Reports of Maj. Albert J. Myer, Chief Signal Officer.
The Peninsular Campaign, Virginia
March 17-September 2, 1862.
O.R.-- Series I--Volume XI/1[S# 12]
CAMP NEAR HARRISON'S LANDING, VA., July 18, 1862.
Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following preliminary report of services rendered by officers and men of the Signal Corps since the date of my communication of June 22. [Ed.--Footnote not found]
The following-named officers have been exposed under fire in the discharge of their duties during the recent movement of this army, and in the engagements of June 25, 26, 27, 29, and 30, and July 1. In each case the officers have well performed the duties on which they were ordered, often under circumstances of dangerous exposure:
In the engagement of June 25, with General F. J. Porter's heavy batteries on our right and with General Hooker's advance near the Williamsburg road: First Lieut. W. S. Stryker, Twelfth West Virginia Volunteers; Second Lieuts. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey, and N. H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey, at General Porter's batteries. Second Lieuts. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylvania, and E. A. Denicke, Cameron Rifles, New York Volunteers, with General Hooker, near Williamsburg.
At Mechanicsville, June 26: First Lieuts. B. F. Fisher, Third Pennsylvania Reserves, and F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers. Second Lieuts. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey; F. Horner, Sixth New Jersey, and Isaac Beckett, Fifty-sixth New York.
At the battle of Gaines' Mill, June 27: First Lieuts. B. F. Fisher, Third Pennsylvania Reserves, and F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers. Second Lieuts. J. Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers; J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey; N. H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey, and F. Horner, Sixth New Jersey.
At the battle of Savage Station, June 29: Second Lieuts. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers; N.H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers; F.W. Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers; W. H. R. Neel, Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers; D. S. Tompkins, Fifth Michigan, and E. A. Denicke, Cameron Rifles, New York Volunteers.
At the battle of Malvern Hill, June 30: First Lieuts. L. B. Norton and G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves; F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Second Lieut. J. F. Robbins, Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
At the battle of Malvern Hill, July 1: First Lieuts. B. F. Fisher, Third Pennsylvania Reserves; F. Ellis, Forty-second New York Volunteers, and Charles Herzog, Forty-first New York Volunteers; Second Lieuts. Joseph Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers, and F. W. Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
These officers have been chiefly under artillery fire, which they have encountered from almost every variety of caliber and in almost every degree of intensity. They have been screened whenever it was practicable from musketry fire. There have been narrow escapes, but no casualties. Two of the officers have been touched, their clothing torn by fragments of shell.
The services of the following-named officers entitle them to especial mention:
At the evacuation of the base of operations at White House Point, Va., and while that point was threatened with attack by the enemy, communication was for thirty-six hours maintained between the army on shore and the different gunboats of the flotilla in the Pamunkey covering that position. To the co-operation of the land and naval forces thus secured the success of that movement was in part due.
For their services at this place are mentioned: First Lieuts. W. S. Stryker, Twelfth West Virginia Volunteers, and J. H. Hutchinson, Third Vermont, stationed on shore; First Lieut. James S. Hall, Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, on flag-ship Chocura.
In the engagement of June 25, at the advance of General Hooker upon the Williamsburg read, the approach of the enemy, hidden by woods from our army, was observed by signal officers stationed in a tree trop, and the information was signaled to General S. P. Heintzelman, commanding on the field. On this information some timely movements of our own forces were made.
On this day, also, direction was given to a field battery near General Hooker's position.
For their services at this point are mentioned: First Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers; Second Lieuts. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylania Volunteers, and E. A. Denicke, Cameron Rifles, New York Volunteers.
At the same day information was communicated by signal officers across the Chickahominy as to the range and effect of the fire of the heavy batteries stationed on Hogan's and Gaines' Hills, then occupied by General F. J. Porter, and firing upon the position of the enemy at Old Tavern.
The officers who served with these batteries are already mentioned. At the battle of Mechanicsville signals were not used, the smoke settling so quickly upon the battlefield as to render them invisible. Under the circumstances, the officers were employed as reconnoitering officers, and by their observations gave some information as to the movements and position of the enemy and the direction of our artillery.
At the battle of Gaines' Mill signal communication was established on the field from the right and left flanks of our army, drawn up in line of battle, to the central position, occupied by General F. J. Porter. These stations were established prior to the engagement and maintained under fire until the action became general.
For services rendered preceding and during this action are mentioned: Second Lieut. J. Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers, stationed at the end of Bridge No. 5 and in advance of the left wing: First Lieut. B. F. Fisher, Third Pennsylvania Reserves, and Second Lieut. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, with the right wing, and Second Lieut. N.H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, stationed with the commanding general.
On Sunday, June 29, at the commencement of the flank movement from the Chickahominy and preceding and at the commencement of the battle of Savage Station, reconnaissances of the position and of the advance of the enemy were made by signal officers, and reported by signals to Brig. Gen. W. F. Smith, near Dudley's house, and Brigadier-General Sumner, on the field of battle.
For service on this occasion are mentioned: Second Lieuts. F. W. Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and E. A. Denicke, Cameron Rifles, New York Volunteers, reporting to General Smith the movements of the enemy from observatory station near Dudley's house; Second Lieut. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, stationed near the railroad, in advance of the center of the line of battle; First Lieut. F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, on the Williamsburg road; Second Lieuts. F. W. Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and W. H. R. Neel, Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, at the center. During the action Lieuts. N.H. Camp, E. A. Denicke, and J. C. Wiggins volunteered for a dangerous duty.
Upon the arrival, during the flank movement of this army to its present base, of the advance of the Fourth Army Corps, General E. D. Keyes commanding, upon the banks of the James River, communication was at once established and afterward maintained between our army and the naval forces operating upon the river.
During the battle of Malvern Hill, on the afternoon and night of June 30, communication [was had] between the forces on the field of battle and the general commanding the army on board the United States steamship Galena, while he remained on board that ship, and between the different gunboats taking part in the action, both prior to taking up their positions for action and after they had taken those positions. Communication was also had between the fleet and our forces at other points on the banks of the James River. The firing of the gunboats on this day was in great part directed by signals from the field of battle, and the shells were thus thrown with precision and effect. The officers upon the field were exposed to a serious fire.
For their services on this occasion are mentioned: First Lieut. G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves; First Lieut. F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Second Lieut. J. F. Robbins, Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, stationed near General Porter's headquarters. First Lieut. Charles Herzog, Forty-first New York Volunteers, on the left and near the advance. Second Lieut. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylvania Volunteers, at Haxall's house. First Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers, near the river bank. First Lieut. H. R. Clum, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers, on board United States steamship Galena. Second Lieut. A. B. Jerome, First New Jersey Volunteers, on board United States steamship Aroostook; and First Lieut. L. B. Norton, Tenth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
During the battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, and the operations of that day and the ensuing night, constant communication was kept up between our forces on land and on the fleet, co-operating at various points on the James River. There was communication also between different portions of our army on land and also between different vessels of the fleet. This communication was maintained by officers on the field, some of them exposed to a heavy fire. The positions occupied by officers, wherever stationed, on that day and night were those requiring arduous labor and involving serious responsibility. On this day, as on the preceding, the fire of the Navy was directed and regulated almost entirely by the signal officer from the battle-field and from ship to ship.
For their services during this battle are mentioned: First Lieut. F. Birney, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and First Lieut. F. E. Yates, Fourth Excelsior Regiment, stationed near General F.J. Porter on the battle-field and communicating with the gunboats. First Lieut. F. Ellis, Forty-second New York Volunteers; First Lieut. Charles Herzog, Forty-first New York Volunteers; Second Lieut. J. Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers, and Second Lieut. F. W. Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, stationed near the left advance. First Lieut G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves, and Second Lieut. N.H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, near General Heintzelman, on the right. Second Lieut. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, and Second Lieut. G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves, and Second Lieut. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylvania Volunteers, near General Porter. First Lieut. H. R. Clum, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers, on board United States steamship Galena. Second Lieut. Isaac Beckett, Fifty-sixth New York Volunteers, on board United States steamship Mahaska. Second Lieut. E. A. Denicke, Cameron Rifles, New York Volunteers, and Second Lieut. A. B. Jerome, First New Jersey Volunteers, on board the United States steamship Aroostook. First Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers, on Haxall's house; and First Lieut. B. F. Fisher, Third Pennsylvania Reserves.
In the movements of the night of July I and on July 2 from Malvern Hill to the position now occupied by this army; in obtaining and conveying throughout the night of July 1 information to the general commanding the army, then on board the United States steamship Galena, as to those movements of the forces he had remained to superintend; in directing by his order on July 2 the position of the gunboat covering the rear of the wagon train, and which repelled the attack of the enemy on that train; in establishing communication between general headquarters on its arrival at this place and the fleet; in the observation and the announcement of the approach of the enemy to shell this camp on July 3; in designating to the gunboats where they could have the opportunity to be of service to the army on that day, and in reconnoitering and reporting upon the retreat of the enemy, valuable services were rendered.
For these services are mentioned: First Lieut. H. R. Clum, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers, on board United States steamship Galena; First Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers; Second Lieut. J. Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers; Second Lieut. J. C. Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, and Second Lieut. F. W. Mars-ton, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
On June 3, just after the battle of Fair Oaks, while this army lay north of the Chickahominy, the pickets of the left wing, which was then south of the Chickahominy, and the position of which was not before known to be at any point visible from the right wing, were discovered at a distance of 3 miles across the swamp by the signal officer on duty at Hogan's house. Communication was had over the swamp and the fact established that part of our left wing was visible. The swamp was then impassable between the points, and the enemy held the ground between them. This communication was kept up for many days by officers exposed to and often under the artillery fire of the enemy. The records will show the importance of the messages transmitted and the bearing they had upon the movements of this army. The communication was between the general commanding the army, Generals W. B. Franklin, F. J. Porter, and W. F. Smith.
The officers most exposed on these stations have been once mentioned. Others who served faithfully will be mentioned hereafter.
I have the honor further to state, as in place in this report of recent operations with this army, the following will be claimed in a more detailed report as in reference to the value of the services rendered by these officers and men of the Signal Corps of the Army:
1st. That without the co-operation of the Army and Navy the evacuation at this base of operations at White House Point, Va., could or would not have been conducted with the system and success which marked it, and that co-operation could not have been obtained in any other way than by the presence of the signal officers detailed for that duty.
2d. That while the army occupied both sides of the Chickahominy in the engagement of June 25, in the battles of Mechanicsville and Gaines' Mill, at the commencement of the flank movement to the James River, and the battle of Savage Station, information was procured by signal officers and intelligence transmitted under circumstances which without their presence would have rendered its transmission impossible, and that this intelligence was useful.
3d. That in the battle of Malvern Hill intelligence transmitted upon the field of battle was useful, and that the entire naval force was wielded and directed by the general in command in a manner which would have been without the services of the corps impossible.
4th. It will be claimed for the corps that Lieut. W. G. McCreary, acting signal officer, from the observatory station established at Haxall's June 30, on the commencement of the attack on our rear, first discovered later in the afternoon the advance of the column of the enemy moving down the river and upon the left of our position, then at Malvern Hill; that this discovery was made by him while the column was about 5 miles distant; that the column was watched by him until he had formed an estimate of its numbers; that its approach and its distance from our left was then communicated by signals by him to General McClellan, on board the United States steamship Galena; that the immediate movement of the gunboats to attack this column was consequent upon this information; that the movement was by the services of signal officers carried out more rapidly than it could otherwise have been done, and that by the promptness and intelligence with which the gunboats were enabled by signals to go into action and to direct their fire they contributed largely to the repulse of this column of the enemy.
5th. That by the arrival and by the fire at the proper time of the gunboats, directed, at the request of General McClellan on the evening of July 2, to repel the enemy, then attacking the rear of our wagon train, then near Harrison's Landing, the enemy was repulsed, and a serious confusion of the train and consequent loss was prevented. This movement would not have been so rapidly made had it been necessary to convey the orders and information otherwise than by the services of the signal corps.
6th. That within an hour after the arrival of this army at the James River the army was placed in co-operation with the naval forces, assisting it, and that then and in the battle ensuing, and up to the present time, the services of the entire naval forces on this station have been so secured and made available for action as they could in no other manner have been. A similar control of the fleet has been assured to this army throughout the campaign.
I thus early state these facts, and claim such services to have been rendered by the corps, for the reason that the battles are recent and those are now present by whom the propriety of the claims may be verified. It may be important to the officers and men now composing the corps that their services should not be lost sight of, or some of them hereafter claimed to have been rendered by others.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ALBERT J. MYER,
Signal Officer, Major, U. S. Army.
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF SIGNAL OFFICER,
Washington, D. C., October 21, 1862.
Army of the Potomac.
* * * * * * * * * *
CAMPAIGN OF THE PENINSULA.
The last days of March were days of labor. The signal camp of instruction was abandoned. The detachments of instructors (of which mention has been made) were formed and ordered to the armies of Generals Halleck and Butler. The office of the signal officer was, at the suggestion of Capt. Samuel T. Cushing, Second Infantry, U.S. Army, and acting signal officer, placed in charge of that officer, who well arranged and superintended its duties while the army went through the campaign of the Peninsula. The Signal Corps of the Army of the Potomac was partially reorganized. A detachment of officers and men was assigned to each army corps. The last equipments for the field and camp were completed, and the corps was then ready to accompany any movement of the Grand Army. Whatever time was else unemployed was given to the vigorous practice in signals of those whose short experience at the camp of instruction had rendered this practice necessary. As the embarkation took place at Alexandria the signal officers of each army corps were distributed among the vessels carrying those corps. The aid they gave in the regulating, by the rapid telegraphing of messages, the embarkation of the forces, the facility with which the movements of the loaded transports were through them directed, and the precision they were able to cause in the arrangements for the de-barkation of the great bodies of troops at the end of the voyage were subjects of pleasing surprise and of favorable comments, official and unofficial, among the numerous generals and other officers who were witnesses. Especial mention was made, I am informed, by Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter of the services rendered on this voyage by the signal detachment which, commanded by Lieut. H. L. Johnson, Fifth Connecticut Volunteers, and acting signal officer, accompanied the forces under General Porter.
