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When the work of the Army in San Francisco in the days of the fire is told by those who know whereof they speak, there is one branch of the service which will receive praise that will be as unstinted as it is merited. Without the men of the Signal Corps commanded by Captain L[eonard].D. Wildman, the 2500 troops under General Funston would have worked like so many scattered individuals, without orders and without a head.

"I was once at the head of the Signal Corps,"said General Greely yesterday, "and I feel a delicacy in speaking of their work here as I would like to do. But you may say from me that for three days the only electrical communication in the down-town section was over the wires that Captain Wildman's men strung over the ruined walls through the heart of the burning district."

At 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning they had a wire from the Presidio to the edge of the burning district. Until 3 o'clock that afternoon, when the Postal Telegraph building went down, they kept one wire opened to Washington. General Funston, who was directing the troops from Market street during those hours, was in communication with his base and with Washington all the time, when a newspaper man could not get a message out of the city for love or money, and the city telephone plant was down and out.

When the orders were issued on Sunday for the division of the city into districts, with six different headquarters scattered throughout the town, it took only three hours for the men of the Signal Corps to connect each headquarters with the department headquarters at Fort Mason.

At 5:13 on Wednesday morning the forces of the Signal Corps in San Francisco consisted of the Captain in charge, Sergeants Binkley and Mosely and Corporal Deir and several privates. Now 171 men and seven officers are here operating eighty-seven [telegraph] stations, fifty-six of which they have established themselves, the balance being connections with the local telephone lines. They have 150 miles of insulated wires and are loaning material under instruction of the Secretary of War to the Western Union and Postal Telegraph.

After the line to Washington went out Wednesday afternoon the work of the Signal Corps was to keep a line from headquarters to the ferry, where the Western Union had established an office at the end of its Oakland cable. Sergeant Oldham with two lineman ran a line down Bay street and around to the ferry Thursday morning. Never before was a connection made as that one was. Electric light wires were cut and used for a part of the way where they hung on the poles. Any old wire lying on the street was used, and at 3 o'clock Thursday afternoon headquarters was talking to the Secretary of War at Washington over that line to the ferry and thence by Western Union wire across the continent.

Then the flames swept up over Telegraph Hill and threatened the communication. Before it went down Captain Wildman had a new line run down California street, over which the fire had burned. insulated wires were stuffed in the cable slot while it was still hot. The men worked under dangerous walls in spite of the warning of the police and the firemen, and before the Bay street line went out communication was opened down California street. After that time it was never broken for more than a half hour at a time.

The squad dynamiting standing walls knocked it out repeatedly, the telephone and electric-light men cut it by mistake when they got to work opening their own connections, but a break was no sooner reported than it was repaired, and after the third day a complete ring circuit was established which took two breaks to put out of commission, and the emergency line has been replaced by one built entirely out of the Signal Corps' own insulated wire, fifty miles of which had been brought in from the torpedo school at Goat Island.

On the second day of the fire the force was increased by the arrival of Lieutenants Beacham and Grimm with thirty men, bringing supplies and instruments from Benicia Barracks. The next day Captain Clark reported with ten more men, and the service was then in such good shape that these ten men were loaned to the Western Union. Later that same day (Friday) Captain Black reported from Benicia with twenty more men. Several days after Captain Mitchell and Lieutenant Kumpe arrived from Fort Leavenworth with fifty-five men and materials for 150 miles of line and twenty-five stations.

"The officers who bore the brunt of the work," says Captain Wildman, "were Lieutenants Beacham and Grimm." Beside their own work they repaired the land connection of the Pacific cable at the Postal Telegraph station at the hut out on the [Ocean] beach. That was done the third day of the fire, a Government tug taking the instruments and men to the spot.

For several years there has been no cable communication with the quarantine station at Angel Island. Marine men and shippers have lamented the fact and tried to get an appropriation. Now the Signal Corps' cable ship Burnside is here and that cable will be put in as part of the emergency work, and connection made also with Alcatraz Island.

"I shall make a special report on the work of the automobile in these two weeks," Captain Wildman said: "They have been tested and their usefulness as an adjunct to the Army proved beyond a doubt."

Captain Wildman got the first orders to the troops on Wednesday morning by the single auto which was in the commission of the Government in San Francisco at the time of the fire. Going to the dock at Folsom street through the burning district he caught the steamer McDowell and sent orders for the troops to come in from Alcatraz and Angel Island. Then, using the auto still, he rode to the Presidio and got in communication with the officer in charge at Fort Miley and delivered General Funston's orders for them to come in for guard duty in the burning banking district.

"Where did you get these men?" asked a Western Union man of Lieutenant Beacham. "That sergeant has been at his instrument for three days. He gets an hour's sleep and comes back at it again as if he had slept a night." The fact is that the men and officers in the Signal Corps are nearly all from civil life. Captain Wildman is an electrical engineer who received his training at Stevens Institute, in New York, and Beacham was one time captain of a football team at Cornell.

From Sergeant Binkley, who saved all the office records to the latest man to arrive from Fort Leavenworth, the men of the Signal Corps can be proud of their record in San Francisco. As one of them modestly put it, "I think the Signal Corps has made good." For two weeks they handled 2000 messages a day on the lines they built over the ruins.

On the wall of the room they were using for an office, at Fort Mason, is drawn a big map of the city, with the lines they have run indicated in blue. A man stands looking at it through his eyeglasses, with the quiet demeanor of an art critic at a spring exhibition of water colors. But the story that the map tells is his story.

San Francisco Chronicle
May 3, 1906

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