Report of Capt. Lemuel B. Norton, Chief Signal Officer
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43] -- Gettysburg Campaign
SIGNAL DEPT., HDQRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
September 18, 1863.
Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the signal corps of the Army of the Potomac, from June 14 to August 1, including the late Maryland Campaign:
In view of the contemplated movement of this army from the line of the Rappahannock, in June last the following detail of signal officers was made by direction of the commanding general, viz: The right wing was supplied with 6, the left wing with 4, and the center with 4, 8 officers being held as a reserve, to be used wherever the changes in the position of the army might render them of the greatest service.
On June 14, the headquarters of this army moved from the vicinity of Falmouth to Dumfries. The signal officers detailed for the three subdivisions of the army moved with the commander of each, while the party in reserve remained near the headquarters of the general commanding. Early on this day, by order of the chief of staff, two signal officers reported to Brig. Gen. G. K. Warren, who was to assume command of the troops in charge of the Government property about to be removed from Aquia Creek. A station of observation was established upon Fort No. 2, at that place, communicating with the gunboats Mahaska and Freeborn (lying off the creek, for the purpose of covering the withdrawal of stores and troops), upon which vessels signal parties had been previously stationed. Many messages were sent between these stations, and communication successfully kept up until the night of the 16th, when, the object of the flotilla having been attained, the officers rejoined the reserve. The party on station of observation at the Phillips House, opposite Fredericksburg, remained on duty all this day, and reported to General W. S. Hancock the frequent changes made by the enemy on the other side of the river.
On the 15th, two reconnaissances were made toward Centreville by the officers attached to the First Corps, and reports sent to Maj. Gen. J. F. Reynolds.
On the 16th, a loop of signal telegraph wire was run out, connecting general headquarters at Fairfax Station with the Morse telegraph office at the depot.
On the 17th, Capt. B. F. Fisher, chief acting signal officer, went out upon a reconnaissance, and in the evening was captured by the enemy near Aldie.
On the 18th, communication by signal telegraph was established, by the direction of the chief of staff, between general headquarters, near Fairfax Court-House, and the headquarters of Maj. Gen. J. F. Reynolds, near Herndon Station.
On the 19th, a signal telegraph line was extended from Herndon to Guilford Station, to which point General Reynolds had moved his headquarters.
On the 20th, by direction of the chief of staff, two signal officers were assigned to each army corps. Communication was opened by flag signals between the First Corps headquarters, at Guilford Station, the Eleventh Corps, at Trappe Rock, and the Twelfth Corps, at Leesburg. The officers at the last-named point worked successfully also with the signal station at Poolesville, Md., and through it with those at Sugar Loaf Mountain, Point of Rocks, and Maryland Heights. Thus, conjointly by flag signals and the signal telegraph, a complete line was established from a reliable station of observation on Maryland Heights direct to the commanding general at Fairfax Court-House, giving to him at the same time a rapid means of communication with all the corps above named. A reconnaissance was made for General H. W. Slocum by the signal officers attached to his command.
On the 21st and 22d, the stations occupied on the 19th and 20th worked successfully, and two reconnaissances as far as the Bull Run Mountains were made for General W. S. Hancock.
On the 23d, the lines already in operation were made still more perfect by the establishment of a station near the headquarters of the Fifth and Cavalry Corps, at Aldie, which, communicating with the Eleventh Corps, furnished a safe means of transmitting messages between the commanding general and Maj. Gens. A. Pleasonton, G. G. Meade, and other corps commanders.
On the 24th, the lines previously established worked uninterruptedly. Intelligence of the crossing of the Potomac by the enemy was received this day from the following message:
MARYLAND HEIGHTS SIGNAL STATION,
June 24--10.40 a.m.
Large trains are crossing at Sharpsburg. Artillery and general trains are passing near Charlestown toward Shepherdstown.
FISHER, Lieutenant, Signal Officer.
A message confirming the above was received, via Washington, late in the afternoon by the commanding general from General Tyler, at Maryland Heights.
On the 25th, all signal communication was discontinued upon the removal of the army corps, and the signal telegraph line withdrawn. Two officers made separate reconnaissances for General W. S. Hancock, while two others performed the same duties for General J. F. Reynolds.
On the 26th, general headquarters moved to Poolesville. By direction of the general commanding, three signal officers were ordered to report for duty to Maj. Gen. A. Pleasonton, commanding Cavalry Corps.
On the 27th, the headquarters of this army moved to Frederick, and an attempt was made to open communication between this point and the station on Sugar Loaf Mountain, which proved unsuccessful, on account of the unfavorable condition of the atmosphere. A station of observation was established at Middletown, and communication opened from that place to another point of observation at South Mountain Pass, and the results reported to Generals J. F. Reynolds and O. O. Howard.