The detachment serving with General Heintzelman was so well appreciated that a detail from it was sent back by that general from Fortress Monroe to aid in the sailing of the divisions under General Hooker, which, then belonging to Heintzelman's corps, were to sail at a later date. The signal officers accompanying the corps commanded by General Keyes on the voyage down the Potomac were much employed. The signal detachments commanded by Lieuts. N. Daniels, Third Wisconsin Volunteers, and acting signal officer, and F. Wilson, Fifth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, and assigned, respectively, to the corps commanded by Major-General Sumner and Major General McDowell, did not accompany the movement of the Army of the Potomac at this time.
On March 3l the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, on board the steamer Commodore, moved from Alexandria. A reserve party of seven officers, with their flagmen, accompanied them. The enlisted men of this party, the horses, stores, and wagons, with the extra stores for the corps of the Army of the Potomac, were on the same day shipped upon a sailing vessel. On the evening of April 2 the steamer Commodore arrived at Fortress Monroe, Va.
On April 3 the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac were nominally stationed a mile north of Hampton, Va. But very few tents were pitched, however, and this camp could hardly with propriety be styled one.
During the movement down the river it had been made known that a movement of combined land and naval forces against Yorktown was intended. As soon as headquarters had moved from the steamer Commodore an interview was had with Commodore Goldsborough, then commanding the fleet near Fortress Monroe, and arrangements were made to send a detachment of signal officers and men on board the flotilla, then under orders to sail for Yorktown, under the command of Commodore Missroon.
On the next day the army transport with stores, &c., arrived. A night of hard labor sufficed to discharge her, and early on the following morning the reserve signal detachment, fully equipped, with its stores and means of transportation, was ready for the field. A detachment of 3 officers and 6 men, commanded by Lieut. J. W. De Ford, Eleventh Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, was ordered to the fleet. A few hours' rest was given to men and horses, yet stiff from the voyage, and at sunset on the 5th of April the party moved toward the front. A rapid night march over roads crowded with immense trains of wagons, and through fields, to avoid obstacles else impassable, and part of a day's toil through deep mud on narrow ways, encumbered with the impediments of a great army, brought the party on the afternoon of April 6 to the camping-ground, near Dr. Powers' house, of the first regular camp of headquarters of the Army of the Potomac made on the Peninsula in time to pitch their tents with the first there pitching.
The general advance of the Army of the Potomac had been made on April 4. On that night headquarters bivouacked at Big Bethel. On the following night they occupied a few uncomfortable sheds of a rebel cantonment near the now-selected encampment. In the general advance of the army the army corps under General Keyes moved upon the James River side of the Peninsula, and after heavy skirmishing touched the enemy's lines at Lee's Mill, near the Warwick River. The country into which this army corps moved was almost unknown to our generals. It was flat and covered with dense forests. The low formation of the ground and heavy rains had made it swampy. Through this the roads, nearly impassable, led. On all the march the detachment of the signal corps serving with these forces, under Lieut. B. F. Fisher, was on duty. There were no elevated points whence general observation could be had, and the character of the country made signaling impossible. The duties of such temporary reconnaissances as are made by scouts in such cases devolved upon the signal officers. They were among the first to follow the devious roads, to recognize the presence of the enemy, to study with their telescopes his strength and movements, and to hasten to report as well as they could such facts as they were able to note to the generals with whom they served. The advance of this column was checked near the line of the Warwick River, and General Keyes established his headquarters at Warwick Court-House.
The column under General Heintzelman, moving on the York side of the Peninsula, passed through a country difficult indeed, but both more open and better drained than that penetrated by the forces under General Keyes. The division of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter constituted the advance of this column, and after minor encounters with the enemy, in which they precipitately fled, it came under fire, and was checked by the guns and works at Yorktown. The duties of signal officers accompanying this column were, as with the other wing of the army, those of exploration and reconnaissance.
General Heintzelman established his headquarters at the saw-mill near the head of Wormley's Creek, on the Hampton road.
On the 6th of April a number of vessels of the fleet appeared in the bay off Yorktown. A few exchanges of shots with the enemy's batteries bearing upon the river front convinced the naval commanders that with wooden vessels they could not pass between Yorktown and Gloucester, nor could they encounter without disaster the heavy metal and plunging fire of the enemy's guns. The fleet drew out of range, and anchored in the Roads about 3½ miles from Yorktown.
THE SIEGE OF YORKTOWN.
Our forces were in this position when in headquarters camp No. 1, near Yorktown, it was first made known that the corps commanded by Major-General McDowell had been withdrawn from the Army of the Potomac. The hope felt by many that this corps was in' some way to turn the enemy's defensive lines at Yorktown fell. At the same time reports were received of reconnaissances made along the lines in front. Earthworks seemed to be found everywhere, and everywhere bodies of the enemy, vigilant and of unknown numbers, resisted any threatened assault. There were heavy rains, and the mud grew deeper. A siege was becoming inevitable.
On the 10th of April headquarters camp moved to Camp Winfield Scott, in front of Yorktown. At about this date the army corps commanded by General Sumner arrived. The signal detachment, commanded by Lieut. N. Daniels, acting signal officer, accompanied this corps. In the bay below Yorktown, at an estimated distance of from 3 to 4 miles from headquarters camp and in sight, lay the co-operating fleet, of which the United States ship Wachusett was flag-ship. From the shore of this bay southerly to nearly the bank of the James River the Army of the Potomac was stretched, buried in thick woods, and so hidden that rarely could more than a division be seen together, and often not more than a regiment was visible from any one point of view. The rebel lines reached through a light country from the works of Yorktown proper to nearly the navigable waters of the Warwick River. To pass from the right to the left of our lines, following the narrow and winding earth roads and the miles of corduroyed ways through the woods was a journey of several hours, during which one came by surprise, as it were, upon regiments and brigades of soldiers encamped here and there in the forests, and batteries of heavy field artillery in position among trees and shrubs, and bearing often upon an enemy whose lines and forces, hidden by other trees and shrubs, were invisible. Along all this line there was the picket firing of both musketry and artillery.
On the right, between the works at Yorktown and the fleet below, desultory shots of enormous weight were thrown to and fro from rifled ordnance and 11-inch guns. On land, along the front, if a venturesome picket or curious signal man of either army showed himself within gunshot, or climbed a tree for observation, he was fired at as game. If a group was gathered together anywhere it was customary to disperse it with a shell from a rifled gun. The appearance of an officer with a telescope, or with any instrument of reconnaissance, rarely failed to elicit this attention.
On the left the rebel gunboat Teazer would now and then creep up the Warwick from the James River and try the ranges of her heavy guns upon the points where her commander supposed our camps might be. With the exception made by the opening of the trenches and the placing of our siege batteries (only one of which ever opened fire), this state of affairs was without change throughout the siege. There were some skirmishes, occasional artillery duels, and the affair of the Burnt Chimneys, or Lee's Mill.
Scattered along this advanced line were the stations of the signal officers, and their duties brought them every day upon and near it. It thus happened to them, serving in their turns in front, that so many of their number came to be at different times during the siege exposed to the enemy's sharpshooters, or, what was by far more common, to the fire of his artillery. Wherever stations were known or supposed to be the enemy day after day directed practice shots, either with guns from their batteries, or, as it once or twice happened, with lighter pieces brought for the purpose.
In the list of officers whose names I had the honor to lay before the general commanding in my report of June 26, 1862, there is, I believe, no one who was not at some time during the siege exposed and near the enemy. The courage and persistence with which some of these officers held the posts to which they were ordered (though in danger day and night for a week together) was worthy of commendation.
With the army thus located the chief signal officer early found cause for regret that official indifference had prevented the construction of the field telegraph trains with which it was at first intended to equip the Signal Corps. With trains of the character of those now in use with the Army of the Potomac it would have been easy to have connected, in one day after their arrival before Yorktown, the principal headquarters of the army. The insulated wire would be even safer running through the wood land than when extended by the side of roads. There were no field telegraphic trains with the army.
On the 7th of April, in obedience to an order of the general commanding, telegraphic communication by signals had been opened with the fleet, the detachment of signal officers ordered at Fortress Monroe having on that day joined it. The shore station, known as the headquarters station (No. 1), was at a barn near Camp Winfield Scott. From this day until the close of the siege there was, by day and night, a transfer of messages to and from the flag-ship of the fleet, and here, as on the fleet, a constant watch observed at once the signals made by either those afloat or on the shore. In dense fogs, in rains, and sometimes when the flag-ship, moving down the river, was shut out from view, this communication failed. To provide for these contingencies another station (No. 7) was opened at a house upon the shore of the bay, at the boat-landing of the fleet. This station was to send messages which could not be sent direct from the headquarters station. It was sometimes used for conferences and conversation by signals between the naval officers on the fleet and the officers of the army on shore. It was likewise in communication when necessary with headquarters station and with the fleet.
A station (No. 6) was, at different times in the progress of the siege, established at the Farinholt house, at the mouth of Wormley's Creek. It was intended to communicate by signals to the fleet in any sudden danger that might arise at the point and to transmit to the headquarters station the knowledge gained from observations made here. This station was little used.
When, on the 30th of April, the siege battery of 100 and 200 pounder Parrott guns, which had been established at this place, opened upon the works at Yorktown and Gloucester, signal officers at this station were communicating with others placed at Moore's house, near Yorktown, who thence reported the effect of the shots in so far as they were able to note them. The signal officers at the battery were of course exposed to the shots with which the enemy replied to the battery near which they were stationed. The signals were not permitted to be interrupted. The signal officers at Moore's house were directly in the line of both fires, the shells from the combatants passing high in the air over their heads. This position, though one of little danger, was not desirable, some of the large shells falling short and exploding near it.
A signal station (No. 5) communicating with the fleet had been opened at Moore's house on the 7th of April. This point was chosen with a view to directing the fire of our naval guns in the attack on Yorktown, then thought to be impending, and also for the purpose of momentarily informing the fleet of the progress of our land forces, whose assault was to be simultaneous.
Moore's house (located on the bank of York River) was directly under the heaviest guns of Yorktown, a mile distant. The beach at the foot of the bank on which the house was placed was commanded by the water battery on the beach at Yorktown. Trees clustering along the top and water edge of the bank, and reaching from near the enemy's works nearly to this house, offered a cover for rebel sharpshooters. This station was first visited and long messages sent from it to the fleet by a party of the corps on the third day after the army arrived before Yorktown, and while the place was yet some distance beyond our pickets. As a station of observation and communication this point was unrivaled. From it one looked down upon the works at Gloucester and their approaches, about 2 miles distant; upon the wharves and water batteries at Yorktown and the whole channel of the river and the bay spread out in view. Inland there could be traced the outline of the works at Yorktown proper, and there was had in view much of the open country between those works and our lines. This place was now permanently occupied as a signal station, communicating with the station at headquarters. When the signal flag was first discovered by the enemy near this house two light field pieces were run up by them in easy range and the officers were driven from their station by their fire, but only to return so soon as the fire ceased.
As the siege advanced the fire on the station became more serious. Lieut. Israel Thickstun, Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, was stricken senseless by a fragment of a shell while serving on it. The shells were very frequently exploding near it, the station receiving many of the shots aimed at our parallel in front of it. The working station was not reasonably tenable. The officers were instructed to shelter themselves near Moore's house, and to make report by signals only in case of emergency. The station was thus held until the evacuation of Yorktown. Its occupation was of the most use in the early days of the investment, when there were fears of a possible sortie of the enemy in that direction.
A station (No. 4) of observation was established in a point of woods south of Yorktown, at the junction of the Hampton and Warwick roads. This station was a mile from the works at Yorktown, and yet nearer the enemy's work known as the Red Redoubt. Communications hence by signals were sent to a signal station (No. 2) placed on the saw-mill at General Heintzelman's headquarters, and were thence reported to headquarters station. Another station of observation (No. 3), in like manner repeating its messages through Station No. 2, at General Heint-zelman's headquarters, was established on the Warwick road, in a piece of woods north of the cleared land in front of Lee's Mill, and near a small lunette, afterward taken by our forces. The post of observation of the officers here placed extended through a piece of woods southerly to the open ground in front of Wynn's Mill.
The position of these stations was easily discovered by the enemy. They were held through the siege with much risk to the officers ordered upon them. It was necessary to keep the officers there posted on duty for several days in succession, so that they might well know the localities of the enemy. The stations were hidden from the view of the rebel gunners. The danger was of injury from the fragments of the many shells thrown at the position during the thirty days they were occupied.
A signal flag was displayed in a tree, in sight of the enemy, at Station No. 3. The attempt to remove it was made hazardous by the enemy's musketry.
These completed the line of stations on the right. The dense woods covering the center and left of the army rendered signaling there impossible except from artificial stations. Soon after the siege had commenced the chief-signal officer was directed by the general commanding to cause signal towers to be erected and to be occupied as stations of observation and communication (if that was possible) along the front. It was hoped, also, that by observing from such points of view, and reporting the ranges of the shot and shell, the fire of guns and mortars soon to open on Yorktown might be accurately directed. These instructions were communicated to Lieut. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, commanding the signal detachment on the left of the army, and Lieut. N. Daniels, acting signal officer, commanding that with the center.
The sites for the towers on these portions of the line were at once selected by these officers. Large working parties reported to them, and the work of construction was commenced. On the right of the line, also, the positions for three towers were selected, and the timber for their construction was drawn from the woods and sharpened. Of these towers one(H) was to be on the shore of the bay near Farinholt's house. A second (F) was to be on the high bank near the dam crossing Wormley's Creek. The third (G) on the elevated plain near the Clark house and near Camp Winfield Scott. None of these were, however, completed when the evacuation of Yorktown took place.
A station had been built close to Camp Winfield Scott, in an immense tree. This was sometimes used for purposes of observation. Other stations or perches were now made on trees close to the trenches and batteries of our approaches. From one of these, near Moore's house, and at a height of about 80 feet from the ground, could be had a distinct and close view of the enemy's works at Yorktown.
