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Individual Record

Atwater, Henry Harrison

Age: 23, credited to Burlington, VT
Unit(s): US Military Telegraph Corps
Service: US Military Telegraph Corps, 1863-1865

See Legend for expansion of abbreviations

Birth: 01/13/1840, Burlington, VT
Death: 03/27/1921

Burial: Mount Hebron Cemetery, Upper Montclair, NJ
Gravestone researcher/photographer: Anne Agee
Findagrave Memorial #: 149385103
Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Unknown
Portrait?: Unknown
College?: Not Found
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)

Remarks: None

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Copyright notice


Mount Hebron Cemetery, Upper Montclair, NJ

Check the cemetery for location/directions
and other veterans who may be buried there.

Henry H. Atwater

The following passage, lightly edited, is from Atwater Family History and Genealogy, Vol. III, by Francis Atwater, Meriden CT, 1918 (accessed and copied from the internet 1 Oct 2013)

Mr. [Henry H. Atwater] Atwater was born in Burlington, Vt., on January 13, 1840, and his wife in Savannah, Ga., at about the same time… [note: presumably in the Burlington area] In 1854-55 Mr. Atwater studied telegraphy. In 1856 he accepted a position with the Erie Railroad, just after the system of dispatching trains by telegraph was first introduced by Chas. Minot, then the general superintendent of that road. In 1860 he moved to Brooklyn, where he met his wife, who had preceded him to the City of Churches by a few years. "How vividly do I recall," says Mr. Atwater, "the great torchlight processions, the election of Abraham Lincoln, the 'rail splitter,' the firing on Fort Sumter, the first call for 75,000 volunteers, and the leaving of the Fourteenth (Beecher's Boys) for the front. My wife's brother was one of that number."

Mr. and Mrs. Atwater were married on April 27, 1863, at the residence of the bride's uncle, James Craig, in Spring Valley, N. Y. In the fall of that year, learning that the government was in great need of telegraphers, Atwater volunteered his services and was ordered to report forthwith at the War Department, where he was assigned to duty under Gen. Thos. T. Eckert, who afterwards became the head of the great Western Union Telegraph Company. Later he was transferred to the Washington Navy Yard, which was then headquarters of the Potomac Flotilla.

In speaking of these times Mr. Atwater says: "While stationed at the War Department my wife and I made the acquaintance of Congressman Meyer, who invited us to attend one of President Lincoln's levees. I had heard many reports about the plain looks and decidedly awkward appearance of Mr. Lincoln and was, therefore, glad of this opportunity of meeting him and judging for myself. Upon entering the White House we were first presented by Congressman Meyer to Mrs. Lincoln and Gen. Sickles, we were cordially greeted and shaken hands with by a man of such pleasing, kindly face and courteous manner that he won our hearts at once.

I did not see the President again until I was stationed at the Navy Yard a short time later, when one evening at about 9 or 10 o'clock as I was walking along the wharf, a carriage drove into the yard and several gentlemen got out. This was followed by another carriage from which I was surprised to see the President alight. They had come down at this unusual hour, when the Navy Yard was practically deserted, to demonstrate to the President the practicability of using rockets for signaling, which they were endeavoring to introduce. After several had been sent up showing different colored lights one burst in the air when half way up, a total failure. "Well," remarked Mr. Lincoln in his droll way, "That was small potatoes and few in a hill." How little I thought as he stood there that within a few months and within a few feet of where then stood I should behold the dead body of his assassin laid out on a monitor, yet such was the case.

When Lincoln was assassinated many telegrams (which later became a part of history) passed through Atwater's hands. Regarding that exciting event, he goes on to say: "On the evening of April 14, 1865, I was in my quarters in the Navy Yard when, between ten and eleven 'clock, I was hurriedly called up by the War Department operator, who informed me that President Lincoln had just been shot in Ford's Theatre. I at once ran to give the news to Commodore Montgomery. His reply was: 'I guess that's a mistake, for I have just come from uptown and heard nothing of it.' "

Things happened fast after that. Intense excitement prevailed throughout Washington, and telegrams were flashed in all directions. The following are a few of those sent and received by me:

War Dept., Washington, D. C.

April 14, 1865, 11:30 P. M.
To Commander Parker, Potomac Flotilla.

An attempt has been made this P. M. to assassinate the President and Secretary of State. The parties may escape or attempt to escape down the Potomac.

(Signed) J. H. TAYLOR.
Chief of Staff. Navy Yard, Washington, D. C,

April 14, 1865, 11:35 P. M.
To S. Nickerson, Actg. Vol. Lieut.

St. Inigoes, Md.

Send the fastest vessel you have with the following message to Commander Parker. "An attempt has this evening been made to assassinate the President and Secretary Seward. The President was shot through the head and Secretary Seward had his throat cut in his own house. Both are in a very dangerous condition. No further particulars. There is great excitement here."

(Signed) T. H. EASTMAN,
Lieut. Com. V. S. Potomac Flotilla

About midnight I received the following from General Eckert:

"Remain on duty all night unless permission is given to close."

