chemisette. Cuffs and collars were basted in and changed when soiled to keep the dress looking fresh. Undersleeves and chemisettes (think dickeys) filled in wider sleeves and necklines.
So, why did petticoats fall down? They were buttoned at the waistband, and buttons can work loose. With all those layers, it’s hard to know until it’s just too late.