At the center Lieutenant Daniels, acting signal officer, caused to be raised a lofty structure of logs (E) near our picket line in front of Lee's Mill, and overlooking part of the enemy's works there placed. This tower was constantly occupied by a detail of signal officers as a station of observation, and whatever facts could thence be noted were reported to General Sumner. It was often visited by other officers, whose duties were aided by the observations here made. This structure was in close range of the enemy's guns. Though partially hidden by trees, it might have been demolished by them. They hesitated, however, to fire upon it, curious (as I have since been informed) to learn for what it was intended. Along the left of the line the parties commanded by Lieut. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, erected four tower stations (A, B, C, D). These stations were occupied, and communicated with each other by signals. The positions commanded views of parts of the enemy's lines. The reports thence made were sent to General Keyes' headquarters. The enemy brought a light gun to bear upon one of these towers and sometimes fired upon it, but they were neither able to seriously disturb its occupants nor to interrupt their labors. With this enumeration have been mentioned all the permanent stations established during the siege.
The duties of reconnaissances and communication performed by the officers of the Signal Corps when not occupying these stations have been before referred to. There was no day in the siege but that they could be found in front of the enemy's lines closely watching his works, and there was in consequence no day but on which some of them were exposed to the dangers of this position. Of the character of the reports made and messages sent by these officers the general commanding had knowledge at the time.
On the 16th of April, 1862, occurred the affair of the Burnt Chimneys, or Lee's Mill. Mention has already been made by name of the officers particularly engaged at this place. The messages sent by them were sent at very short distances, and I have no reliable information as to their importance. They were useful, perhaps, in conveying intelligence which might if otherwise sent have necessitated the greater exposure of other officers. The observations reported by some of the officers were made from tops of trees they had climbed for the purpose.
In the last days of April the division commanded by General Franklin arrived on transports at Shipping Point. These troops were kept on shipboard for several days, and it was supposed they were to be moved against the enemy at Gloucester. A detachment of 5 officers and 12 men, commanded by Lieut. D. E. Castle, Nineteenth Indiana Volunteers, and acting signal officer, was assigned to duty with these forces, and reported to General Franklin, whose headquarters were then on shipboard.
EVACUATION OF YORKTOWN.
By the first days of May our approaches were nearly completed, the siege and mortar batteries were in position, and the day was reported fixed on which they were to open fire. Lieutenant Neel states in his report that two days previous to the evacuation of Yorktown and the main line of works-- that is, on the morning of May 2, 1862-- -Lieutenant Herzog, acting signal officer, and himself reported to General Smith, commanding near Lee's Mill, the evacuation of the enemy's main works at that place. I am not informed that this message was sent to general headquarters.
On the night of May 2 the unusual silence of the enemy so attracted the attention of the general commanding that in a message ordered to the fleet that night he mentioned that this silence might indicate an evacuation or a sortie, and asked that a gunboat be sent to draw the enemy's fire. The gunboat Marblehead moved up the river near the batteries, and, firing upon them, drew a number of shots in reply.
On the morning of the 3d of May a signal message was received from Lieut. A. B. Jerome, First New Jersey Volunteers and acting signal officer on Station No. 3, near Wynn's Mill, that the enemy were destroying their barracks. This was not supposed to have particular bearing upon an evacuation. On the same afternoon the enemy's fire opened as usual about sundown, and increased in rapidity after night fall, until at midnight the roar of artillery was almost incessant. Shot and shell were thrown in all directions, as though fired at random, and with ranges which had rarely been reached before.
Signals with torches were prohibited at Station No. 2 by the general there commanding for fear of drawing the enemy's fire. The signals made from stations at the front (Nos. 3 and 4) were therefore not answered, and no messages were received. About midnight a conflagration was observed in Yorktown. About 2 a.m. on the 4th the firing ceased, and between that hour and daylight our troops entered the works. Soon after daylight a message was received from Moore's house, announcing, "Our flag flies over Yorktown."
The claim is made by the signal officers stationed at the towers (C and E) on the center and left of our lines that the first positive information of the evacuation of the works in front of them was given by them to Generals Sumner and Keyes, with whom they were respectively serving. This report is said to have been made from the tower near Wynn's Mill at 4.30 a.m., and from the tower in front of General Keyes at daylight.
On both the center and the left signal officers went into the works with the first troops that occupied them, and, signaling back reports, gave positive assurance of the absence of the enemy. About 7 a.m. a message from the general commanding announced to the fleet the evacuation of Yorktown.
Lieut. T. R. Clark, acting signal officer with the fleet, on board the Marblehead, had previously, at 5.30 a.m., observed the evacuation from that vessel, and had at that time signaled the report to the flagship.
The fleet at once moved from its anchorage, and occupied the channel between Yorktown and Gloucester.
Upon the first announcement of the retreat of the enemy a party under command of Lieut. H. L. Johnson, Fifth Connecticut Volunteers, and acting signal officer, had been sent to Yorktown to establish a signal station in that place, and to send officers to open communication across the river to Gloucester as soon as that place could be safely entered. The officer detailed for this purpose was fairly on his way across the river in a skiff to occupy Gloucester before the enemy had abandoned that position. He was recalled to save him from capture.
As the fleet moved up the enemy hastily abandoned that point, and a signal officer landed with the advance of our troops who occupied it. By 10 a.m. stations had been established (and were working) at Farinholt's house, Yorktown, Gloucester, and on the fleet, the stations at Gloucester and on the fleet communicating to headquarters through the station on Farinholt's house.
Communication with the fleet had not been suspended during the movement of the vessels from the anchorage to Yorktown. The messages transmitted this morning were numerous and important. The general commanding received at Camp Winfield Scott reports from Gloucester and Yorktown and from the senior naval officer (on board the flag-ship, some miles distant and' out of sight) frequent statements of the position of the fleet; of reconnaissances made up the river and as far as West Point by steamers ordered on that duty; of captures made, and of the naval plans and orders. In return, he communicated his own wishes (to which he had immediate response)and his plans for the movement of the combined fleet and army.
Among other messages thus telegraphed was one from the general-in-chief, announcing his intention to move up the river that day the transports with the troops under General Franklin, and asking a convoy of war vessels; one relating to the reported embarkation of the enemy at a wharf beyond Williamsburg (which embarkation it was desired to prevent), and one to save the railroad bridge across the Pamunkey River, which the fleet proposed to destroy.
The reports from the fleet showed that the river was without obstruction as far as the White House, that the white flag was flying at several points on its banks and at West Point, and that no troops were there visible. The wharf beyond Williamsburg was reported as destroyed by fire and as yet burning. One or two large vessels were found on the stocks at West Point.
The signal stations on the right of the army, other than those above mentioned, were this day abandoned, and the parties were concentrated to accompany the advance of the army. Late in the afternoon the sound of cannon announced that the advance guard of the army had overtaken the enemy and commenced the battle of Williamsburg.
BATTLE OF WILLIAMSBURG.
On the 5th of May headquarters of the Army of the Potomac were still at Camp Winfield Scott. The last arrangements were making for the movement of General Franklin's forces, which, sailing up the river and to land at West Point, would turn any position taken by the enemy lower down upon the Peninsula, and would also threaten the flank of their retreating columns.
The signal officers with this command, some time before detailed to it by order of the commanding general, had been distributed among the transports. Other signal officers of the fleet detachment were on the gunboats to accompany them. The services of these officers will have particular mention in relation to the battle at West Point.
The signal detachments of the left and center, in charge of Lieutenants Daniels and Fisher, acting signal officers, had moved forward with the advance of the columns to which they were attached.
The movement to Williamsburg encountered the gravest difficulties in miry roads, puddled by the footsteps and broken into ruts and great holes by the wheel-tracks of the retreating army. These roads led through forests. A heavy rain had been falling all day.
At general headquarters we had heard the sounds of a continued battle since daylight. About 3 p.m. officers of the staff arrived from the front. The chief signal officer was notified that the general commanding was about to go upon the field, and was instructed by him in person that communication was desired between the army at Williams burg and the gunboats which were to be sent up from the fleet that night to act with it. He was directed to arrange officers for this communication. In obedience to these orders additional officers, carrying with them full written instructions as to the arrangements to be made, were sent to report to Lieut. J. W. De Ford, Eleventh Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, on board the flagship.
Two signal officers were to be placed on each gunboat sent to take part in the action. Of these one was to land, if necessary, and join our troops near Williamsburg wherever they might be visible. The communication of the gunboats to any point on shore visible from their decks and held by our forces was thus made certain. Lieut. H. L. Johnson, acting signal officer, was ordered to the front with a detachment of six officers and their men, which had the day before been concentrated. This party started immediately.
By the time these arrangements were completed it was night. It was very dark, and rain still fell rapidly.
The signal detachments of the forces with Generals Sumner and Keyes, moving with the columns on the march to Williamsburg, acted during the march as scouts to reconnoiter and as aids to carry messages and reports. Their duties in this character were continued on the field of battle. The smoke, the mist, the heavy rain, and the dense woods rendered signaling impossible. Some of the officers were posted by the officers in charge of the detachments where they could use their telescopes, and whence they announced to the commanders near them, either by orderlies or in person,. such movements of the enemy as they were able to see. Toward evening General McClellan arrived and went upon the field of battle on the right. Soon after his arrival, in reply to an inquiry made by him whether communication could be had with the gunboats expected to arrive at night, Lieut. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, reported to him, and received his orders to establish the communication required. This was successfully accomplished upon the arrival of the vessels, though the night was one very unfavorable for signaling. The shore station was about a mile inland from the river and close to the field of battle. The fact was communicated to the commanding general as soon as accomplished.
Lieutenant Fisher caused another signal station to be erected near one of the works on the battle-field, and made ready to call for and direct the fire of the gunboats, should it be needed, at daylight.
The acting signal officers who assisted Lieutenant Fisher, and those on the gunboats, whose care and watchfulness contributed to the result, are entitled to equal credit. The names of these officers, and of others who deserve mention at this place, are given in my report of June 18, 1862. There is reason to believe that the knowledge of this communication was of some importance to the commanding general. At daylight the enemy had evacuated their works and were in retreat beyond Williamsburg. A signal station had been established at the mouth of Queen's Creek, from which various messages were sent until the store ships with supplies, began to arrive.
On the arrival of the chief signal officer on the morning of the 6th communication was opened from the gunboats to other stations well inland, and was kept open at the request of General W. F. Smith, whilst the troops moved forward to occupy Williamsburg and until that village had been occupied in force. The fleet of transports with General Franklin's command was passing up the river to West Point as our troops were marching into the place. The headquarters of the army halted at Williamsburg some days, while the trains of the army were brought up through the almost impassable roads and the wounded of the battle were cared for. Fresh troops were pushed forward in pursuit of the enemy, while those which had suffered most in the engagement followed more slowly. The advance guard, under General Stoneman, pursued closely the retreating army. A party of three signal officers, with their men, accompanied this guard, and was actively employed watching the enemy and reporting their movements.
On the day following our arrival the chief signal officer was ordered to connect by signal stations, if possible, the village of Williamsburg with West Point. It was the plan that communicating stations should be placed on three schooners, anchored some miles apart in the river, and the messages sent from a station on shore at West Point were to be repeated through the schooner stations to another station on land at the mouth of Wormley's Creek; hence through other stations they would be sent to Williamsburg. The distance was about 20 miles. The schooners were to be brought from Yorktown. With much labor and many tiresome delays the stations were at length established May 9, but only on the day on which headquarters, moving again to the front, left them useless.
At Williamsburg, as at Yorktown, the chief signal officer felt deeply the want of field telegraphic trains, which would have rendered communication, at least over part of this distance, certain and easy.
BATTLE OF WEST POINT.
While general headquarters were at Williamsburg the battle of West Point was fought. The command of General Franklin, arriving at that place under convoy of the fleet on the afternoon of May 6, had by the morning of May 7 been so far disembarked that a large force of infantry was on shore, but not yet in perfect condition for action. It was without cavalry and but poorly supplied with artillery. The disembarkation from numerous transports of various descriptions was yet in progress. The position was almost surrounded by thick woods, which came down near to the river. The country, which was difficult, was not well known by our troops.
Whilst our forces were thus opened the pickets were driven in and heavy volleys of musketry announced the approach of the enemy under General Lee, advancing in great force to the attack, with the hope, doubtless, that our troops, taken unprepared and yet landing, could be routed and driven into the river. At the same time a battery of heavy field guns opened from a height at once upon the army and the transports. It was a moment of serious danger, and the most rapid action was necessary.
Part of the signal officers of the expedition had landed with the troops to which they were assigned. The firing on shore caused those on the war vessels and the transports to be everywhere on the alert. General Franklin, on the Mystic, at West Point, was sent for by signals. The order went quickly from the shore to the fleet, and as quickly from ship to ship, to move up and cover the army with their fire. With a promptness impossible without this communication the vessels were brought into position, and threw in the fire of their great guns to aid that of our army.
The contest was not long; the enemy's batteries were silenced, and their troops, repulsed and broken, fell back through the woods, followed for a long distance by the shell of the Navy.
On the 9th of May headquarters moved from Williamsburg, and on the following day they were at Roper's Meeting-house. While here a line of repeating stations was formed, connecting the headquarters of the army with the troops at West Point. It did not work well, however, and was used only for the practice of the officers. At this place the corps was joined by a detachment from the camp at Georgetown, bringing with it the first field telegraph train ever used in the field by an army of the United States. It was that of which mention has been made as partially completed and as used at the camp of instruction. It was a light structure, on wheels, carrying reels, from which there could be spun out insulated wire. It was fitted with telegraphic instruments of a kind before unused. It had been intended that the reels of this train should carry 10 miles of wire, so prepared that it might be laid on the ground and used anywhere without the escape of the electric current.
Different hinderances had made it impossible to furnish more than 4 miles of a copper wire, coated with gutta-percha, and of a rather inferior quality. The magnetic electric instruments, devised for the train by a mechanic of New York, were of new invention. The working current for these instruments when placed on telegraphic line is generated by a pile of magnets-- a part of the instrument itself. The letters of the alphabet are plainly marked on the dial. To cause the letters to be indicated at either end of the line, or to read them, are operations so simple as to be within the power, with little practice, of almost any soldier who can easily read and write. The instrument is used without fluids, without galvanic batteries of any kind, and is compact, strong, and portable. For use with flying telegraph trains on the field of battle, and for military telegraphing in general, I have regarded such instruments as necessary. I am of the opinion that it will be recalled at some time hereafter, with no little pride, that field telegraphic trains of this character and thus equipped were first brought into use by the Signal Corps of the Army, and were first used with the Army of the Potomac. The remains of this train, to which some historic interest already attaches, are now preserved at signal camp of instruction, Georgetown, D.C.
