War of the Rebellion: Serial 005 Page 0071 Chapter XIV. GENERAL REPORTS.

Search Civil War Official Records

the manual of the signal apparatus, and they were practiced to send messages of any kind and of any number of words by telegraphic signals. The apparatus used is now well known to the general commanding. It is sufficient, therefore, to say that, by the motions of a single flag, attached to a staff, held and worked by the hands of one man, in the day, or by the similar motions of a lighted torch, fastened to the staff instead of a flag, at night, a single man is converted into a semaphore, useful for any distances at which the signs made are visible either with the naked eye or with telescopes.

The officers were instructed in countersign, signals, by which to distinguish friendly regiments, and in the employment of colored lights and rockets as signals. They were habituated by constant use to the management of the telescope. They were taught the drill of the flagman. They learned to ride, and were instructed how to provide for themselves and their parties in the field. They were taught some duties of reconnaissance. They were fresh from civil life; it was aimed to give them something of the feeling and habits of soldiers.

It was from the beginning the intention to place in charge of this corps the flying or field electric telegraphs, for use upon the field of battle or in the immediate presence of the enemy. These were to be similar in their general construction to those telegraphic trains at a later day brought into use on the Peninsula. The efforts to procure these trains were thwarted to some extent by the actions of persons who seemed to greatly desire that all the duties of electric telegraphy should be in the hands of civilians, and in part, perhaps, by the hesitation of officers in authority to become responsible by favoring it for the success of what was then an experiment in our service. I did all I could to obtain authority and the means to properly fit such trains to accompany the army on the march. In the early days of the war I could not obtain the asked permission to organize a party or to draw on the Departments for supplies. Later, when I submitted plans and further requests on this subject, they were either not answered or received non-committal replies. Estimates accompanying my annual report of November 10, 1862, were not acted upon.

With embarrassments of this nature the work could not be successfully carried on. It was only when the Army was fairly in the field that the plans began to receive some favorable attention and some support. One train was, however, partially completed, and the officers of the corps were familiarized with its use. This was the first movable telegraphic train of which there is record, as made for thee United States Army.


On October 17, 1861, the order for the adoption of countersign signals in the Army of the Potomac was issued at the suggestion of the Chief Signal Officer. To acquire a thorough knowledge of the use of these signals, to procure and issue the necessary supplies, and to instruct the designated officers in the two hundred and fifty regiments and organizations comprised in the Army of the Potomac occupied much of the attention and employed much of the time of the forming corps until late in December. The theory of these signals was good; the apparatus was convenient; the modes of making the signals were practicable. Experience has shown, however, that in a new army these signals will not be safely used unless an organized corps of signal officers accompany such an army. The failure of Congress to organize a signal corps.