Today in History:


72 Series I Volume V- Serial 5 - West Virginia

User Rating: 0 / 5

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
Page 72 OPERATIONS IN MD., N. VA., AND W. VA. Chapter XIV.

during the session of 1861 - '62 led, on the recommendation of the Chief Signal Officer, to the suspension, in October, 1862, of the use of countersign signals in the Army of the Potomac. They were of practical use on some few occasions, and it is probable beneficially influenced the army, in so far as, by leading the men to presume that signals would always distinguish their enemies from their friends, they prevented the stampedes and panic firings which by their sad results had early in the war so moved the nation. I am of the opinion that, with the improving organization of the armies of the United States, this use, first tested in the Army of the Potomac, will be perfected and made general.


In December, 1861, the Chief Signal Officer was ordered to prepare a plan for outpost and scout signals, or signs by which troops upon outposts and with scouting parties might recognize friendly forces. These signals were for some months used along the lines in front of and near Washington and after the army had taken the field on the Peninsula. The very general use attempted to be made of them in so great an army was always of doubtful value. There was danger that troops widely separated, of different intelligence and of different nations, could not be rightly instructed. The proper employment of signals of this character is for especial occasions and for especial troops. Their use (from the beginning neglected) was formally abandoned while the army was upon the Chickahominy, in June, 1862.

Early in January, 1862, the force at the signal camp of instruction, at Georgetown, D. C., was largely increased by a detail of 3 officers and 6 men, ordered from each brigade of the Army of the Potomac, which had not previously furnished its quota. Fifty per cent. of the officers thus ordered failed to report.


The officers and men detailed for signal service manifested interest in the study of their duties, and as a corps early attained an advanced preparation. The character of their employment attracted much attention. Small signal parties had been left stationed at Poolesville, on Sugar Loaf Mountain, and at Seneca, Md. These points were in daily communication. The simplicity of the apparatus with which the officers conversed; their power of communicating at distances of many miles and in the night as well as in the day; the incomprehensible orders given by the officers to the flagmen, and the seemingly more incomprehensible evolutions with flags and torches, were, in and out of the army, subjects of ceaseless comment.

Like comment was elicited by the work of officers sent out to practice in the vicinity of Washington, and who were found at all hours of the night as well as day scattered about the country, miles from camp, on towers or on prominent heights, busily telegraphing, and with airs of sage importance and mystery, messages as lessons of practice. In the newspaper histories of the war the signal camp of instruction will be found to have a special mention.

The organization of the signal corps of the Army of the Potomac (then the grand army of the United States) became a fact of general knowledge. As other armies were formed or expeditions were prepared, skilled officers and men sent from the parent camp formed with these armies, with other officers and men by them instructed, the different.

Page 72 OPERATIONS IN MD., N. VA., AND W. VA. Chapter XIV.

Please login to post a comment. You may create an account using the form available to the right.


Major Battles of the Civil War