On the 28th and 29th, no signal operations were found necessary. On the 30th, general headquarters removed to Taneytown. A signal station was placed in the church steeple at that place, and a party sent to Emmitsburg for the purpose of opening a line between General J. F. Reynolds and headquarters. Communication was not opened this day on account of the haziness of the atmosphere. The signal officer with General John Buford, who occupied the town of Gettysburg, took position in the steeple of the college, and reported to General Buford the whereabouts and movements of the enemy. The officers attached to the First Corps, from a station of observation on the mountain back of Emmitsburg, made a telescopic reconnaissance toward Gettysburg, reporting the results to the general commanding that corps.
On July 1, general headquarters remained near Taneytown. A station of observation was established, first on the college and subsequently on the court-house in Gettysburg, and reports of the position, numbers, and movements of the enemy sent by signals to General Howard, on Cemetery Hill, southeast of the town. In the afternoon of this day two reconnaissances were made from Gettysburg, for the information of General W. S. Hancock, by the signal officer temporarily attached to his staff.
In the evening I was made acquainted by the general commanding with the line of defense to be occupied by the army in case the enemy made an irresistible attack upon our position, and directed by him to "examine the line thoroughly, and at once upon the commencement of the movement extend telegraphic communication from each of the following points, viz, general headquarters, near Frizellburg, Manchester, Union Mills, Middleburg, and the Taneytown road."
In order that these instructions might be promptly and successfully fulfilled, signal telegraph trains were sent to Frizellburg, and everything held in readiness to extend the wire at a moment's notice to the points desired by the commanding general. During the whole of this day, endeavors were made to open the signal line between general headquarters, Emmitsburg, and Round Top Mountain, but, on account of the smokiness of the atmosphere, the desired result was not obtained until 11 p.m., when the first message was received. These lines were kept open during the subsequent battle at Gettysburg and until July 6. In the event of the repulse and retirement of our army, they must have been eminently useful.
Late in the evening of this day, I was directed by the chief of staff to start at daylight the next morning with the signal officers held in reserve, and rejoin the commanding general on the field at Gettysburg.
On July 2, I reported at an early hour at the point selected for headquarters of the army for that day, but found the signal officers, who had been previously assigned to the different army corps, already on the field, and that through their exertions the general commanding had been placed in communication with nearly all the corps commanders.
Before 11 a.m. every desirable point of observation was occupied by a signal officer, and communication opened from General Meade's headquarters to those of every corps commander.
A station was established upon Round Top Mountain, on the left of our line, and from this point the greater part of the enemy's forces could be seen and their movements reported. From this position, at 3.30 p.m., the signal officer discovered the enemy massing upon General Sickles' left, and reported the fact to General Sickles and to the general commanding.
At 5.30 p.m. the enemy opened a terrific fire, but our left was fully prepared for them, and the fight gradually extended to the whole front, so that every signal flag was kept almost constantly working. The station at Round Top was once, and that at General Meade's headquarters twice, broken up by the rapid advance of the enemy and the severity of the fire, but were immediately re-occupied when the positions became tenable. An important station of observation was also opened on the right of our center, near Cemetery Hill, from which the whole of the left of the rebel army-was closely watched. A short time before the action opened, two officers were sent to reconnoiter the enemy's extreme left, and their reports were given to the commanding general. The stations established during the day were held at night.
On July 3, the same positions were occupied by the signal officers as on the day previous, and the reports of movements, &c., unfailingly sent to the commanding general. The station at General Meade s headquarters and that at General Howard's were rendered inoperative for a couple of hours by the furious attack of the rebels upon our center, but both were again actively employed as soon as the tremendous fire moderated sufficiently to permit of messages being read and transmitted with accuracy. The station on Round Top continued to report throughout the day discoveries in regard to the enemy's position. In the evening, the commanding general removed his headquarters to a strip of woods on the Taneytown road, and another station was established at this point, still maintaining communication with those previously opened.
On July 4, at 5.40 a.m., the signal officer from a station on the college in Gettysburg reported to the general commanding "that the enemy had evacuated the position they held yesterday," and at 9.30 a.m. reported the new line occupied by them, and that they were retreating toward Hagerstown. This station was kept open all day, and information in regard to the movements of the enemy sent in by orderly. General Meade's headquarters were removed to the Baltimore pike, and this was made the terminus of all signal lines.
July 5.--All signal stations were this day discontinued, excepting those on Round Top Mountain, Cemetery Hill, court-house, and General Meade's headquarters. The officers previously assigned to army corps moved with them. A signal officer accompanied General G. K. Warren with the advance of the Sixth Corps, and communication was kept up by him with Round Top Mountain, thus enabling the party at the latter place to make known his discoveries in regard to the enemy to General Warren.
