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Maj Albert J Myer's Official Report

Report of October 6, 1862

A. J. Myer

[author biography]

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Camp near Sharpsburg, Md., October 6, 1862.

Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of operations of the Signal Corps of the Army of the Potomac, as in relation to the recent movements and battles in Maryland.

On Saturday, August 30, 1862, the Signal Corps of this army had, after some delays in transportation, just arrived at Alexandria from the Peninsula. On the next day there were verbal instructions from Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, that a party should report to Major-General Pope, then commanding an army near Centreville, Va. This army had then just met with some reverses.

On the night of September 1, twelve officers, with their flagmen, were reported for duty at Centreville.

At the formation of the line of battle near Fairfax Court-House, on the next day, these officers were assigned to stations, and when the army retired toward Washington, on that afternoon, they accompanied the rear guards, occupying different prominent positions for observation, and giving to general officers such information as came within their power. Among communicating lines established on this march was one extending from Annandale to Fairfax Seminary.

During the few days the army lay near Washington there was little opportunity for rest or re-equipment of the signal party. It was here joined by the officers who had been attached to the Army of Virginia, who had been scattered by the rapid movements in Virginia, and some of whom had lost both public and private property by the disasters then recent. The necessities of the time seemed urgent. Signal parties were posted on the dominant heights about Washington, and the country within telescopic range was all the time under their observation.

On Sunday, September 7, the Army of the Potomac took the field for the campaign in Maryland.

On Monday, September 1, it had become evident to the generals commanding near Centreville that the enemy were passing the right of the army commanded by General Pope near Fairfax Court-House, and menaced the crossings of the Upper Potomac. Under orders from Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks. First Lieut. W. W. Rowley, chief signal officer of the party serving with the Eleventh [Twelfth] Army Corps, started on the afternoon of that day from near Manassas with a party consisting of Capt. L. R. Fortescue, Lieuts. B. N. Miner, and E. A. Briggs, acting signal officers, to reach, if possible the summit of the Catoctin Mountains, near the Potomac, prior to the arrival there of the enemy, and to thence report their movements to General Banks.

Arriving on the Potomac, Captain Fortescue was ordered by Lieutenant Rowley to Maryland Heights, whence there is an extensive view of the Shenandoah and Pleasant Valleys. Lieutenant Briggs was stationed at Poolsville to receive communications by signals from Sugar Loaf Mountain, and to thence transmit them by electric telegraph to Washington, while Lieutenant Miner established a station upon the summit of that peak. The range of vision from this point is unequaled by that from any other in Maryland. It includes several prominent fords of the Potomac, the approaches to them in Virginia, and much of the country into which an army passing those fords would move. Lieutenant Miner occupied the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain on the 3d of September. The position was exposed to an attack, but was courageously held by the officer, who thence reported the advance of the enemy and the direction taken by their trains in the vicinity of Leesburg, their approach to the river, their crossing the Potomac near the Monocacy, and the commencement of their movement into Maryland. He was last seen to send a message announcing the near approach of the enemy, and to then furl his flags as if to leave the station. There is unofficial information that he left the summit of the mountain, encountered and captured when near its base a courier with dispatches, and, while examining the prisoner, was, together with his flagman, taken by the enemy's cavalry. It seems probable that the first official information of the enemy's approach to and passage of the Potomac was received at Washington from this officer. Lieutenant Miner was faithfully aided in this service by Lieutenant Briggs, who only left Poolesville on the arrival of the enemy's cavalry at that place. The enemy at once occupied the mountain with infantry and artillery, and held it as a signal station.

On Saturday evening, September 6, signal officers from our army occupied stations on Seneca Ridge and near Great Falls, the line of stations thus reaching from Seneca Ridge to Fairfax Seminary, near Alexandria.

On Sunday, September 7, the signal party of the Army of the Potomac, under the immediate charge of Capt. B. F. Fisher, under whose supervision the stations of observation near Washington had been established, left their camp at Hall's Hill, Va.

On Monday, September 8, the party were reported for duty at the headquarters of the army at Rockville, Md. On Tuesday, September 9, Wednesday, September 10, and Thursday, September 11, signal officers took part in the operations of the advance of the army at Poolesville and near Sugar Loaf Mountain. At the latter place communication was maintained between General Franklin at Barnesville and General Hancock at the foot of the mountain, while preparations were making to occupy it. On Thursday, September 11, at about 3 p. m., the mountain was retaken by our forces, and was soon after reoccupied as a signal station, communicating with Poolesville, to which place Captain Fisher had previously sent a party, and thence by electricity with the headquarters of the army. The earliest reports announced that two regiments of the enemy's cavalry were thence visible, but with no signs of the presence of the enemy in force on the east side of Catoctin Ridge. A force was reported encamped near Point of Rocks.