In the first attempts to experiment with and use this train an unexpected difficulty was encountered. The soldiers, unused to the coated wire, and seeing it stretched for miles along fences or lying on the ground near the road, would cut it and break it to examine its character. Some of them thought it an invention of the enemy.
On the 13th of May general headquarters were established at Cumberland. When, soon after our arrival here, the alarm was given that the headquarters train was endangered and that the enemy's forces were advancing, the general commanding, with his staff, started for the field in person. A detachment of five signal officers, equipped, accompanied him. The alarm was groundless.
There was some communication here by signals with the vessels in the river. A line of five signal stations was also established from this place to the advance guard under General Stoneman, then occupying White House. A few messages were sent to and fro over this line, but its principal use was for practice.
On the 16th of May headquarters camp moved to White House, on the Pamnnkey River. Among the reconnaissances made by signal officers from this place was one to the Chickahominy, near Bottom's Bridge, at, perhaps, the first time the waters of that stream were seen by any of our army.
On the ensuing day the corps commanded by General Keyes moving up to occupy a position near Bottom's Bridge, Lieut. H. L. Johnson, acting signal officer, with a detachment of signal officers and their men, was ordered to report to and remain with him for duty. From that time until after the passage of the Chickahominy this detachment served under General Keyes, and always with the advance of the corps.
A station of observation was at once established near Bottom's Bridge, whence the movements of the enemy whose pickets were now in sight across the river, were visible, and thence by a signal line communicated numerous reports to General Keyes' headquarters.
On the day of the passage of the Chickahominy a part of this detachment crossed with the first troops, and opening a station on the bluff near Burnt Chimneys and close to the picket line, placed that point in communication with General Keyes' headquarters, then at Old Tavern. This duty led to a remarkable collision. The advanced signal party was annoyed by the enemy's picket firing from a farm-house near them. The station would soon be untenable. The signal detachment was quietly mounted, and then, on the order of its commander, furiously charged the offending pickets, as the story ran, with telescopes. The panic-flight of the enemy evinced their dread of the novel armament. The party carried, however, revolvers as well as field glasses.
From this date the detachment served with the advance of the forces on the southerly side of the Chickahominy, carrying their stations up to the front at Fair Oaks. The camp was located near the headquarters of Generals Heintzelman and Keyes.
While general headquarters were at White House the wire of the field telegraphic train was extended a distance of 3 miles, lying on the ground and hung on bushes by the sides of the road. Experiments were made in transmitting messages while the wire was in process of reeling out. They were successful, and attracted much attention by their novelty.
A line of four repeating signal stations was established from White House to General Stoneman's advance guard, a few miles distant. This line was well worked, and was used for official messages.
On the 19th of May headquarters were moved to Tunstall's Station, on the West Point and Richmond Railroad. As the army moved from White House the advance guard, under General Stoneman, pushed rapidly forward to Old Cold Harbor, and with its advance encountered a small force of the enemy's cavalry at Gaines' Mill, near New Bridge.
A detachment of signal officers accompanied this advance, joining the small party which had served with General Stoneman previously. With the column moving in the field these officers were found everywhere in the advance and perched upon the roofs of the prominent dwellings. They sometimes anticipated the march of the advance guard. The distances over which they could work, however, were, from the formation of the country, generally short, and a single message could go by courier almost as rapidly as by signals. The labor of so large a party seemed unnecessary, and the greater number was ordered by General Stoneman to discontinue, that officer retaining with his advance the three who had accompanied him from Williamsburg.
On the next day the advance guard reached the banks of the Chickahominy at New Bridge. Some scattered forces of the enemy and a few guns, very plainly exposed, were visible on the crest of the hill on the Richmond side of the Chickahominy. On the northerly side, on the first elevated ground of the river bank, were the Hogan and the Gaines mansions. These houses were about three-quarters of a mile distant from each other. From a point near the Hogan house could be had an extensive view of the bottom lands bordering the river and of the country upon the opposite bank. A station of observation was established here under the direction of Lieut. N. Daniels, acting signal officer, and was held for some days while outside of our pickets. This station afterward became one of much importance.
On May 22 headquarters were established near Cold Harbor. From general headquarters to the station in front near Hogan's house a line of six repeating stations was made. The officers were kept constantly on these stations. Messages were transmitted to and from the front over this line with reasonable rapidity and accuracy. There were no great movements of the enemy visible from the station of observation, and there was little to report. The chief value of this line, as of the other repeating lines established at Williamsburg and White House during the march of the army, was in the practice and consequent skill which work upon them gave the officers on stations.
From headquarters camp at Cold Harbor parties were sent out to reconnoiter the course of the Chickahominy from Bottom's Bridge to New Bridge, and to select those prominent points which might serve in case of need as communicating stations. These parties were instructed to also note prominent points in view on the southerly side of the Chickahominy. The knowledge of the country gained by them showed it practicable to communicate by signals between the portions of the army occupying the northern and those at this time on the southern side of the Chickahominy. The stations would be, however, some distance to the rear of the advance on both sides of the river, and that on the south side of the Chickahominy near to the railroad, on which a line of electric telegraph was then building. It was not thought worth the while to occupy them.
From Cold Harbor the insulated wire of the field telegraph was run out a distance of two miles for one day to a point near the headquarters of the advance guard. These headquarters moving, it was reeled up on the same day.
THE SKIRMISH AT MECHANICSVILLE.
Early in the afternoon on the 24th of May our artillery opened upon the enemy for the first time on this part of our lines at New Bridge. The fire, sustained for some time, elicited no response. During its progress the advance guard, under General Stoneman, with a brigade under General Davidson, moved toward the village of Mechanicsville, then known to be held by a force of the enemy. The artillery joined the column on the march.
A detachment of seven signal officers, hastily collected from stations in the vicinity, moved with our forces. From the upper story of Austin's house, a dwelling located on a high bank on the east side of Beaver Dam, a first view was caught of the enemy on the other side of the Chickahominy, near Mechanicsville Bridge, and of the spires of Richmond.
Before the fact that the enemy was visible could be announced to the commanding general the head of the column, ascending on the Mechanicsville road to the crest on the west side of Beaver Dam, was received by a discharge of the enemy's artillery, and the engagement was commenced. At the same time a battery of two guns, stationed on the south side of the Chickahominy near a foot bridge opened in a vain attempt to reach the left of our line near Austin's house, on the east side of Beaver Dam. It was not known what force of the enemy might be near this battery. A signal officer was stationed on the left of our lines to watch it and report by signals any movement of the enemy in that direction to another officer stationed near the battery engaging the enemy on the west side of Beaver Dam, and also to another officer stationed with the battery firing from near Austin's house. The skirmish was of short duration. Our troops were hardly deployed in line of battle when the enemy's fire ceased, and they retreated to Mechanicsville.
A signal officer stationed on Austin's house reported six guns as moving near that village. It was dark by this time, and the troops bivouacked for the night.
By order of General Stoneman two signal officers were sent to report to General Davidson, and a code of rocket signals was arranged by which to indicate certain movements if made by his forces during the night.
At daylight the troops advanced upon the village, and after some artillery firing occupied it. As the line moved up General Stoneman, at his headquarters near Austin's house, was kept informed of its progress, and of the moment of the occupation of the village, by signals from the officers who accompanied the troops. As soon as the village was occupied a courier was dispatched ordering the wire of the field telegraph to be run out from a dwelling near the Hogan house, by this time occupied by General W. F. Smith as his headquarters, to a point near Mechanicsville. This was done, with a few hours' labor, in a heavy rain, and soon after noon the telegraphic communication was established from the headquarters of General Davidson, near Mechanicsville, to the division headquarters of General Smith. The ease with which this was done illustrated the rapidity with which under more favorable circumstances such communication might be made available.
On the day following the occupation of Mechanicsville a station of observation was established near that village, which was held almost constantly while our troops occupied the place. On the next day an expedition was made by a force of two companies of cavalry, with a detachment of mounted artillery and a field piece, under the command of Maj. A. S. Webb, of the Rhode Island Artillery, to examine the country in the vicinity of the Richmond and Virginia Central Railroad.
Two signal officers joined the expedition for the purpose of reconnaissance. This expedition penetrated the enemy's lines for some miles, driving in their pickets and scattering their supports, and finally reaching the railroad at a station near Greenshaw's, 12 miles from Richmond. The track was destroyed and set on fire in two places. In this work of destruction the turpentine from the canteens which signal soldiers carry was found to be a useful auxiliary. By the time the party reached the railroad it had been reduced by pickets left on different roads and guards at houses to about 25 men. The drums of the rebel force camped in the vicinity could be distinctly heard beating the alarm. The party returned to our lines unmolested.
On May 26 headquarters camp was established near New Bridge.
BATTLE OF HANOVER COURT-HOUSE.
On the evening of May 26 the chief signal officer was informed that a force under General Fitz John Porter would move at daylight to attack the enemy at Hanover Court-House. He was directed to provide a signal party to accompany it. A signal party of 7 officers, with their men, fully equipped and with three days' rations, were ordered to move with the troops at daylight. The chief signal officer accompanied this party. It had rained during the night and part of the previous day. On the morning of the 27th it was still raining. The columns moved with difficulty and slowly.
At about 11 a.m. the outposts of the enemy were encountered. About noon the head of our column near Hanover Court-House came suddenly upon a force of the enemy apparently advancing to meet it. The lines of both armies were formed at once and the battle commenced with artillery.
At nearly the right of our line our principal battery was posted, and was instantly engaged. A few hundred yards to the right of this battery, and in front of our line, was a clump of woods, from which was had a good view of the enemy and also of the fields they occupied. Lieutenants Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, and Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers, and acting signal officer, were ordered to establish a station here to observe the enemy and to report by signals to Lieutenant Horner, Sixth New Jersey Volunteers, and acting signal officer, who was placed at the battery, and to headquarters station, near the general commanding.
Lieut. G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, was posted on a house some distance in the rear of the battery and commanding a view of the fields in front. He was directed to report at headquarters station. (It was intended to use this station to communicate with the front in case our line advanced fighting.)
Lieutenant Thickstun, Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, was placed upon a house on the left, where he could see the open country, in order to report any movements of the enemy from that direction. Lieutenants Norton, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, and Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, and acting signal officer, were held in reserve. All the officers mentioned were in the range of artillery fire.
The fire upon the stations occupied by Lieutenants Marston and Gloskosky, Horner, and McNary was particularly severe. The flag had no sooner been raised on the advanced station than it was greeted by a volley of musketry. Though immediately screened behind trees, its position was much exposed throughout the action. Lieutenant Horner, stationed with the battery, received, of course, his share of the shots directed at the guns, whilst Lieutenant McNary, posted in the rear of the battery, was in line of shots, which went over it, and seemed by his elevated position to attract not a few intended for himself.
Messages were received from the advanced station by the station at the battery, directing the aim of the guns, announcing the retreat of the enemy, and replying to a question as to the nationality of a body of troops which appeared on the field; this latter, fortunately, just in time to prevent our own forces, which, advancing, had that moment come in view, from receiving the fire of our guns.
The enemy were driven from their first position after a contest of an hour's duration. Our line 'advanced toward Hanover Court-House in pursuit. The stations at first established were abandoned by order of General Porter. The signal officers were sent forward with the first skirmishers, reconnoitering and reporting from elevated points in the field and on the right and left of the line as it advanced. A station was erected on the top of a large house overlooking the field of battle near which it was and the valley in which the village of Hanover is located. From this station a report was made that some regiments of the enemy with artillery were visible in the valley near Hanover. Our advance soon after moved rapidly to that village. The signal party was hurried to the front to seek the position of the enemy, and kept on the road going west of Hanover until a camp of the enemy was visible. It was here learned from the returning troops that the general advance of the army was not in this direction, whilst the sounds of artillery announced that a conflict had recommenced near the first scene of battle. Hastily turning back, the party again arrived on the field just as the last shots were fired.
On the following day the army occupied the same position. The dead were buried; the wounded were cared for. The condition of the enemy's camp showed with what haste they had retreated.
A station of observation was opened on a prominent house near the field of battle, whence frequent reports were made to headquarters. Other minor stations were also established. The officers were called in from these stations at sunset. It was thought there might be a battle on the following day, and an order was sent back to camp directing more officers to report the next morning. The party bivouacked on the field.
At daylight the next morning the chief signal officer was ordered by General Porter to send a party to General Emory, under whose command expeditions had been sent out during the night. The headquarters of General Emory were found at a church or school-house beyond Hanover. They were connected by a line of repeating stations with those of General Porter yet upon the battle-field.
The chief signal officer was also directed to extend a line as far toward the left on the Ashland road as was practicable. The headquarters of General Morell, commanding on the left, were connected by repeating stations with general headquarters, and when, a few hours after, the signal detachment ordered in the night arrived, this line was extended a mile and a half toward Ashland. A signal station was erected upon the roof of the mansion before mentioned.
About 9 a.m. a dense cloud of smoke was reported as visible from this station. It was some miles distant and in the direction taken by one of our expeditions. Not long after a signal dispatch from General Emory announced that our troops had reached Ashland and the destruction of the railroad bridge. This was followed by other brief messages and reports. Orders went soon after to General Emory to call in his forces.
The object of the advance on Hanover (the destruction of the enemy's communications by railroad north) had been accomplished, and the army corps was about to rejoin the Army of the Potomac. The signal lines were ordered to be broken up. The last message-- one of "All quiet"-- came from the left. The party was concentrated and moved for their camp on the Chickahominy. At 1 o'clock all our troops were in motion on their return, and the headquarters of General Porter had left the field of battle.
THE SIEGE OF RICHMOND.
The siege of Richmond may very properly date from the time at which headquarters camp was established at New Bridge. By the closing days of May the left wing of the Army of the Potomac had advanced along the railroad toward Richmond to beyond Fair Oaks. It was concealed in the dense woods, and held the swampy and uncomfortable ground on the south side of the Chickahominy. Its advanced pickets were just in view of great cleared fields and high grounds, which, if attained, would bring them almost within range of Richmond and in healthy encampments. The right of the army was stretched along the northern banks of the Chickahominy from Bottom's Bridge to beyond Mechanicsville. There were bridges at Bottom's Bridge, at the railroad crossing, at a point above the railroad-- a corduroy structure, known as Sumner's Bridge-- and three bridges nearly completed; one at, one above, and one below the location of New Bridge. The open country mentioned as in front of the left wing reached to the bridges at New Bridge, and here were large fields on both the north and south sides of the Chickahominy.
