Last year, my girlfriend’s sister got married in California and I brought John Emmet’s book along, Telegraphing in Battle, to keep me company on the plane. The book details both John and Richard’s experience as telegraph operators during the Civil War. It is comprised of John’s recollections (he was in his 60’s at the time he wrote it) and includes many entries from Richard’s personal war diary.
Their duty as telegraph operators and assignment at Fort Monroe put them in the thick of combat operations in the theater around Richmond, VA. Besides participating in the first steps of what can now be considered the Information Age as well as the first practical application of electricity, they managed to be eyewitnesses to just about every technical innovation and invention those four yeas had to offer. They were on hand for the Battle of the Ironclads; they wired hot air balloons to telegraph reconnaissance information; they encountered land mines for the first time (then called torpedoes) and explosives detonated by electric charge; they saw war change from lined up formations at the outset to trench warfare by it’s end; they saw battles, murder trials, executions; the first negro troops and the first free southern negro communities.
Aside from the technical innovations, they met just about every key figure in the war: Lincoln, Stanton, Grant, Sherman, Butler, McClelland, Wool, Carnegie and Davis. Richard even met my future great great grandmother, Sarah Harrison Marks.
With all this drama and excitement, and my experience as an illustrator and designer, it wasn’t a stretch for me to consider putting their story together into a graphic novel. With that in mind, my research would expand to include not only my family history, but the Civil War as a whole, the people Richard and John encountered, technical details about the telegraph, and just about anything I came across that could help me build and describe the world of the early 1860’s. Shown here are my first forays into drawing our two heroes. The one on the left is Richard in his early 30’s. The one of the right is John at age 15.