Group to relive Civil War in display of communication techniques at library Telegraphers, signalmen played pivotal roles

November 08, 1995|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Porter Alexander, a Confederate soldier, was staked out on a hillside near Manassas, Va., July 21, 1861, watching the first battle of Bull Run through a telescope when he spotted Union troops eight miles away trying to flank his lines.

Quickly, he waved his signal flags to warn Confederate commanders of the maneuver.

"If it wasn't for his quick thinking and signaling, the whole course of the battle could have been changed," said Michael R. Merling, a furniture salesman from Rosedale who will don butternut gray this weekend as part of Civil War program at the North County library.

"The war itself would have been a Union victory," said Mr. Merling, 38, a member of the Signal Corps Association, one of the sponsors of the program.

The free program starts at 11 a.m. with events indoors and on the grounds of the library at 1010 Eastway, across from Harundale Mall on Ritchie Highway.

"We're there to show the valor that men and women exhibited. But we're also there to let people have a little insight into the hardships and deprivations. They were really hard times for people," said Walter Mathers, a 46-year-old history buff from Marley who works as a brakeman for CSX Transportation.

Mr. Mathers, a Signal Corps Association member, is technical support coordinator for the program.

In addition to the outside displays, the group will offer a program called "Civil War Living History and Presentation" at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. inside the library. Space for the presentation is limited to the first 80 participants on a first-come, first-served basis.

A discussion will follow the presentation.

Outdoor displays and demonstrations will focus on mid-19th century communication techniques. Telegraphers and signal men played an integral role in the war, sending messages quickly over long distances, Mr. Mathers said.

Women played important roles as clerks, nurses, telegraphers and spies, Mr. Mathers added.

"They would tied up messages in their curls and hair pieces," he said. "They would line their petticoats and such. They would not be searched because, keep in mind, it was a men's army."

He said he realizes the Civil War still stirs strong feelings, but that the Signal Corps Association hopes to make its demonstrations learning experiences for all.

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