The corps of Generals Heintzelman and Keyes occupied the southern side of the river. The northern side was held by the corps of Generals Sumner, Hooker, and Franklin.
The signal party serving on the south side of the river, under Lieut. H. L. Johnson. Fifth Connecticut Volunteers, and acting signal officer, had been working faithfully under most disadvantageous circumstances. They were shut in everywhere by swamps and thick woods; there were no points from which they could communicate to advantage; the army was new; the generals did not know how to employ signal officers, and the officers had yet to gain by service experience as to the best modes in which to employ themselves. There were, however, signal stations along the railroad, connecting General Heintzelman's headquarters at Savage Station with the front beyond Fair Oaks, and the officers had reconnoitered faithfully, but with little success, along the picket line for points of observation.
On the northern side of the Chickahominy the field telegraph line was extended along fences and in trees from general headquarters to near Mechanicsville. The soldiers had ceased to cut the wires, patrols had been established, and the line was working successfully and with little interruption.
There was a station of observation near Mechanicsville, and the station near Hogan's house, above New Bridge, which had been occupied from the time the advance of the army reached it. From this station could be seen the line of thick woods in which we knew the left of the army lay covered; but though it was scanned carefully every day, and often with glasses, no friendly soldier was visible.
BATTLE OF SEVEN PINES.
On the 30th day of May was fought the battle of Seven Pines. This battle was fought in the rain and in a thick woods, and without any prearranged plans on the part of our forces. The left of the army resisted the furious attack of the enemy wherever and however they were able, fighting in the dark as it were, sometimes first knowing the presence of the foe by receiving his fire. With such circumstances and on such ground it was impossible for the signal officers to use signals, nor does it seem from their reports that they acted as reconnoitering officers, reporting by courier. Some of them joined the staffs of different generals and served gallantly enough as aides. The temptation for a signal officer to convert himself into an aide is always serious, the duties of the latter, as rendered in our service, requiring less care and much less trouble; for this reason, and to discourage the practice, no mention was made in my preliminary report of any services of signal officers at Seven Pines.
The fight raged furiously from about noon. From a signal station near Hogan's house the shells could be seen bursting in the air and the smoke rising above the tree-tops, while the sounds of the battle were distinctly audible. About 3 p.m. a brigade, forming, as it seemed, a part of the enemy's left, moved in line of battle, with skirmishers in front, across the open fields south of New Bridge, to join the action. A few guns were at the same time fired by a battery near them. The movement of these troops was visible by many of our officers at Hogan's house and excited comment by its steadiness. The fire continued heavily long after night-fall, and when it ceased both armies only rested for the struggle of the following day.
THE BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS.
On the evening of the 31st of May the chief signal officer was informed at headquarters of the result of that day's battle. It was known in the night that General Sumner had succeeded in crossing the Chickahominy with his corps, that the progress of the enemy was checked, and that there would be a battle in the morning. It was announced in the evening as the plan that the corps of Franklin and Porter would cross in three columns the three bridges near New Bridge at daylight, the crossing to be covered by the fire of numerous batteries posted on the first rising grounds north of the river. This would bring a force on the flank of the enemy, engaging with his front our troops near Fair Oaks. It was reported, also, that there was trouble at the crossing of Bottom's Bridge, the bridges being crowded with wagons and troops. A signal party was ordered down in the night to render assistance, if it should be required, by transmitting orders from one side of the river to the other. There was no occasion for the services of this party. All officers and men of the signal party fit for duty were ordered to be ready to move from camp before daylight.
At daylight the next morning the whole army was under arms. The signal party was moved to near New Bridge, and parties were arranged to accompany the columns to cross as follows, viz: Four officers with their men reported to the commander of each column; two were to cross at each bridge with the troops and two to remain with the batteries detailed to cover that column. Of the officers crossing at each bridge with the first troops one was to carry the white the other the red signal flag. The white flag was to transmit messages relating to the general service; the red was to be used to direct the fire of the artillery. The communicating officers stationed at the battery were similarly equipped as to their flags and had similar instructions.
Orders were sent to the station near Mechanicsville to carefully watch every movement of the enemy in that direction, and to report by the line of field telegraph to general headquarters each half hour. There were two balloons fastened and floating in the air some hundred feet from the ground. One of these was near Mechanicsville, the other close to Gaines' house. An officer was sent to each of these, with directions to ascend; the one near Mechanicsville to report by signals from the car of the balloon to a point near headquarters any information he might gain; the other, at Gaines' house, to attempt to open communication from the car with any signal officer serving with the left whose attention he could call or with any signal officer after our troops should advance and have crossed the river. These ascensions were made as ordered, but without results. Very little could be seen from the balloon near Mechanicsville; there was no reply from the left to the signals made from the car of that near Gaines' house.
The scene near New Bridge after daylight was one of interest. The morning was clear and still; the sun shone brightly after the rain which had fallen in the night; there were everywhere bodies of troops ready to cross, and batteries of cannon from their chosen position covered almost every point of the opposite slope. At the bridges working parties were working busily. Now and then shots were exchanged across the river. It seemed as though the moment of battle had come, but the bridges were not ready. It was whispered soon that they could not be finished in some hours; then not completely on that day, and later it was known that the crossing was impracticable. The heavy rains had had their effect. The stream had risen and was still rising. It had overspread its banks, the treacherous soil was saturated, and the bottom of the valley had become a morass.
While the troops of the right thus waited, we heard the roar of the battle raging at Fair Oaks, and soon after came tidings of the defeat of the enemy.
The services of the signal party with the left in this battle were in character similar to those of the day before. They were aides, and carried many important messages.
The signal party at New Bridge were kept in the field all day, and bivouacked there at night on this and the following day, to be ready for their part in any movement that might be ordered.
On the 2d of June the enemy had retreated to Richmond.
On the 3d of June a party of signal officers, with their men, under Lieut. Franklin Ellis, of Tammany Regiment, New York Volunteers, and acting signal officer, was ordered to pass our line and make a reconnaissance as far as James River, to ascertain the practicability of communication by signals between our army and the naval vessels then lying in the river. This party reached the river at Westover and there boarded a flag-of-truce boat. It then returned by way of Charles City Court-House. Communication by signal was found to be impracticable. It was thought by the officers that messages might be sent by rockets or from the car of a balloon.
COMMUNICATION OPENED BETWEEN THE RIGHT AND LEFT.
Up to the date of the battles of the Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, as has been mentioned, no portion of the left of the army had been visible from ground held by the right. The enemy had some guns on the heights near New Bridge and troops in the woods near Price's house. From the station near Hogan's house we could discern with glasses two guns and numbers of troops near James Garnett's House.
The result of the battles of May 31 and June I had not enabled the left to reach the open country in their front; they were yet hidden by the woods. From the time the construction of the bridges near New Bridge had commenced there had been, now and then, artillery firing between our batteries posted to cover them and the enemy's guns near Price's house.
After the battle of the Seven Pines the enemy seemed to increase their force at this point, earthworks began to be visible, and their artillery had better ranges. From this time for as long as the army remained before Richmond the defenses on the southern side of the Chickahominy grew more formidable. It was customary to fire on either side at any object that attracted attention, and sometimes it seemed only for practice. The signal station near Hogan's house was close to a battery of 20-pounders, and thus received its share of projectiles.
On the second of June an officer at this station observed with his telescope a number of men moving in a spot of cleared ground among the woods on the other side of the swamps of the Chickahominy, and beyond the enemy. They seemed to have just reached the place. They were about 3 miles distant, and wore our uniform. This, however, had ceased to be distinctive, the enemy wearing it, and with impunity, whenever they could obtain it. Two signal officers, with their men, were ordered to cross the river at Sumner's Bridge, and to reach this spot if found to be held by our army. It was dark when they reached this bridge, and it was found impassable. Early the next morning they crossed at the railroad, and after a journey of about 10 miles from their point of departure reached the clearing on Golding's farm, which was found to be occupied by the advanced pickets of General Burns' brigade. Their signals were seen at once and answered from the station at Hogan's, and it was then first known that our forces on the opposite sides of the Chickahominy were in view of each other. These stations were worked from this day until the morning of the battle of Gaines' Mill, and for the first days with some danger, the enemy knowing the positions of both and trying often to reach them with artillery. They were then, and for some time after, of importance; to communicate by courier between the points requiring a difficult ride of some 7 miles. On the day following the occupation of this station the division commanded by General Smith crossed the Chickahominy and encamped on Golding's farm. This signal line then became his mode of communication with general headquarters, and so remained while headquarters were on the northern side of the Chickahominy.
When it was proposed that General Smith's command should move on Old Tavern officers were designated to accompany it. The make of the country was such that they could while moving have kept constant communication with the forces north of the Chickahominy. During these days stations were established at different times at Austin's house, at the bridges, and at the batteries near New Bridge whenever movements were heard of as contemplated, or when unusual firing on our part or on that of the enemy offered a chance for the service. With the left of the army the officers had by this time established perches in tree-tops, and had gained a knowledge of localities which rendered their reports of some service to the generals receiving them.
About this time information was received at headquarters of the cavalry raid led by the rebel General Stuart, who, with two regiments and some horse artillery, passed the rear of our army, attacking the railroad train, and taking a number of prisoners near Tunstall's Station. The news of this near approach of the enemy's forces created much alarm at the depot at White House, at which there were then but few of our forces. At the request of Colonel Ingalls, who commanded the depot, a signal officer, Lieut. F. W. Owen, Thirty-eighth New York Volunteers, and acting signal officer, came ashore from one of the gunboats, and established a station that night on one of the chimneys of the White House. The war vessels took positions in which they could cover the depot with their fire. The enemy did not attack it.
On the 13th of June general headquarters moved to Camp Lincoln, on the south side of the Chickahominy. The field telegraph wire, which had been so long stretched to Mechanicsville, was on this day ordered to be reeled up and the train to follow headquarters to the other side of the Chickahominy. On the next day this wire was stretched through the woods to General Smith's headquarters at Goldings, and the line was working. From this station at Golding's communication was kept by signals with the station at Hogan's, and with another station now permanently established on Austin's house, near Beaver Dam. There was a station of observation at Mechanicsville. The messages received from these stations at Golding's were transmitted by the field telegraph line to general headquarters near Trent's house. Reports were required to be made three times each day and at midnight. The mist and smoke of the camps which overhung the valley often interfered with the regularity of the reports. There was, however, each day a general information as to the condition and movements of the enemy visible from the stations.
The signal party which had been serving with the left of the army here joined the main party. The different detachments serving with the Army of the Potomac were from this time concentrated in one party, from which details were made for duty at different points as they were required. Experience had shown that a signal party serving with so large an army was most usefully managed when kept together, to be distributed at the order of the chief signal officer to those points where on any day their services might be required, the chief signal officer in his turn obtaining at headquarters such knowledge of the plans of our own army and the position of the enemy as would enable him to direct the details at the proper time to positions in which to take part in contemplated movements. Lieutenant Fisher, as senior officer, was placed in immediate charge of the party thus concentrated.
It was the prevailing opinion now that the battle of Richmond would be fought on the open grounds before mentioned, and which were now in our front, as we approached Old Tavern. Every preparation was made for the duties of the signal officers when the army should advance. It would be their place on the day of the attack to keep in communication the forces which would be co-operating on both sides of the river. The country in front was favorable. The sickness resulting from some months' exposure and hardship began to tell seriously on the strength of the signal party; but those who remained were well drilled, and waited with eager expectation.
Each day evidences of the enemy in our front grew stronger. On the south side of the Chickahominy picket firing was almost constant. It was stopped sometimes by agreement. On the extreme left there were numerous skirmishes, some of them of such magnitude as to be almost battles. Shells were very often thrown into our lines and were replied to by our artillery. In front of our right, stretching up the left bank of the Chickahominy, the enemy's earthworks grew more numerous and their artillery was heavier. One day they brought a 64-pounder rifled gun, of which they had placed one or two in battery, to bear upon the station at Hogan's, and fired deliberately at the officers, who steadily continued their signaling until ordered to cease. This station was made so frequently a target that it was ordered to be moved to the edge of the woods, where it was hidden from the view of the enemy, though in the range of their guns. With the same gun some shots were thrown at the station at Austin's, but failed to reach it. The shells from these guns were thrown far over our camps opposite to them on the north side of the Chickahominy. There were on our side no pieces of sufficient caliber to reply to them. A few days after some 4½ -inch rifled guns were received, and a day was set aside (the 25th of June) to try their range upon the batteries and the camps of the enemy.
ENGAGEMENT OF JUNE 25.
On the 24th of June orders were received to so arrange for the next day signal parties as to be able to direct from the south side of the river the fire of heavy guns to open on the following day from positions near Hogan's house and also near Gaines' house. It was intended to silence the 64s before mentioned, and also to direct the fire upon an earthwork in the vicinity of Old Tavern and upon some positions of the enemy near Garnett's house. Lieutenants Camp and Wiggins, acting signal officers, who had been serving for some time at the Hogan-house station, petitioned that, as this was to be active service, they might remain during the cannonade. Three additional officers were ordered to join them, and Lieut. W. S. Stryker, Ninth New York State Militia, and acting signal officer, was sent to arrange the communications on the north side of the river. Lieut. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, was sent with a party of four officers to report to General Smith, and was instructed to arrange the communications on the south side of the river.
On the following morning the officers were posted, and were in communication at the following points in view of each other, viz: At the battery at Hogan's house, at New Bridge, at the battery near Gaines' house, on Smith's redoubt, and in the edge of the woods near James Garnett's. The fire commenced at daylight, and was for a time met with a spirited reply by the enemy's guns. During this cannonade a screen which had been erected to hide Lieutenant Wiggins (station near New Bridge) from the view of the enemy was penetrated, at a moment his duties called him outside of it, by a cannon shot from their guns. The fire for a time was quite severe. Later in the day the enemy's guns ceased to reply.
