A Dash of Love


Along the smooth and slender wires, the sleepless heralds run,

Fast as the clear and living rays go streaming from the sun;

No pearls of flashes, heard or seen, their wondrous flight betray,

And yet their words are quickly caught in cities far away.

(Author Unknown)

It’s amazing how you can get an idea for a blog entry, thinking it’s going to be an easy one. Then you begin writing. Oh, my. This was supposed to be just a short little romantic entry about how my maternal grandparents met. As I started writing I started realizing how little information I really had on the subject. It could have been written in one line. One line does not a blog make!

I suppose I could fill in the blanks with some made up fun stuff or take the time to research and read about places and things related but then I would be writing fiction. My plan is to write about some of the few things I know about my family history. And that’s not supposed to be fiction.

My mother once told me that her parents met when they were both telegraphers for the railroad. That has really piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more. I had never thought of my grandmother as a working woman. I wish I still had some relatives around that could tell me the whole story.

The story I have is that it all began in a little town called Kilgore in Boyd County, Kentucky. My grandmother, Julia McNeal, was born in 1879 in Kilgore, Kentucky. My grandfather, John Chase Hatcher, was born in 1874 in Louisa, Kentucky and later moved to Kilgore.

Sometime in the 1890’s (ah, Victorian times), John went to work as the agent for the railroad station in Kilgore, Kentucky in his early 20’s. Coal was very big in Kentucky and it brought the rails through Eastern Kentucky to haul it across the country. He worked there as station agent and telegraph operator for about 20 years. The Kilgore railroad station was located about half way between Kilgore and Rush, Kentucky, both small towns being located in Boyd County (the next largest town would have been Ashland).

I had never really thought about women of the 19th century working regular jobs outside the home. They always seemed to be portrayed as stay-at-home wives and mothers. I was surprised to learn how many young women worked as telegraph operators. Why, they even operated during the Civil War. But, why not? Women have always stepped in when the men were called to fight. The work had to continue. And I kept running across references to that age-old adage that women were cheaper to hire than men because they were only going to work a short time anyway before leaving for marriage and family.

I’m surmising when I make the statement that my grandmother probably learned Morse Code and how to be a telegraph operator from her father, Andrew Creighton McNeal, since he, too, had worked as a telegraph operator. Click here for more information on Andrew Creighton McNeal. In her late teens, she went to work as a telegraph operator at the Kilgore station. I don’t know if she worked for my grandfather or with him at that time. I would hazard a guess that she worked for him as the telegraph operator while he ran the depot but, as I said, that’s a guess. But what I don’t have to guess at is that because of that telegraph, my grandparents met and fell in love. They were married in 1899 when she was 20 years old and he was 25. Of course, she added to the statistics that the young women only work a year or two before getting married!

When I decided to write about my grandparents meeting, my hope was that they had actually worked as telegraph operators at different locations and that they “met” and their love blossomed over the wire. Ah, the forerunner to internet dating! I thought that sounded much more romantic! But because they both lived in Kilgore and didn’t have automobiles, I have to go with the most logical conclusion that they met while working together.

Telgraph_Drawing

This plate from Harper’s Weekly puts women at the center of telegraph operation. Men and women working as operators often “talked” during down time and romance ensued. Sort of like Internet dating for the 19th century. “The Telegraph,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (August 1873), 332.

As a side note, I found so much information about telegraphy in the 1800’s and women’s part in it. Most people today are unfamiliar with the telegraph, not knowing how it worked or why it was so important to a country as vast as the United States. Prior to the middle of the 1800’s the fastest way to send a message or letter was by a rider on horseback (Pony Express) or by ship. Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph system brought an electronic highway of dots and dashes traveling along copper wires strung on poles. The telegraph was definitely the precursor to our internet of today.

As Carolyn Marvin observed in When Old Technologies Were New, there are some surprising parallels between the experiences of nineteenth century women telegraphers and the twentieth-century story of women in the field of computer programming. Some of these similarities are technically based; the telegrapher’s work, like that of a modern computer programmer, consisted of translating English-language instructions into machine-readable codes. Morse Code is, in fact, a direct ancestor of the ASCII codes used by software programmers. The computer itself is the direct descendant of the telegraph. In a historical sense, the computer is no more than an instantaneous telegraph with a prodigious memory, and all the communications inventions in between have simply been elaborations on the telegraph’s original work.

Andrew Creighton McNeal and the Civil War Battle/Siege of Atlanta, GA

Growing up I was never all that interested in history. In school, like almost every other student (there were exceptions, of course), history was just some ancient storytelling that had absolutely nothing to do with me or my life. Since I began chasing information on my ancestry, I have begun to develop an interest in and understanding of what those historical events meant. I have learned that my ancestors were quite a patriotic lot. I’m sure that’s a big reason why I’m so passionate about my country and the things that seem to be eating away at the very core. But I digress….