It had been particularly desired by the major-general commanding the army that the signal station upon Sugar Loaf, which kept under observation the country upon his left, and from which the presence of the enemy could be rapidly reported, should be occupied by careful and skilled officers. Lieuts. W. W. Rowley, J. H. Spencer, W. B. Roe, and J. S. Hall, acting signal officers, were assigned to this station, and from this time during the operations terminating in the defeat of the enemy at Antietam their duties were constant. From this station were transmitted to headquarters, while moving from Middlebrook to near Urbana, while at Urbana, at Frederick, at Middletown, and to the general commanding on the field during the battle of South Mountain, reports of observations made and the reports of the station established upon Point of Rocks on the advance of our army to that place. It was also used as a station for the transmission of some telegraphic correspondence of the General-in-Chief from Frederick and from the field at South Mountain to Point of Rocks, to which station the electric telegraph had been extended from Washington before that destroyed by the enemy near Frederick was repaired. It was still held, by direction of the General-in-Chief, during the battle of Antietam, thence communicating with Frederick.

On Friday, September 12, general headquarters moved from Middlebrook to a point near Urbana. At this point the occupation of Frederick by our troops was announced to the General-in-Chief by signals from Sugar Loaf as soon as the head of the column had entered that city. The presence of the enemy's pickets was reported as visible at the bridge of the Monocacy, and information was given of the occupation of Point of Rocks by a small party of our forces on this night. On the night of the 12th, Lieut. J. H. Fralick, who had gone forward with General Hancock, reached Point of Rocks, then not yet possessed by our troops. Lieutenant Fralick attempted to attract thence, by means of signals, the attention of the signal officer supposed to be at Maryland Heights. Rockets and red lights were fired, and the usual signals made by torch from Sugar Loaf for the same purpose. Point of Rocks is in easy signal distance from Maryland Heights, but no response was obtained from the latter post. It was afterward ascertained that Captain Fortescue had in so far misapprehended the position in which he could be of most service as to leave the Heights prior to their investment. It had not been indicated to Captain Fortescue in orders that he was to remain at that place. Lieutenant Fralick afterward first reported to General Franklin the occupation of Maryland Heights by the enemy. Of this fact he had evidence satisfactory to himself by seeing their signal flag at work upon that station.

On Saturday, September 13, the army occupied Frederick in force. A detail of officers was sent early on this day to occupy Point of Rocks, to report any approach of the enemy in that direction, and to gain information as to their presence on the west side of Catoctin Ridge, and of the condition of affairs at Harper's [sic] Ferry. The stations at Seneca and at Great Falls were ordered to be broken up.

The sounds of a cannonade attracting attention early in the morning, the position of the guns at Catoctin Pass, west of Frederick, was at once reported to General McClellan, near Urbana. The cannonade proved to be our advance attacking the rear of the enemy. The pass was forced about noon. Lieuts. N. H. Camp and G. J. Clarke, who had been so fortunate as to be with the advance, were, by direction of Captain Fisher, stationed at the summit of the pass, and in communication with Lieut. W. H. Hill, stationed with General Burnside in Frederick. Messages relative to the movements of the troops were received and answered. Lieutenants Camp and Clarke being relieved at this station, proceeded with the forces under General Pleasonton to Middletown. The attempt was made by Captain Fisher to connect with a signal line Middletown and Frederick. This, although easily feasible, failed in the confusion and change of camps. At about 1 p. m. signal reports from Sugar Loaf Mountain to the general commanding the army at Frederick announced that no enemy was visible or apparently near our left. Later in the afternoon signal reports from Point of Rocks stated that the enemy were in Pleasant Valley; that a portion of their forces had been visible at Jefferson, and that they had cut the canal at Knoxville, to be able, if necessary, there to cross the Potomac into Virginia. No news had been received direct from Harper's Ferry at any station. A heavy cannonade had been heard in that direction. In the evening a message was received from Washington, transmitted through the signal station at Point of Rocks, from the President of the United States to General McClellan. A reply was in the same manner returned. The line of signal communication extended on this day and night from the left of our forces near Point of Rocks to those on the right near Catoctin Pass. On this day Lieut. F. N. Wicker took possession, on the summit of the ridge, of a rebel signal flag, which it is probable had been just used at one of their stations.