In front of our left our picket line extended through the open fields near Garnett's, the enemy's line of pickets being in the same field, in view and quite near them. As the shot from our long-range guns on the north side of the river fell their range and effect were noticed by an officer on our picket line. Messages were sent from time to time by him to an officer stationed behind the first fringe of woods, whence the report went by signals to the batteries on the other side of the river. In the afternoon the shots ranged near the earthworks at Old Tavern, and as they fell in the woods close to them shouts, as of masses of men, could now and then be heard. Our guns were evidently so placed that they could seriously annoy the enemy and aid us in our advance. The firing ceased at sunset. It was to be resumed on the following morning. Lieut. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, was ordered to take charge of all the details for this duty and to report to General Porter at daylight. The signal telegraph line was ordered this night to be reeled up and to report to General Porter in the morning. It was anticipated there might be an engagement on the north side of the river.
ACTION IN FRONT OF FAIR OAKS ORCHARD.
On the day that this cannonade was taking place on our right the action in front of Fair Oaks Orchard was fought upon our left. At this engagement there were present at different times Generals Hooker, Heintzelman, and McClellan. A detachment of four signal officers, with their men, Lieut. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, commanding, had been sent at daylight to report to General Hooker. In the action which ensued Lieutenants McCreary and Denicke, acting signal officers, were posted in a tree-top in front of Casey's redoubt, from which they overlooked the positions of the enemy not visible from the ground. Hence messages were sent in reference to the direction and range of our artillery when engaged to Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers, and acting signal officer, stationed with the batteries on the Williamsburg road. The movements of the enemy's troops visible from this position, and some of them important, were reported to Lieutenant Beckett, acting signal officer with General Heintzelman. The station on the tree-top was rendered unpleasant by now and then musketry fire and occasional shots from the enemy's sharpshooters. In addition to the services rendered by reporting the location and movements of the enemy, the reports from this station caused to be stopped during the action the fire of one of our batteries which was persistently throwing its shells among our own men. The station was held until after the action had ceased. General Hooker had requested that this detachment should be returned to him each day while he held this position.
EVACUATION OF WHITE HOUSE.
Early on the morning of June 26 a report received at headquarters from Lieutenant Fisher, then at General Porter's headquarters, indicated that our heavy batteries near there would not open on that day. At noon on this day it was first intimated to the signal officer that an attack by the enemy in force upon our right, on the north side of the Chickahominy and upon our depot at White House, was anticipated, and that a change of base to James River might be necessary. A telegram was instantly sent to General Casey, then commanding at White House, requesting that a staging for a signal station be raised at once upon the roof of the White House. Lieut. W. S. Stryker, acting signal officer, was ordered to proceed from general headquarters to White House, and, assuming charge of the communications there, to arrange with the signal officers upon the gunboats for their prompt co-operation. Lieutenant Stryker left immediately for his station, some 20 miles distant.
By noon of the following day the communications had been arranged. From this moment until the last of the evacuation the signal officers here (on shore and on shipboard) were actively on duty. To the perfect understanding thus had between our land and naval forces may be attributed in some degree the success of the complete evacuation of that depot in the face of an advancing enemy. Brigadier-General Stoneman, falling back past White House with his light brigade on his way to Yorktown, here arranged by signal messages to place his wearied infantry on the vessels, and requested that a signal officer accompany him on his march down the Peninsula. Lieut. F. W. Owen, Thirty-eighth New York Volunteers, acting signal officer, was detailed for that purpose. The last message sent announced the close approach of the enemy. A few moments later the fleet of transports got under way. The White House was set on fire by some unknown person after the last officer and man connected with the Signal Corps had left it.
BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE.
About 4 p.m. on the 26th of June a message from Lieutenant Fisher, acting signal officer, then at Hogan's house, north of the Chickahominy, announced that the enemy was moving down the north side of the Chickahominy; that there would be a battle at Mechanicsville, and that all the troops then on the north side had been ordered to be ready to cross to the south of the Chickahominy. Lieutenant Fisher was about to leave, with the officers collected from the different signal stations near him, for the point at which the battle was expected. Very soon after a message from General Reynolds announced that with the troops under his command he had fallen back to a predetermined position near Beaver Dam. At almost the same time at which this message was received the roar of the battle at Mechanicsville made it evident it had commenced.
At the commencement of this battle Lieutenant Fisher distributed his officers as follows, viz: Lieutenant Beckett, acting signal officer, with a battery on the right of our line, about 100 yards from a prominent house on the field: Lieutenant Horner, acting signal officer, with the extreme right; Lieutenant Wiggins, acting signal officer, with the reserve. Lieutenant Fisher, with Lieutenant Birney, took post on the roof of the house mentioned, and at which a battery was stationed. From these positions, which were occupied as points of observation, the officers were able, by the aid of their glasses, to obtain information which could not otherwise have readily been given. Their reports were made to the different commanders near whom they were serving. Signals were not used upon the field of battle. The fire upon the stations occupied by the officers upon this field was quite severe. The fire of artillery continued until about 9 o'clock at night, and when it closed our troops everywhere had held their positions. During this action one officer had been left at the Hogan station, communicating with the station on Golding's farm. It was presumed that this station was constantly watched by the enemy.
There is always a possibility that the key to signal communication may be by accident or betrayal in the possession of the enemy. It is customary for this reason to disguise true messages, and to send with an especial signal messages intended to deceive. On this night, as soon as the firing had ceased, the chief signal officer instructed the Hogan station to send, in plain view of the enemy, the message, "The five divisions have arrived." As our forces intended to leave the position, this message, if it could by any accident be interpreted by the enemy, would lead them to believe that we proposed to hold it. No other messages were sent this night.
The field telegraph train, which had arrived from the south side of the Chickahominy on the morning of this day, had been ordered to be extended from General Porter's headquarters, which later in the day during the battle was the position of General McClellan, to a point near Old Cold Harbor. The wire had been reeled out accordingly. It had fallen again among new troops, who investigated its composition by cutting it, and the officer going to Cold Harbor had been warned that the enemy were approaching that position and that it would not be held by our troops. The line was not working. Under these circumstances the wire was now ordered to be reeled up and the train to recross the river. At about 10 o'clock the officers and men collected from the field of battle were gathered at Hogan's station, and arrangements were made for them to take part in the battle of the following day. It was the impression at this time that a great battle would be fought the next day on the south side of the Chickahominy. Lieutenant Fisher was ordered to return to the signal camp near general headquarters, and to rejoin at daylight, with additional officers, the party on the northside of the Chickahominy, to serve with General Porter. The remainder of the party (with the exception of four officers detached to General Hooker) fit for duty was ordered to be at the station at Golding's farm, equipped, and there to await orders to move with the forces on the south side of the river. The officer in charge of the wagons of the signal detachment was ordered to be ready to strike camp at any time and to accompany the movement of general headquarters.
BATTLE OF GAINES' MILL.
Before daylight on the 27th of June the sound of cannon announced that the battle had recommenced. Word was sent to Lieutenant Fisher to carry out the instructions given him the night before. The signal detachment serving at Gaines' Mill numbered eight officers, with their q. As our troops fell back from Mechanicsville the station at Hogan's house was abandoned, the enemy's skirmishers being then in the same piece of woods and not far distant.
When our forces took up their position near Gaines' Mill Lieutenant Fisher disposed of the officers of his command as follows, viz: Lieutenant Gloskosky, acting signal officer, was stationed near the north end of Duane's Bridge, whence he observed and reported the movements of the enemy in the valley of the Chickahominy at points where they crossed the river from the south to the north side to take part in the action, and upon the heights on the north side, adjacent to the stream. These reports were signaled to Lieutenant Camp, acting signal officer stationed near General Porter's headquarters. Lieutenants Wiggins and Fisher were upon the right of the army, and reported the appearance and advance of the enemy coming in the direction of Gaines' Mill and Cold Harbor. These reports were sent to Lieutenant Horner, near General Porter's headquarters.
Lieutenants Tompkins and Beckett were ordered to open communication across the Chickahominy from a point near General Porter's headquarters to a point near General Smith's headquarters. These officers failed to make this communication. The persistence with which some of the officers held their stations in the ensuing battle of that day attracted attention. Lieutenant Gloskosky, reporting from the left, early drew upon himself the fire of the enemy's guns, to which he paid but little attention, and held his station until the destruction of the bridge behind him, rendering it necessary that he should change his station.
The station on the right was held by the officers upon it until they were notified that to hold it longer, while it involved very great risk, would be useless. From all the stations reports were sent to General Porter, near the Adams house, as the enemy drew near, and until, in the smoke and confusion of the general engagement, messages could no longer be sent.
About 2 p.m. the chief signal officer received instructions from the general commanding to open communication from the position then occupied by the general near Trent's house to General Porter's headquarters on the field of battle on the north side of the river. It would have been easy to carry out this order had it been earlier given, and it would have been possible to do so had our troops on the north side been able to hold their position. As the action resulted, the stations-- one at Trent's house, the other in a tree near General Porter's headquarters-- were no sooner determined upon than it became necessary to abandon them. With the retreat of our forces at sunset efforts to establish this communication ceased. During the progress of this engagement Lieutenant Denicke, Cameron Rifles, and acting signal officer, stationed at Smith's redoubt, was able to render some service by reporting the effects noticed with his telescope of the shots directed from the battery of 20-pounder guns there stationed upon the enemy appearing near Gaines' house.
The detachment held in reserve on the south side of the river rendered on this day no material assistance. There was no advance of our forces in which they could take part. Late in the afternoon some of them were placed upon stations near Smith's redoubt, at Trent's house, and at two farm-houses at different points lower down on the Chickahominy, one of these being the Dudley house, to endeavor to communicate with the stations on the field on the north side of the river. It was impossible to effect this, and when our forces, after the battle, retired across the Chickahominy the officers of both parties rejoined their camp near general headquarters. Headquarters camp had moved on the afternoon of this day, and was established this night at Savage Station.
ENCAMPMENT AT SAVAGE STATION.
On the next day (Saturday) there was no general engagement. The greater portion of the signal party, wearied by the duties of the two preceding days and nights, were kept in camp to rest and to be at hand if they were needed. A detachment of 4 officers, with their men, Lieut. W. G. McCreary, acting signal officer, commanding, was sent to report to General Hooker in front.
About noon this day it was known that the enemy, victorious at Gaines' Mill, had reached the line of the railroad to White House, and their cavalry was seen near Bottom's Bridge. Telegraphic communication with the depot at White House was broken. At very nearly the same time Lieutenant Hastings, acting signal officer, who had started from White House on the morning of this day with a wagon load of signal stores and without escort, and who had crossed his wagon at the ford at Bottom's Bridge (the bridge being destroyed) in the presence of the enemy's cavalry, reported to the chief' signal officer at general headquarters camp his safe arrival with his charge on the south side of the Chickahominy. This was the last arrival of wagons from the depot on the Pamunkey. Lieutenant Hastings was ordered to join with his train the great trains by this time moving on all main roads toward the new base upon the James River.
Early this morning the chief signal officer had been notified that General Keyes' corps had crossed the White Oak Swamp and was near Charles City Cross-Roads. He was instructed to send two signal officers, with their men, to report to him. In obedience to this order Lieuts. Charles Herzog, acting signal officer, and Franklin Ellis, acting signal officer, were ordered to join General Keyes. They were supplied with rockets, and a code of rocket signals was arranged, by which, if rockets could be seen, communication could be had from the position held by General Keyes to general headquarters. They were further ordered that, having first obtained the permission of General Keyes, they would push on to the James River, and put themselves in communication, if possible, with the naval forces there lying.
The dense woods of White Oak Swamp, beyond which General Keyes' forces were, precluded the possibility of signaling by flags by day. An attempt was made to run out the telegraph wire to reach his headquarters. It was laid for a short distance. The thronging of the immense trains upon the road leading from Savage Station to White Oak Bridge, and the imperfect character of the apparatus, rendered its farther extension impossible, and the effort was after some hours abandoned. The wire was ordered to be reeled up, and the officers in charge of the train were instructed to move it, as soon as there was opportunity, toward James River. At sunset officers were stationed to watch for the rockets, should any be thrown up from General Keyes' corps. During this day large forces of the enemy could be seen from near Dudley's house moving on the north side of the Chickahominy in the direction of the railroad and on the roads leading to White House.
Our forces in front and on the south side of the Chickahominy occa-pied their usual lines. Large numbers of wounded from the fields of Mechanicsville and Gaines' Mill were gathered at the Savage house and in the grounds surrounding it, at the railroad station. The wagons of the signal party were kept packed, and the party was held in readiness to move. By evening it had become generally understood that headquarters were to move that night, and the order had been circulated that all were to be in preparation to march at the shortest notice. The tents were finally struck at about 2 a.m.
MOVEMENT FROM SAVAGE STATION.
It had been raining during the night, and at daylight a thick fog was hiding the movements of both armies. Instructions were given before dawn to Lieutenant Fisher to report at daylight with a party of five officers and their flagmen at General Smith's headquarters, still near Golding's farm, and afterwards to accompany any movement of the troops of that portion of the army, now our right, during the ensuing day. A station of observation was ordered to be established at Dudley's house. Four officers, with their men, were to report as usual at daylight to General Hooker. The remainder of the party was to be in reserve near Savage Station, and there to wait for further orders. All trains were to move at once for the depot on James River. Soon after daylight it was evident that the general movement of the army which had been taking place drew near its completion. The rear of the last train moving from the front was in the open fields surrounding Savage Station. Headquarters moved across White Oak Swamp.
About 7 a.m. the fog, which had shut out everything, lifted, and from the station at Dudley's house long lines of the enemy's troops could then be seen moving on the north side of the river, as if toward White House, and halted at the different roads leading from the bridges. The movement was evidently in force. A report of these facts was sent by courier to General McClellan. An hour later the forces under General Franklin, moving back from our lines in front by way of Trent's house, began to occupy positions at Dudley's house and near Savage Station. The signal officers serving with this portion of the army, stationing themselves on trees and on house-tops as the troops moved back, reported to General Franklin and his division commanders such movements of the enemy as they could see, until the enemy's pickets had crossed the river from the northern side, and until in the afternoon the last troops moved from Dudley's house to go upon the battle-field at Savage Station, the officer upon Dudley's station leaving it with the rear guard. At noon the troops under Generals Hooker and Heintzelman were occupying the second line of defenses in front of Savage Station and on both sides of the Williamsburg roads. There were occasional skirmishes and exchange of cannon-shots near this place, but the enemy had not shown themselves in force. The sounds of a slight engagement near Sumner's position was audible for a time, but soon ceased. The troops were everywhere on the alert and in good spirits, and the retreat seemed making with precision.
