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Official Records of the Rebellion


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 [230] 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 combatant 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.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.229-230

web page Rickard, J (19 November 2006)


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