On April 3 the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac were nominally stationed a mile north of Hampton, Va. But very few tents were pitched, however, and this camp could hardly with propriety be styled one.
During the movement down the river it had been made known that a movement of combined land and naval forces against Yorktown was intended. As soon as headquarters had moved from the steamer Commodore an interview was had with Commodore Goldsborough, then commanding the fleet near Fortress Monroe, and arrangements were made to send a detachment of signal officers and men on board the flotilla, then under orders to sail for Yorktown, under the command of Commodore Missroon.
On the next day the army transport with stores, &c., arrived. A night of hard labor sufficed to discharge her, and early on the following morning the reserve signal detachment, fully equipped, with its stores and means of transportation, was ready for the field. A detachment of 3 officers and 6 men, commanded by Lieutenant J. W. De Ford, Eleventh Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, was ordered to the fleet. A few hours' rest was given to men and horses, yet stiff from the voyage, and at sunset on the 5th of April the party moved toward the front. A rapid night march over roads crowded with immense trains of wagons, and through fields, to avoid obstacles else impassable, and part of a day's toil through deep mud on narrow ways, encumbered with the impediments of a great army, brought the party on the afternoon of April 6 to the camping-ground, near Dr. Power's house, of the first regular camp of headquarters of the Army of the Potomac made on the Peninsula in time to pitch their tents with the first there pitching.
The general advance of the Army of the Potomac had been made on April 4. On that night headquarters bivouacked at Big Bethel. On the following night they occupied a few uncomfortable sheds of a rebel cantonment near the now-selected encampment. In the general advance of the army the army corps under General Keyses moved upon the James River side of the Peninsula, and after heavy skirmishing
touched the enemy's lines at Lee's Mill, near the Warwick River. The country into which this army corps moved was almost unknown to our generals. It was flat and covered with dense forests. The low formation of the ground and heavy rains had made it swampy. Through this the roads, nearly impassable, led. On all the march the detachment of the signal corps serving with these forces, under Lieutenant B. F. Fisher, was on duty. There were no elevated points whence general observation could be had, and the character of the country made signaling impossible. The duties of such temporary reconnaissances as are made by scouts in such cases devolved upon the signal officers. They were among the first to follow the devious roads, to recognize the presence of the enemy, to study with their telescopes his strength and movements, and to hasten to report as well as they could such facts as they were able to note to the generals with whom they served. The advance of this column was checked near the line of the Warwick River, and General Keyes established his headquarters at Warwick Court-House.
The column under General Heintzelman, moving on the York side of the Peninsula, passed through a country difficult indeed, but both more open and better drained than that penetrated by the forces under General Keyes. The division of Major General Fitz John Porter constituted the advance of this column, and after minor encounters with