Squads of men at this time were destroying at Savage Station property it had been found necessary to leave behind. Close to the Williamsburg road at Savage Station a siege howitzer, a piece of the siege train, had become disabled by some breakage of its carriage. The officer in charge had piled wood under and on top of it, and setting fire to the mass, which blazed up fiercely, was quietly waiting some time after the gun had been rendered useless for its entire destruction. A train of cars laden with ammunition and provisions stood on the railroad track close to the station. This was being dismantled. A great pile of boxes of hard bread stood by the road near the hospital. This was to be left, it was said for the sick and wounded The wagon trains had passed out of view from Savage Station. There remained only the troops designated to hold for a time this position.
The signal officers who had reported to General Hooker in the morning, though reconnoitering, had not been called upon for any active service. The reserve party yet remained at Savage Station.
THE BATTLE OF SAVAGE STATION.
Early in the afternoon the troops of Generals Sumner and Franklin, falling back from the positions they had held in the morning, began to form their line upon what was to be the battle-field. About 4 p.m. the laden train of cars standing upon the track was fired. Another train attached to a locomotive was started at speed and without guidance toward the broken railroad bridge crossing the Chickahominy. Soon after a terrific explosion in that direction announced the destruction of large supplies of ammunition.
Our lines were formed upon the east side of the open grounds at Savage Station, the left of the line extending in the woods upon the south side of the Williamsburg road. As the line was forming the signal officers, who had been held ready during the day, together with those coming in with the different bodies of troops, were assigned to stations.
Lieutenants Birney and Yates, acting signal officers, were posted on the Williamsburg road as far toward the front as they could be visible, with instructions that one of the party should proceed yet farther toward the enemy, supposed to be approaching in that direction, to reconnoiter; and, returning, his reports should be sent by signals to the central station, placed near the point at which the Williamsburg road leaves (going toward White Oak Swamp) at Savage Station.
Lieutenant Wiggins was placed at a point where the railroad track first enters the cleared ground from the direction of Richmond. Hence the railroad is a long way visible, Lieutenant Wiggins was to report any advance of the enemy upon the railroad or from that direction.
Lieutenant Tompkins, acting signal officer, was placed where the right of our line rested on the deep cut of the railroad east of Savage's house. He was to report any force appearing on our right by the road from Trent's house or over the bridges of the Chickahominy.
At the central station were posted Lieutenants Neel, Marston, and Denicke, acting signal officers. The arrangements were hardly completed when a message from the station on the Williamsburg road and a verbal report made by an officer from that station announced the enemy as not far distant, and moving on the railroad slowly, and with artillery. This report was sent to General Sumner. Other reports soon indicated the presence of the enemy at other points in our front. The shells from their guns began to strike in the edge of the woods near the signal officers there stationed. A final report from Lieutenant Wiggins estimated the distance of the enemy from his station in yards. These reports were forwarded to General Sumner, who, in reply to the last, said he was coming upon the field in person. The officers were ordered in from the advanced stations. General Sumner came upon the field.
At the commencement of the action, which now opened, some shells were thrown from a howitzer on the enemy's right, near Williamsburg road, directly among the tents crowded with the wounded surrounding Savage Station. A white flag sent from the hospital was met by the enemy, and thereafter the range of this gun was carefully altered. No other shells fell among the sufferers.
A few moments later the enemy showed themselves on the line of the railway, and opened upon the troops near the central signal station with a gun of the heaviest caliber. The piece is reported to have been either an 8-inch columbiad or a 64-pounder rifle, mounted upon a railway car, and moved upon the railway. The range and service of the piece were splendid, and its fire was most annoying until silenced by a battery of Parrott guns near our center. The signal flag offered too perfect a mark to be used among troops in its presence, and the station here, with the one established before the action, on the right of our line, and now practically useless, ceased working.
Much of the battle of Savage Station was fought on open ground, our lines advancing across the plain to close with the enemy, who held the edge of the woods on the west side of the cleared ground from the railroad to beyond the Williamsburg road. The musketry firing, as the lines closed with each other, was very severe. As our different lines moved up it was thought at one time it would be necessary to establish a signal station far to the front and at a point much exposed to the enemy. Lieutenants Camp, Wiggins, and Denicke, acting signal officers, volunteered to work this station, and took their places with the line, ready to move up when it should be ordered. By the time the line had advanced the enemy had been driven back, and the station was unnecessary. It was dark when the conflict ended. It was fully 9 o'clock before the reports were received from the battle-field. The place of combat, on which they sought the dead and wounded with torches, the trains of cars yet burning on the railway track, a hospital and large grounds crowded with the suffering of other battles, and long lines of troops, lit up now and then with a lurid light by the explosions of ammunition among the burning stores, were some of the incidents of the scene.
Some time after dark the chief signal officer was requested by General Sumner to carry to General McClellan, then on the other side of White Oak Swamp, the message that he had repulsed the enemy after a severe action and with severe loss on both sides; that he was confident that he could repulse their whole force again in the morning, and that he was most anxious to hold his then position at Savage Station. The message caused some excitement upon its delivery at general headquarters. The signal party at Savage Station bivouacked near the battlefield.
The troops under General Heintzelman moved from the works which they had been holding during the day at about the same time that the line of battle was formed at Savage Station. These troops crossed the White Oak Swamp on roads higher up than those leading over the principal crossing. The signal officers accompanied the columns. There was no occasion for their active service.
General headquarters camp was established this night on the south side of White Oak Swamp. Our troops were all night moving over from Savage Station. The enemy, quieted by the sharp check they had received in their defeat of the afternoon, showed no signs of immediately pressing the pursuit. On this night, as on the days and nights before, the great trains were to be found stretched out upon the road or moving slowly to their destination.
The signal party, which had bivouacked near Savage Station after the battle, crossed the swamp at about 4 a.m. They rested near the crossing.
The morning of June 30 was clear and pleasant. On this day was to be made the last march necessary to place the troops in the new position on James River. The troops everywhere were in motion, seemingly in good spirits. The trains moved steadily upon the roads without confusion, halting at times to allow the cavalry and artillery to pass to the front, to take up their assigned positions.
The corps commanded by General Keyes was well in advance and known to be near the river. General headquarters were at a house upon the road near where the camp had been, about 3 miles from White Oak Swamp. Soon after they were established here the signal detachment assigned to General Hooker, of General Heintzelman's corps, the preceding day reported for duty. They were instructed to hasten forward with General Keyes' advance, and on his arrival near the James to put that officer in communication with the gunboats.
Lieutenant Herzog, acting signal officer, also reported here in person the fact that Lieutenant Ellis, acting signal officer, and himself had, in obedience to orders given on Sunday at Savage Station, accompanied a small party of cavalry sent forward by General Keyes, had reached James River on the night before, and had there boarded one of our war vessels; that he had again visited the James River on the night of the 29th, whence he had now just returned. The position of the fleet had been ascertained. No enemy in force had been seen in going or returning. The report was read to General McClellan. The officer was ordered to rejoin General Keyes. Headquarters soon after moved upon the road toward Haxall's Landing.
- The signal detachment which had bivouacked near White Oak Crossing was, with the exception of two officers, retained with himself by Lieutenant Fisher, acting signal officer, this morning ordered forward by that officer to report to the chief signal officer at general headquarters. This party reported just in time to be present at the first engagement on Malvern Hill. Before noon General Keyes, with the advance, had reached the James River without encountering the enemy, and all the roads of communication were opened. The corps commanded by General Fitz Jolan Porter was at and on the roads near Malvern Hill.
The signal officers who had accompanied the fleet from James River were in communication with those who had been sent forward with General Keyes, and a perfect understanding of their relative movements and positions had been thus given by the land and naval forces. Communication had been opened from a point just below Haxall's to the flag-ship Galena, lying off City Point. The rear of the army was yet at White Oak Swamp. The change of base (to James River) seemed to be a thing accomplished, and that without molestation. A very short time afterward the tumult of the cannonade at White Oak Swamp announced the enemy's attack in that direction.
The position of Malvern Hill, nearly 2 miles from the James River, and yet commanding a view of that stream, is perhaps as perfect as could be chosen for combining by the use of signals the operations and the fire of land and naval forces. From the summit of the hill the roads leading to Richmond by the river and passing Turkey Bridge are overlooked, and even where the roads approaching pass through dense timber the dust raised by moving columns, showing through the tree-tops, in view to an observer here placed their position. A signal station was now ordered to be established on the roof of a small house at this point.
A station of observation was ordered to be placed on Haxall's house, whence a long view is had of the river and the roads near it.
Two officers were placed on board the gunboat Aroostook, which lay in sight of the station at Malvern Hill and also of the Haxall's station. There was one officer (Lieutenant Clum, acting signal officer) on board of the flag-ship Galena, which had now moved up to near Haxall's from lower down the river. All this time sounds of a general conflict in our rear were increasing. The battles of White Oak Swamp, New Market, and Glendale had opened and were progressing. The commanding general, who, leaving Haxall's, had ridden toward the front at the first sounds of the cannonade, returned, and went on board the flag-ship to confer with the naval commander. A signal message was sent to him from Malvern Hill, reporting the lines of communication open. Orders were sent to the signal officers on board the gunboats to watch the station on Malvern Hill in case they went into action. Soon after this Lieut. W. G. McCreary, One hundred and second Pennsylvania Volunteers, acting signal officer, stationed on a house at Haxall's, noticed, about 5 miles up the river and approaching, clouds of dust, which, as he thought, indicated the movement of a column of the enemy. The fact, mentioned by him to two officers of the general's staff, attracted no attention.
Watching this movement for some time, during which he was able to form an estimate of the strength of the supposed column and the distance it had advanced, Lieutenant McCreary, acting signal officer, reported the fact by signals to General McClellan, still on board the Galena. An instant reply inquired how far the enemy was distant, and the answer was met by the announcement that the gunboats would move up and shell them.
The Haxall station was ordered to immediately report by signals to the general any further facts of interest that might occur. The gunboats were got under way at once, and signals passed from one to another to "Come on and shell the enemy." At this time we had strong batteries on Malvern Hill and a considerable force in that vicinity. The plain on top of the hill was crowded with wagons, and the stragglers from the remainder of the army were being here gathered and formed together. There were preparations to meet an attack, but it was not expected immediately.
The enemy's column moving down the-River road came rapidly through the woods to a point within close range and opened on the heights with field artillery. The long lines of dust in the woods and beyond them marked the positions of their infantry. The contest was rapid and decisive. With the first of the enemy's shell the hill was cleared as if by magic of wagons and of stragglers, which went down the hill together, and rapidly on to Haxall's by hundreds. Our batteries on the hill came promptly into position and opened in reply, while the great guns of the fleet threw in their shells fairly among the enemy. Almost as soon as the gunboats had left Haxall's Station the signal station on Malvern Hill had come in view to the signal officers stationed on the mast-tops, and the signal messages from the field, "Fire one mile to the right," "Good shot," "Fire low and into the woods near the shore," &c., were reported to the gunners in a few minutes after their broadsides were opened. The gunboats continued their fire for some time after the land batteries had ceased, and until the enemy's columns, repulsed and scattered, were out of range and hidden from view.
With the first lull of the firing came inquiries by signals from General McClellan as to the progress of the battle still raging with other parts of the army. The reply from General Porter brought the commanding general quickly on shore and on the field, which he reached after night-fall. Messages went to and fro between the field and the gunboats until after dark, when the vessels moved down the river. At the beginning of the action the signal flag stationed and working on a house on Malvern Hill, directly in front of the enemy's batteries, seemed to attract their attention, and several shots, some of them passing very close, were thrown at it. No injury was done, however, and the working was not suspended. The number of messages crowded on this station from all parts of the army was too great to admit that all of them should be sent.
During this action other stations were established communicating from the position of General Porter, after he came upon the field, to where our advanced batteries (under General Griffin, stationed a mile distant, on the Quaker road) were firing on the enemy. Some messages in reference to this firing were thence communicated to General Porter. These field stations were withdrawn at dark. A detail of officers and men was posted at the Malvern Hill station, to be on the alert throughout the night in the case of an emergency, and an officer was sent to one of the gunboats, by the order of General McClellan, to open communication thence that night if it was practicable. The vessel had moved so far down the river that the signals were not visible. The stations at Haxall's, communicating with the fleet near there, were retained. Mention has been made of the names of officers in my preliminary report. The headquarters camp was this night at Haxall's Station. The next day was fought the principal battle of Malvern Hill.
THE BATTLE AT MALVERN HILL.
The preparations for this battle commenced at daylight. The officers who had been placed on board the fleet the preceding day had remained throughout the night. Other officers were now sent to the vessels which it was expected would take part in the action. The stations on Malvern Hill and at Haxall's remained as they had before been posted. Orders were sent to Lieutenant Fisher, acting signal officer (who, arriving from White Oak Swamp, reported for duty this morning), to establish stations on the right and left of our lines (which the whole army had formed in the night), near Malvern Hill, and as far in front as was practicable. The central station was to be near the station communicating with the Navy, which was also near the position occupied by General Porter on the crest of Malvern Hill. In obedience to this order Lieutenant Camp, acting signal officer, was posted on the house at General Heintzelman's headquarters, communicating with Lieutenant McCreary, acting signal officer, stationed near General Porter; Lieutenants Gloskosky and Ellis, acting signal officers near the headquarters of General Couch, on the left, communicating with Lieutenant Wiggins, acting signal officer at the central station; Lieutenants Birney and Yates, acting signal officers on station to communicate with the fleet. The station at Haxall's was occupied by Lieutenant Kendall, acting signal officer. All these lines were working fairly before the enemy had made any attack in force. The naval forces held the same positions as on yesterday, and awaited the word of the general commanding on the field how and where to throw their fire. Signal officers were in the tops of each, by whom the signal messages were read as sent.