On July 6, the lines between Round Top and Taneytown and Emmitsburg and Taneytown were discontinued. The two officers attached to the First Corps made a telescopic reconnaissance from the hill back of Emmitsburg, and sent the information obtained to Maj. Gen. John Newton. The same officers subsequently occupied signal stations at Turner's Gap and Washington Monument, and reported the result of their observations of Hagerstown and vicinity to Generals Sedgwick and Newton.
July 7, the headquarters of the army moved to Frederick. The signal officer who had been previously assigned to duty with the detached command under General Neill made a reconnaissance near Waynesborough, Pa., discovering the whereabouts and movements of the enemy.
On July 8, in the afternoon, general headquarters moved to Middletown. A party of signal officers, under charge of Capt. W. J. L. Nicodemus, arrived from Washington, for the purpose of working in conjunction with the signal corps of this army. Captain Nicodemus opened a line of communication between Frederick and South Mountain Pass.
On July 9, headquarters of the army moved to Turner's Gap. A station was occupied near this place, communicating, through others at Middletown and Crampton's Pass, with Maryland Heights. This line, appearing of little importance on account of telegraphic facilities, was abandoned the same day, and its officers ordered to more active duty in the front. A station of observation was established on Washington Monument, near South Mountain Pass, from which Hagerstown and the whole valley could be seen.
On July 10, the general commanding and his staff removed to a bivouac near Beaver Creek crossing, west of Boonsborough. In the evening, communication was opened from general headquarters, through Washington Monument station, with headquarters of the Second and Twelfth Corps, near Bakersville; Third and Fifth Corps near Antietam Bridge, and the First and Sixth Corps near Beaver Creek crossing, on the Hagerstown pike. On this day the officer who accompanied General Neill on his expedition from a point selected by him on Franklin's Cliff, South Mountain Range, near Leitersburg, discovered the numbers and position of the enemy in and around Hagerstown, and sent the information to General Neill, and by orderly to General Meade.
On July 11, by direction of the assistant assistant-general, a signal telegraph line was run out between general headquarters and those of General John Sedgwick, on the Hagerstown pike, 5 miles distant. No communication was had by flag signals this day on account of the thick haze. Two reconnaissances were made toward Hagerstown for Generals Howard and Kilpatrick by the officers attached to their respective commands.
On July 12, a party was sent to open a line of signals between general headquarters and the brigade of General Neill, near Leitersburg, but the attempt failed by reason of the thickness of the atmosphere. The signal telegraph wire was this day extended to General Sedgwick's new headquarters at Funkstown, and another run out between general headquarters and those of General Slocum, 2½ miles distant and near Four Corners. Both lines worked with but slight interruptions until the night of the 14th, when they were withdrawn. Flag signals were worked between the headquarters of the Fifth Corps and others in the vicinity; also between General Howard's headquarters, at Funkstown, and a station of observation in Hagerstown.
On July 13, all signal communication previously established was still kept up. Two officers were sent to make a telescopic reconnaissance from Elk Mountain.
On July 14, the enemy were discovered to have crossed the river during the night before. At the close of this day all signal stations and lines were discontinued.
On July 15, the headquarters of the army moved to Berlin. A signal station was opened at that place, communicating with a lookout station on Maryland Heights. This line remained in operation until the 18th.
On July 16, the signal telegraph line was run from general headquarters to the Eleventh Corps headquarters, 1½ miles distant. Two officers were sent to make a telescopic reconnaissance from Loudoun Heights. Their reports were transmitted to the general commanding by orderly.
On July 17, communication was opened by flag signals between headquarters at Berlin and an outpost station at Point of Rocks. An officer was sent to occupy a point of observation on Short Mountain.
On July 18, general headquarters moved to Lovettsville, Va. A line of flag signals was worked between the Third and Fifth Corps.
On July 19, headquarters of the army were moved to Wheatland, and communication established from thence to the lookout station on Short Mountain, and also between that mountain and the Fifth Corps headquarters.
On July 20, the general headquarters moved to Union, and in the evening signals by torch were worked between that place and a station of observation at Snicker's Gap, on the Blue Ridge. The whereabouts and movements of the enemy in the Shenandoah Valley were discovered and correctly reported to the commanding general by the officers on this station. A party was ordered to open station and make a reconnaissance at Ashby's Gap. They arrived at that point at 8 p.m., but for some undiscovered reason failed to open communication with general headquarters during the night.
On July 21, the officers at Ashby's Gap made known the numbers, movements, and position of the enemy in the Valley to General G. A. Custer, and through General W. H. French to the general commanding. At 8 p.m. two officers were ordered on a reconnaissance to Manassas Gap. The party at Snicker's Gap station reported frequently during the day to the general commanding their observations of the enemy.
