The Signal Service Corps
Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. XXV. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1897
Sunday News, Charleston, S.C., May 2, 1897
A TRIBUTE TO THEIR ARDUOUS AND INVALUABLE SERVICES DURING THE WAR
An Address by A. W. Taft, before Camp Sumter C. V., Charleston, S.C., May 1, 1897.
Commander and Comrades:
Tonight you have invited me to respond in behalf of the Signal Corps, being the senior officer of that body connected with your camp. With great pleasure do I accept the compliment, for it cannot but be a matter of pride to be chosen as the representative of such a command, a body composed of men selected from the different branches of the service, not only for their intelligence, but also for the complete confidence that could be placed in them, holding only the humble rank of privates, but what greater compliment can be paid to any man than to say of him that he had been selected for his intelligence and reliability from the ranks of the Confederate army, whose merits have won the admiration of all nations? I can also add that members of the Signal Corps, although only detailed men, were held in such esteem that to them were always extended the honors due to commissioned officers. Thrown, however, in daily intercourse with my brother survivors of the "Lost Cause," I cannot but recognize the fact that by many of those, who, with musket on shoulder or sabre by side, bore the heat and burden of many a hard fought battle, we are classed among those non-combatants, who, occupying what were termed "bomb-proof" positions, would now pose as veterans, and how can I better use the limited space of time allotted to me than by bringing to your attention certain facts that may tend to remove that erroneous impression ?
The members of the Signal Corps, like those of all other commands, were assigned to duty at the various stations at which their services would be most valuable, some comparatively free from danger, while others were exposed and dangerous, that a term of service thereat, by any soldier, can be looked on as a certificate of bravery.
You have passed a highly merited eulogy on our lamented Comrade Thomas Huguenin, whose highest honor is that he commanded at Fort Sumter, but let me call to your attention the fact that three members of the Signal Corps were constantly there on duty, sharing not only the dangers and trials of Huguenin, but also of Rhett, Elliott, Harleston, Mitchell and of all those other heroes who there did serve, and of whose records we, as brother soldiers, are so proud.
"FORT SUMTER STILL HOLDS OUT."
By their side the signal officer stood, and beneath crumbling wall and the midst of bursting shells, with flag in hand by day and torch by night, they sent to this seemingly doomed city the glad tidings: "Fort Sumpter still holds out." When you honor the memories of those heroes, who for their country, gave up their lives, forget not the brave boy Huger, who, upon her ramparts, shed his life blood, as nobly performing his duty to his country and as willingly giving his life to the cause as anyone of them all.
Are there any whom you hold in higher esteem than the officers and men of the navy ? Do not forget the fact that two members of the Signal Corps, stationed on each iron-clad, stood ready at all times to share the dangers of the gallant Ingraham, Tucker and their men.
Again, on Morris Island we find the Signal Corps, and on them devolved the duty of keeping that brave garrison in communication with the outer world. You who, like myself, experienced the dangers and trials of that siege, can indeed appreciate their services, and testify to the bravery and coolness with which the members of the Signal Corps there bore themselves in the midst of dangers that caused the bravest to tremble, standing nobly at their post, and only leaving the island with the rear guard, at the evacuation.
There were also members of the corps, who at other points, not so much exposed, did even more valuable service to our cause. I refer to those who day and night read the signals as they passed from station to station of the United States Army and Navy. To them we owe the preservation of Sumter, Johnson, Gregg and Wagner, on several occasions, those forts being forewarned of attacks to be made, and consequently prepared to resist the same. I have so far spoken only of the services of the corps in the siege of this city, having been connected only with this and the Signal Corps of the Army of Tennessee, and I know that my time is limited, and there are but few of those present who were at any time connected with the latter army, but will add that to demonstrate that the members of the Signal Corps bore themselves with equal bravery on other fields, and did not occupy bomb-proof places. History tells us that when the beloved Stonewall Jackson fell a signal officer caught him in his arms and another bit the dust by his side.
THE DEFENCE OF MORRIS ISLAND.
Such, my comrades, are the facts. I would submit for your consideration, still, for fear they may be received by some as the statements of one interested, I shall trespass on your patience while I quote from the published accounts of the defence of Morris Island. The writer in describing the attempt to blow up the Ironsides uses the following words:
"The new Ironsides was singled for destruction. One of the Signal Corps had been stationed at Battery Gregg, and another at Wagner, each with keen eyes, watching their respective lines of vision. At the electric key stood Captain Langdon Cheves, with eyes bent upon both stations, so that as the flags waved in concert, indicating the fatal moment when the Ironsides should be over the torpedo, to apply the spark and do the deed. Slowly the Ironsides steamed around, delivering one terrific broadside after another. Ever and anon the flag would wig-wag on Gregg, but Wagner was still; then that on Wagner, but Gregg's did not reply, and so it seemed that hours passed. At last both flags waved. The key was touched once and again. There was no answering explosion."
Again in this report we find the following:
"Though non-combatants, none ran greater risks than the Signal Corps. Perched on the highest and most conspicuous spots of Battery Gregg, flag in hand, the cynosure of all eyes, both friend and foe, exposed to the fire of sharpshooters and artillery, often their special aim, in the thick as well as the surcease of the conflict, the wig-wag of their flags conveyed to the commandant at Charleston, the needs of the garrison, or received from him orders for defence. By their intelligent service, likewise the dispatches passing from fleet to shore were read, so that forewarned by them on several occasions, the Confederates were forearmed, and ready so as to repel, with little loss, assaults that would otherwise have been fatal."
Such is the tribute paid to the Signal Corps by a disinterested party, one whose record is such that his words of praise would be heard with feelings of pride by any veteran, however brave he may have shown himself on many a hard fought battlefield. Such we are proud to claim as our record, and submitting the same, is there one of you who will challenge our right to the grand title of "Veterans of the Lost Cause ?"
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