Today I write about my maternal great-grandfather, Andrew Creighton McNeal. Five feet, 8 inches tall with dark hair, blue eyes and fair complexion. Great-grandpa Creight (pronounced Crate)  as he was called or also A.C., was born about 1843 in Scioto County, Ohio. He worked as a farm laborer in his teens. In February 1861, at the age of 19, he left home and enlisted with the 53rd Ohio Infantry. His military records show that he was promoted to a Corporal of Company “D”. Another report later shows him as re-enrolling as a Private after being home sick for some time. Perhaps his rank changed when he re-enlisted as a Veteran Volunteer. Later Pension reports leave his rank blank. He served a total of three years and was mustered out 11 August 1865 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I can’t begin to imagine what these soldiers suffered physically and emotionally. Almost every medical report of his recorded (and filed in the National Archives) reports suffering of diarrhea. I would imagine it would have to be from the probably tainted food and water they managed to get along their marches.

Battle of Atlanta, by Kurz and Allison (1888).

The last battle he was involved in was the Battle of Atlanta, GA from July 20 to September 2, 1864. On or about the 22nd day of July, 1864, Creight received an injury to his head under the following circumstances (as reported by various doctors): He was in the skirmish line and was behind some bridge timbers when a percussion shell struck the timbers above his head and exploded surely shocking him and causing permanent injury to his head.  This causes a continual pain in the base of his brain which when aggravated by cold becomes almost unbearable and it has affected his eyes.

In a letter written by A.C. McNeal in 1899 to the Commissioner of Pensions, he talks about the injuries he received during the Battle of Atlanta, together with other health issues contracted during the war. He writes: The trouble in my head originated at the battle at Atlanta, GA on the day that Genl. McPherson was killed … caused by the explosion of a shell from the enemy’s gun, in such close proximity to me that the concussion knocked me down and against a pile of RR bridge timbers and ever since there has been a noise in my head like escaping steam, and at times very painful and similar to a neuralgia. And as I grow older it seems to be getting worse and affects my hearing to a greater extent. Atlanta-SiegeChronic diarrhea I contracted at Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing Tenn, but has not bothered me to any extent for a number of years. I dropped the doctors in that case and cured myself with salt, vinegar and water. Rheumatism I first felt it in my life while we layed at Little Rock Arkansas after the fall of Richmond but it was to such a slight extent that I paid but little attention to it, but it continues to hang on to my right hip and shoulder while my left leg is swollen at all times until it will measure from 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches more than the right.

He continues: I am a man that can turn my hand to almost anything that I see anyone else do. Consequently, my several disabilities have not kept me from following some kind of work outside of manual labor, unless it might in a few instances that I be layed up for from one day to a week or such a matter.

He returned home after the war and in 1867 he married Mary Virginia (Jennie) Hoskinson. They had three children, two boys and a girl. On the 1870 Census, Creight and Jennie were living in Greenup County, Kentucky. Creight’s occupation was listed as steam engineer, the operator of a boiler. He was in charge of the machinery at the Star Furnace in Carter County, Kentucky. In 1873, he took a job in Indiana where, for a reason I haven’t been able to determine yet, Jennie died. Creight then returned to Ironton, Ohio and in May 1875, he moved to Kilgore, Kentucky and took charge of miner’s machinery for the railroad.

Sometime that year, Creight met and married Mary Columbia Woods Vaughn December 31, 1875. The ceremony was small and private being held in Creight’s home. Mary was a widow with three children. She and Creight then had two children together, Julia and Henry. Julia was my maternal grandmother.

They were living in Coaltown, Kentucky during the 1880 census.  He was listed as “A. C. McNeal” and as being born in Pennsylvania.  He was listed again as a stationary engineer, the operator of a boiler.  He was also a telegrapher (the first commercial telegraph between Washington DC. and Baltimore was installed in 1843), a steam engineer and worked at the powerhouse at the railroad in Rush, Boyd County, Kentucky.  The powerhouse may have provided electrical and or steam power in support of mining activities. Creight was always reading about science and made clocks.

AC McNeal Marker 1Crate died Feb. 4, 1903 in Rush, Boyd County, Kentucky at age 61.  He is buried with a military headstone in Kilgore Cemetery, Carter/Boyd County line, Kentucky.  The cemetery is on the top of a hill on Route 60 near the interstate on the Boyd County, Carter County border.  It basically is within the bounds of Carter County.  However, this cemetery is at the turn to Rush and is located in the Rush/Kilgore area.  Both of these being mining towns in their day. The cemetery (as of 10-12 years ago) is located in a virgin forest with periwinkles.  AC McNeal Marker 2