On July 22, communication was opened by flag signals, via Union, with Snicker's and Ashby's Gaps. General headquarters moved to Upperville. Attempts were made to open [Communication] between this point and Ashby's Gap station, but failed from difficulty and delay experienced in finding a suitable point near headquarters. The officer at Manassas Gap transmitted by orderly to the general commanding the results of his observations. A line of signals was opened between Ashby's Gap and the Fifth Corps headquarters, near Rectortown. A point at Manassas Gap was selected for telescopic reconnaissances by the officer attached to General Merritt's command, from which he was driven shortly afterward by an attack of the enemy.
On July 23, general headquarters moved to Piedmont at noon, and to Markham Station in the evening, and communication was opened from the latter place to Ashby's Gap, via Piedmont. At 6 p.m. the officer in charge of signals at the front of Manassas Gap established a line between General Meade's headquarters, at Linden Station, General French, with the advance, and General Sykes. This line was discontinued upon the withdrawal of our infantry the next morning. The officer with the Fifth Corps occupied a point overlooking Front Royal, and sent information of the enemy by flag signals to General Sykes.
On July 24, at an early hour, I proceeded with four officers to the extreme advance of our army, but did not succeed in rendering any service before the enemy had evacuated Front Royal and its vicinity. In the afternoon, general headquarters moved to Salem. Signal communication was opened between General Newton's headquarters, at Warrenton, and General Howard's, at New Baltimore. This line was discontinued the next day upon the removal of the Eleventh Corps to Warrenton Junction.
On July 25, headquarters of the army moved to Warrenton. A station of observation was established near Amissville for General Custer.
On July 26, a signal telegraph line was run between general headquarters and General Sedgwick's headquarters, on the Waterloo road, 2½ miles distant. Another line was also extended from headquarters to the office of the Morse telegraph, in Warrenton. A station of observation was put up on Watery Mountain, communicating by flag signals to general headquarters.
On July 29, the line to Watery Mountain was continued to General Custer's headquarters, at Amissville.
On July 30 and 31, the communication opened on the 29th remained intact.
In summing up the operations of the signal corps of this army for the month and a half herein recorded, I find that sixty-seven signal stations of observation and communication were occupied, eight signal telegraph lines established, and seventeen extra reconnaissances made.
I have stated as concisely as possible the amount and character of the work performed. When it failed in a signal point of view it has been noted; but of the real value of the information obtained by the corps and the importance of other services rendered, the commanding general and the corps commanders are best able to judge.
A map is herewith inclosed, indicating by the signal flags placed upon it the majority of the points at which stations were occupied; by dotted red lines where communication by flag signals was established, and by plain red lines where the signal telegraph was used.
During the late movements of the army, 3 signal officers and 6 flagmen were captured by the enemy. The only reported injuries were those of 2 flagmen slightly wounded at the battle of Gettysburg. The capture of Capt. B. F. Fisher, chief acting signal officer, has been previously mentioned. Capt. C. S. Kendall and Lieut. L. R. Fortescue, acting signal officers, were taken at Emmitsburg, where they had been on station, by Stuart's cavalry upon their retreat from Gettysburg, July 5.
The following officers are entitled to mention for the active part taken by them in the late operations of the corps, and for the prompt and efficient manner in which they discharged every duty, both under the fire of the enemy and on the march: Capts. James S. Hall and P. A. Taylor, serving with Second Army Corps; Capts. P. Babcock, jr., and T. R. Clark, serving with Eleventh Army Corps: Capts. Joseph Gloskoski and Richard Dinsmore, serving with Cavalry Corps; Capt. F. E. Beardslee, in charge signal telegraph train; First Lieuts. J. C. Wiggins and N.H. Camp, serving with First Army Corps; First Lieut. George J. Clarke, serving with Sixth Army Corps; First Lieut. J. E. Holland, serving with Twelfth Army Corps. First Lieuts. William S. Stryker, adjutant, and A. B. Capron, acting assistant quartermaster and acting ordnance officer of Signal Corps, have discharged the duties of their respective positions throughout the campaign with a care and faithfulness which entitles them to commendation. I take pleasure in still further mentioning Capt. D. E. Castle, of this corps, for distinguished gallantry and close attention to duty under most trying circumstances. On July 3, when the enemy made their furious attack upon our center at Gettysburg, Captain Castle occupied a signal station at General Meade s headquarters, near Cemetery Hill, and remained there on duty after all others had been driven away. His flagmen had also left with his signal equipments, under the impression that their officer had gone with the rest. Having occasion to send a couple of important messages to the general commanding, then at General Slocum's headquarters, Captain Castle quickly cut a pole, extemporized a signal flag from a bed-sheet procured near by, and sent his dispatches through under a most galling fire. It was to Captain Castle's keensightedness and good judgment that I am indebted for the first information obtained of the enemy's position and movements in the Shenandoah Valley on July 21. His discoveries were made known to the commanding general at that time.
I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. B. NORTON,
Captain, and Chief Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac.
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