Thomas Thompson Eckert began his career as an operator in the Morse Telegraph
Company; in 1852 he became the head of the Chicago Branch of the Union Telegraph
Company. In the fall of 1861, Eckert was appointed Assistant General Superintendent
of the United States Military Telegraph. The Telegraph was organized from the
Western Union Company as an expressly civilian service, subordinated directly to the
Secretary of War and the President. The service remained under the civilian control,
despite numerous attempts to put it under the command of the Signal Corps. In
February 1862, Eckert was put in charge of all telegraphic operations of George B.
McClellan's Army of the Potomac. He remained with McClellan throughout the Peninsula
campaign, supervising construction and operation of field telegraph offices in
Virginia and Maryland. In April 1863, when the General Superintendent of the
Military Telegraph Anson Stager moved his office to Cincinnati, Ohio, Eckert was
recalled to Washington and appointed the head of the Military Telegraph office at
the War Department. In addition to managing the Telegraph Washington office, Eckert
was entrusted with important political, intelligence, and diplomatic missions. In
March 1865, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and on July 1866,
became Assistant Secretary of War. He held this position until he resigned from the
War Department in February 1867. In the post-war decades, Eckert managed first the
Vanderbilt family's Western Union and then its chief competitors, Jay Gould's
Pacific Telegraph Company and the then American Union Telegraph. From 1893 to 1900
he was the president of Western Union, and then served as chairman of the company's
board of directors until close to his death in October 1910.
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