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City Man Was Lincoln's Eyes at Battle

Without the vivid accounts of a Norwalk resident, President Abraham Lincoln might have been left wondering for days about the outcome of a key Civil War battle. Homer Byington, publisher of the Norwalk Gazette, used the telegraph to relay a vivid eyewitness account of the Battle of Gettysburg, which raged from July 1-3, 1863..

He described the incessant cacophony of gunfire, the billowing clouds of smoke and, as far as he could see, the brutally injured soldiers. As revealed in documents found in the collection of The Norwalk Museum, Byington was the publisher of the Norwalk Gazette but he traveled to Pennsylvania as a stringer for the New York Sun. In Gettysburg, he rigged a telegraph line and transmitted the accounts, not realizing the recipients included the War Room at the White House. Byington's descriptions of the decisive battle became the reports delivered to President Lincoln.

"There appears no room for doubt but that Lee's whole army is now north of the Potomac," Byington wrote. "It is evident a great battle must soon be fought."

Susan Gunn Bromley, the museum's curator, said another Connecticut native was called upon to verify their authenticity. When officials in Washington questioned the veracity of the reports, Byington responded, asking if Gideon Welles was in the room. The Secretary of the Navy, Welles confirmed Byington's identity and vouched for his credibility.

"We have the enemy hedged on all sides," Byington reported. "We apparently cannot fail to crush them."

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