April 15, 1865, 1 A. M.
To Brig. Gen. Barnes,

Point Lookout, Md.

Stop all vessels going down the river and hold up all persons on them until further orders. Hold all persons leaving Washington.

(Signed) H. W. HALLECK,
Maj. Gen., Chief of Staff

War Department, Washington,

April 15, 1865.
To Commodore Montgomery, Navy Yard.

If the military authorities arrest the murderer of the President, and take him to the Yard, put him on a monitor and anchor her in the stream, with strong guard on vessel, wharf and in yard. Call on Com- mandant Marine Corps for guard. Have vessel immediately prepared ready to receive him any hour, day or night with necessary instructions. He will be heavily ironed and so guarded as to prevent escape or injury to himself.

Secy. Navy.

Booth, after shooting the President, fled down the eastern shore of the Potomac, crossing the Anacostia bridge, but a short distance from my office, where he was met by Harold, his co-conspirator and guide. The road taken was that over which our wire ran to Point Lookout where we kept our rebel prisoners. Upon information telegraphed by our operator from Port Tobacco, picked men were sent down who traced the fugitives across the river to a barn near Port Royal, Va. The barn was set on fire and as Booth emerged he was shot. His body was brought up to the Navy Yard, laid out on a monitor where I saw it, as before mentioned.

The particulars relating to the attempt to assassinate Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, are as follows:

About April 6, while riding in his carriage, his horse becoming frightened, ran away. He was thrown from the carriage and his arm and jawbone were broken. To hold the jaw in place the surgeon had used wires extending down in front of his throat.

At the hour when Booth was carrying out his part of the terrible tragedy, Payne, one of the other conspirators (whose real name was Lewis Thornton Powell) appeared at the residence of Secretary Seward, and, rushing past the guard, flew up the stairs to the room where the Secretary however, holding the jaw, also protected his throat, which probably was the means of saving his life. Frederick Seward, the son, in attempting to arrest the flight of Payne, was dangerously, though not mortally, stabbed. Rushing past Miss Seward, Payne made his escape but was subsequently arrested, brought to the Navy Yard, and placed on the monitor (as directed by Secretary Welles in his telegram to Commodore Montgomery, quoted above), and later was executed with the other conspirators.

At the close of the Civil War Mr. Atwater and his family returned to Brooklyn, where they now reside.

The following is extracted and copied from F. Atwater, Atwater History and Genealogy, Vol. I, 1901, pp. 289-290. It is from a letter from Henry H. Atwater to Francis Atwater.

[Note: Fort Reno and Fort Stevens are located in the Tenleytown section of Washington DC Northwest. The battle where General Early's raiders were repulsed described below is usually known as the Battle of Fort Stevens.]

"During the Civil War I was in the Military Telegraph Service. When Gen. Early made his famous raid up the Shenandoah Valley in July, 1864 and reached a point in front of Fort Reno and Fort Stevens, between Washington and Baltimore, I was ordered to Fort Reno with all possible speed as a battle was expected to take place at any moment and the operator stationed there was considered incompetent. When I reached Fort Reno our forces were considered totally inadequate to cope with that of Early. The 6th Corps and part of the 19th had been ordered by transport from City Point by Grant, but had not yet arrived in Washington. Early was informed of this by his spies but doubted this report and believed the reinforcement we expected had arrived. This hesitation in attacking us lost him the opportunity of successfully entering and destroying the National Capitol. About 10 o'clock at night our scouts reported that Early was making every preparation to attack our Fort that night. Every man was at his post all night. The next morning we captured one of the enemy's scouts who confirmed the report. The following afternoon Grant's reinforcement from City Point arrived, moved out past Fort Reno and in front of Fort Stevens, gave them battle and put them to flight. The battle took place just at the edge of evening; President Lincoln was present and saw the engagement. Our troops then endeavored to head them off, but they, crossing the Potomac at Edward's Ferry, escaped. General Wright was in command on our side.
"Later I was ordered to the office in the Navy Yard in Washington and was stationed there when President Lincoln was assassinated. Payne, one of his assassins, was captured and brought to the yard. Telegrams passing through my hands from Wells (sic), Secretary of the Navy, ordered him to be heavily ironed, placed on board a monitor, the monitor to be anchored in the stream and extra guards placed about the yard and on piers, as it was feared an attempt would be made at rescue by his accomplices. While on board the monitor he attempted to dash his brains out; a cushioned bag was ordered made and to be placed over his head to prevent self-destruction. Later the body of Booth was brought to the yard and placed on the monitor, where I saw the body laid out. After sundown the body was placed on a tug and conveyed to the arsenal and put in a building where some old shell boxes were piled up, and covered with a sail-cloth. The next morning the papers announced that his body was taken on the tug down the Potomac and out to sea where it was thrown overboard. (note: italics as in the original) Our wire running from the War Department to the Navy Yard, thence down the Potomac, afforded me a great deal of information in regard to the movements of the men sent to capture Booth."

Contributed by Chuck Atwater.