About noon the enemy advanced on our left. Our batteries on land opened, and a signal order brought to their assistance the fire of the fleet, the shells of the great guns passing high over portions of our army and plunging into the woods through which the enemy were moving. The conflict at this point terminated, after a severe struggle, with the repulse of the enemy. One of the first messages sent from the signal station on the left was a call for more men. At that time our lines seemed hard pressed. A message from this station announced to General McClellan, upon his arrival on the field about 2 p.m., the repulse of the enemy, then just effected by General Couch's division.
During this contest this signal station was found to be under so severe a fire that it was necessary to order it to be moved to where it could be better covered from view. It was then posted behind a fringe of trees, and there worked under fire throughout the day. In the lull of the engagement after the first attack, and when the firing recommenced in the afternoon, it was engaged with frequent messages relating to our own troops and to the enemy. Reports of various character and importance passed over this line until night, when with the final repulse of the opposing army the officers were put upon night stations where our lines of battle had been, and there remained working until the order came late at night to evacuate the position.
The forces on the right were not extensively engaged this day, and few communications passed over the line extending to General Heintzelman. The communication with the naval vessels through all of this day was complete. The fire of their guns was controlled by the general on the field as readily as was that of his own batteries.
The messages to open fire, to cease firing, to fire rapidly, to fire slowly, to fire to the right or left, to alter the elevation of the guns, the ranges, the length of fuses, &c., passed continuously. At one time the order went to fire only single guns, and to wait after each the signal report of the shot. About 6 p.m., while the last attack was raging, it was signaled, "Fire rapidly; this is the crisis of the day."
The fire of the Navy covered the left of our army. It was turned upon our enemy, more than 2 miles distant from the ships in the woods and invisible from the vessel, with precision. It was not the fault of naval officers or men that one or two of the shells struck in our own ranks. The guns had been trained in obedience to signal messages closer and closer to our lines, until the variations usual in such long flights of the shell caused the accident.
It must be borne in mind that from early in the day until dark they threw an almost continuous fire, and sometimes by broadsides, along the flank of our army, and over a part of it up to its front. The attention of the general commanding the army was called to the names of some of the officer's present in my report of July 18, 1862.
The battle of Malvern Hill closed after dark with a terrific cannonade and the absolute repulse of the enemy. The plain was held by our troops, and the foe, beaten everywhere, were flying. The signal officers were ordered to bivouac at their stations, to be ready to join the expected movement of the troops at daylight.
MOVEMENT FROM MALVERN HILL.
About an hour later the chief signal officer, then at the deserted camping ground at Haxall's, whence headquarters had that evening moved to Harrison's Landing, was informed that the whole army would move that night for Harrison's Landing, and he was ordered to arrange such communication that General McClellan, who would remain on board the Galena off Haxall's, might be in communication with General Keyes, whose corps was the rear guard, and be also informed of the manner in which the march was made and of any occurrences in relation to it.
An order was sent to the signal party upon the battle-field notifying the officers of the order, and directing them to accompany the movement of the troops.
Lieutenant Kendall, acting signal officer, established a station on the bank of the river, and through the night reported from time to time to General McClellan, through Lieutenant Clum, acting signal officer upon the flag-ship, the names of the different corps and divisions and the times as they passed on the road on their march down the river. A message was also sent at dawn reporting the condition of the troops and the character and conduct of the march. The general commanding the army communicated with General Keyes in reference to it.
Soon after daylight the movement was so far completed that the last troops and trains were passing. The corps of General Keyes was in position to cover the roads on which our forces were moving. It was raining heavily. A message was received from General McClellan a little later, about 9 a.m., announcing his departure to superintend the landing of fresh troops at Harrison's Landing, and the flag-ship moved down the river.
The signal station held up to this time by Lieutenant Kendall was now abandoned. At about this hour the last wagons of the trains were entering the clearing at Haxall's. The rear guard of the army was crossing the bridge over Turkey Creek, already swollen by the torrents of rain which had fallen. The timbers of the bridge had been partially cut, and trees on the sides of the road were weakened, to obstruct it as soon as the rear guard had passed. The trains, though retarded by swelling streams and the mud, were moving in good order upon the road, and General Keyes, whose corps covered the rear, had every confidence that the movement would be completed with success.
In this movement from Haxall's to Harrison's Landing the roads were at one time so encumbered that trains were not permitted to move upon them. It was thought some of the wagons would be lost. In these circumstances the instruments taken from the field telegraph train were sent forward upon horseback. The reels of wire were to follow as occasion offered. Of these one reached Harrison's Landing in safety. The other, broken upon the road, was destroyed by the officer in charge.
The last detachment of two signal officers and their men, who had been kept back to enable the rear to be covered by the naval guns if necessary, now rejoined general headquarters, established at Harrison's Landing, 6 miles below Haxall's. A report of the state of the march was made to the general commanding.
The road from Haxall's to Harrison's Landing is at many points, if not throughout its whole course, within the range of cannon-shot from the river. It was recommended that should the enemy attempt to follow our trains in force, two signal officers be placed upon a gunboat to be sent up the river to attack them. Of these officers, one, landing and taking a position whence the enemy could be seen, could direct upon them the guns of the vessel, although the troops upon whom the fire was turned might be invisible to the gunners. The flag-ship of the fleet now lay off Harrison's Landing. Communication was opened between that vessel and general headquarters. Officers were stationed to make it permanent. The roof of the Harrison mansion offered the most elevated position on which to establish a station of observation. A detail of men was set to place thereon a temporary staging and to clear away the tree-tops which interfered with the view.
It was now late in the afternoon of what had been a dark, rainy, and uncomfortable day. The rear of our trains had arrived within 2 miles of their destination. A force of the enemy following, and getting in range, opened upon them with two pieces of artillery. The teamsters were becoming anxious and alarmed, the roads were full, and there was danger of a confusion which might cost us the loss of a large number of wagons, with their stores. A message was sent by order of General McClellan to the flag officer of the fleet to notify him that the enemy were annoying the rear of the trains, and to ask that a vessel move up to repel them. The distance and position were given. The Maratanza was signaled from the flag-ship of the duty required, and steamed off immediately. The second shot from her 11.inch gun fell close to the enemy's battery. It was hastily withdrawn. The staging on the mansion was so far completed on this night as to be fit for use. The detachments of the signal party, with the exception of those officers and men on the gunboats, had rejoined, and the party was this night encamped near general headquarters.
The morning of the 3d of July was dark and cloudy. The camping ground at Harrison's Landing is surrounded by creeks and swamps, and the heavy rains, with the tramplings of thousands, had converted the plowed fields into morasses of mud. It was difficult to move between camps on foot or from one part of the army to another. Everything was wet, cold, and uncomfortable. The greater mass of the army lay in the open grounds which surround Harrison's mansion. Some of them were weary with the ceaseless marching and fighting of the past week, and were confused and depressed by movements they did not understand. There was that disorder and unsettled condition of affairs which must always attend the movements of so great an army made under the circumstances in which ours had moved from the Chickahominy and marched and fought its way to the James.
About 8 o'clock the report of a gun and a shell whistling into camp indicated the presence of the enemy and excited attention everywhere. From the station on top of the mansion the smoke of the gun could be seen rising above the trees in the direction of and beyond Westover Church. Other shots followed, the shells falling nearer, and the enemy seemed to be advancing slowly. Some time elapsed; the fire continued; forces supposed to be the enemy could be seen showing themselves in the open ground near the church. Our men began to grow restless.
Exaggerated rumors came in from the front that the enemy in three strong columns were advancing upon our position. The commanding general had gone on board of one of the transports and had not yet returned. The flag officer commanding the fleet signaled to know what was the firing, and whether the Navy could render any assistance. A reply was sent at first that it was the enemy, and that the commanding general was on board the Ariel, and then a message that if a gunboat was sent a mile down the river the smoke of the enemy's guns could be seen from her decks.
At this time the commanding general reached the flag-ship with the Ariel; was informed of the facts, and came at once on shore, having signaled from the vessel the fact of his coming and a reply to a question about preparation. The whole army was under arms to meet the enemy, the men moving out cheerfully for the anticipated battle. Two signal officers had been sent to the front, with instructions to proceed as far as possible to reconnoiter, and to report to the station on the mansion.
The chief signal officer was now ordered to see that communication was kept with the vessels of the fleet, and to establish a station connecting this communication with a point near the position which the general commanding took on the field. A few moments later the guns of the war vessel down the river were heard as her fire opened upon the woods where the enemy had been seen, and presently a couple of rounds from a field battery in front silenced the enemy's guns. A signal message sent from the front to the mansion station asked that the gunboat down the river might cease until our forces could reconnoiter the positions lately held by the enemy. This message was sent to the flagship. It could not be signaled from the shore or the flag-ship instantly to the vessel engaged, and her fire was kept on the woods.
A squadron of our cavalry sent on a reconnaissance came in sight of her officers, and the guns were at once turned upon them as enemies. Fortunately one of the signal officers detailed for the station at the front had accompanied the reconnaissance. His signals were recognized on the vessel, communication was opened, and the gunboat's fire ceased. The reconnaissance showed no enemy in our front in force. A dispatch reporting the result was signaled from the officer who had accompanied the reconnoitering party to the general commanding. An hour or two later the camp had resumed its quiet.
On this day the detachment of four officers and their men who had been at White House during the evacuation of that place reported for duty.
On the night of the 4th of July the commanding general had received information which induced the belief that an attack would be made upon our position by the whole force of the rebels on the following day. The chief signal officer was instructed to so arrange communication that the gunboats stationed to cover the right and left flanks of the army at points respectively about 2 miles above and 2 miles below the mansion station should be in communication with that station; that from this station communication should also be had to the flag-ship and as far toward the front as was practicable. Stations were also to be arranged on each flank of the army on shore, communicating thence to the flanking gunboats. Lieutenant Fisher was instructed to arrange the shore stations. Lieutenant Stryker was sent to post the officers on the fleet.
On the morning of the 5th all the preparations had been made. The enemy, however, did not advance the attack. There was no engagement. These stations were afterward adopted as the permanent stations, and were held thereafter for the forty-one days our army lay at Harrison's Landing. The accompanying map and report will illustrate the positions.
A week later the positions at Harrison's Landing had become so strong that anticipations of an attack by the enemy had ceased. The army awaited re-enforcements to resume the offensive. The officers of the Signal Corps, wearied and exhausted by three months of constant movement and labor (many of them sick from diseases incident to the climate and brought on by exposure), were, with the exception of those on the permanent stations, gathered into one camp, that they might be rested. The party was re-equipped and reorganized. Its members had profited by the experience they had gained in the field, and after a few days of repose were ready again for service.
At midnight on the 30th of July the enemy, who had crept down after dark with two batteries, opened fire from the right bank of the James River at two points-- one opposite the mansion station, the other opposite Westover-- upon the encampment of our army and the transports in the river. A report of the position of their batteries was made by the officer on the mansion station, and was sent to the general commanding just at the close of the bombardment. During this cannonade the officers on the stations on our right flank were on the alert. The gunboat Maratanza, lying on our right, engaged the battery at Westover, and drew its fire. The foretop, in which Lieut. Paul Babcock, jr., Seventh New Jersey Volunteers, and acting signal officer, had posted himself, was struck by a cannon-shot while that officer was calling the flank station on shore with his lights. The stores camp of the signal party was for a time endangered this night by the shells which fell in it. A corporal of the party was killed and one man wounded.
On the following day our forces occupied both banks of the James River. As soon as they had permanently established themselves on the right bank signal stations were posted, which placed them in communication with the signal lines before mentioned, and at the same time enabled the fire of the fleet to be called at any moment, and to be directed to cover them.
On the 5th of August, and in the temporary absence of the chief signal officer, Lieutenant Fisher was in command of the signal party of the Army of the Potomac. On this day General Hooker, with two divisions, moved to reoccupy Malvern Hill. In the brief combat that followed Lieutenant Camp, acting signal officer, posted on the field at the Mellert house and over 2 miles inland, directed the fire of the steamer Port Royal on the position of the enemy at Malvern, and by his messages notified its commander of the progress of this action. He also first reported the retreat of the enemy.
On the following day a line of stations connected General Hooker's headquarters on Malvern Hill with general headquarters at Harrison's Landing, 8 miles distant. Re-enforcements were sent for by this line, and over it were passed the messages which directed some of the movements, and finally the withdrawal of the expedition. The reports of Lieutenants Fisher and Camp, herewith, have reference to this operation.
From the date of this expedition until the 15th of August (the time of the evacuation of Harrison's Landing) there were no operations of magnitude. There was the usual routine of messages between the permanent stations and across the river.
On the day of the evacuation of Harrison's Landing the station on the Harrison mansion was one of the last points abandoned, and a party of two signal officers with their men served with the rear cavalry of the rear guard, under General Pleasonton, as the columns moved down the Peninsula.
When the troops were gathered near Fortress Monroe stations were posted at Newport News and on that fortress, and these were worked until the army embarked for Alexandria to take part in the campaigns then making in Northern Virginia.
The maps herewith exhibit, as nearly as practicable, the location of those signal stations established during the campaign of which it has been possible to obtain record. The sub-reports of the acting signal officers are also submitted for the information to be gained from them.
This main report has been drawn in the form of a narrative, in order that the general commanding may have laid before him the circumstances under which the duties of the corps were attempted and the labor which attended them. This has been necessary in a first report of this character.
The Signal Corps of the Army of the Potomac was not during the Peninsula Campaign so circumstanced as to be most effective. There was reason to regret in almost every battle and position the want of the field telegraph trains, so essential to the greatest usefulness of organizations of this kind. Appropriations for the other proper stores were first made by Congress at the end of February. The sums were not subject to the draft of the signal officer until May. The army was new. The duties of the corps were novel, and were understood by but few generals in the service. The acting signal officers were all of volunteers, without any experience in military usage. They had been hastily instructed and equipped, and were thrown upon their first campaign in a country very difficult for their duties and into battles and operations of unusual magnitude.
There were few at first who aided them, even when it was in their power. It was often difficult to obtain official information of contemplated movements. It was due to the good material selected from the State regiments for the corps that, so situated, the officers and men achieved on the Peninsula the success they did, and toiled willingly through unusual labor with a zeal and effort which attracted there the attention of the general commanding the army.
Very respectfully, general, your obedient servant,
ALBERT J. MYER,
Signal Officer, Major, U. S. A., and C. S. O. Army Potomac.
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