On Sunday, September 14, was fought the battle of South Mountain. It was the plan of the signal stations ordered this day that the general commanding the army should be enabled to receive on the field reports from the Valley of the Potomac by the stations at Point of Rocks and Sugar Loaf Mountain, and from Pleasant Valley by a station established on some commanding eminence in that valley. There would be thus information of any occurrences east of Catoctin Ridge or in the valley west of Catoctin Ridge on our right or left or on the ridges which might be visible from these stations. It was also intended, as is customary, that signal officers should accompany the advance of our troops when attacking the enemy's position, to communicate to the general commanding the field any information they might be able to gain at points from which it was possible to work stations in his vicinity. This part of the plan was not executed as well as was practicable, for the reason that no signal officer had early information as to the plan of attack. The stations at Sugar Loaf and Point of Rocks were maintained.

As the general movement from Frederick to the pass at South Mountain commenced, a station was ordered to be located on Catoctin Ridge, and to communicate thence with Sugar Loaf and with the prominent tower of a church in Middletown, which was selected as a station of observation for the valley. With the advance of our troops to the gap and the planting of our batteries, a station had been opened, under the supervision of Captain Fisher, at the battery near General A. Pleasonton, communicating thence to the Tower station in Middletown. During the morning's cannonade messages were here received from the gap for Maj. Gen. A. E. Burnside and for Maj. Gen. G. B. McClellan, while their headquarters were in the vicinity. When General McClellan took his position upon the field of battle, the headquarters station was that, then near him, which had previously been established near General Pleasonton.

With the advance of General Jesse Reno's division to the crest of the mountain south of the gap, a signal station was ordered, as I am informed by Captain Fisher, to be located upon the crest. Owing to some conflicting instructions from some officer, this station was not established. Later in the afternoon Lieuts. J. C. Paine and C. H. Carey were directed to open a station at this point. The flag was promptly carried to the position indicated, and the communication opened with both the station of observation on the tower and a station near General McClellan, then on the field. A few reports were received from this station, but it was feebly worked, soon ceased to reply to calls, and became of no importance. At noon the whole line of communication mentioned was fully opened, and during the progress of the engagement there were given to General McClellan on the field reports from Point of Rocks, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the other stations established. There were announced, among other reports, the movements of our troops visible in the valley and on the ridge, and at the time of their occurrence the facts of General Franklin's engagement, then commencing at the gap near Burkittsville, the sounds and smoke as of a battle on Maryland Heights, and that no enemy was visible anywhere on our left or in the valley of the Potomac. A message was signaled from the field, addressed to General H. W. Halleck, at Washington. The stations were fully employed throughout the engagement until night. Some of them had been working from early morning. The officers remained at their posts throughout the night. There were, however, no occasions for night signals. At daylight on the following day it was found that the retreat of the enemy had rendered the further occupation of those upon and near the battle-field unnecessary.

On Monday, September 15, following the retreat of the enemy, commenced the advance of the army through the pass in South Mountain and toward the Antietam. Early in the morning the course of the enemy's retreat and the positions they would select were uncertain. Officers were sent to the summit of the Blue Ridge with instructions to select stations, and also to examine and report their observations of the country upon the west side of the Blue Ridge. A careful examination was made from the high peak of the Blue Ridge north of the gap known as Washington Monument, which overlooks all the valley between the North and South Mountains.

From this point the forces of the enemy were visible near Sharpsburg, and thence to Shepherdstown. The line of battle beyond Antietam, then just beginning to be formed, was seen, and a full report of this and other facts sent to General McClellan. The line was yet forming as this dispatch was forwarded by orderly. It is possible it contained as early information as any given as to the position of the enemy. A signal station was established at this point.

On the evening of this day it became evident that there would be an engagement of some magnitude, and preparations were commenced for the battle of Antietam. At this time and early on the following morning instructions were received from General McClellan that signal communication should be established between his position chosen on the field of battle to as far as practicable on the right and left within our lines; that our left should be observed with particular care, and that from the most commanding points of view reports should be made of any information in regard to the battle. The station on Sugar Loaf was retained, to warn against any possible movement in that vicinity. At 2 a. m. on September 16 orders were sent to Captain Fisher, in charge of the signal detachment then at Boonsborough, to bring the party forward as rapidly as practicable to near the Antietam. He was also directed to establish an officer on Washington Monument, the point above mentioned. The instructions of this officer were to report to the battle-field any movements of the enemy visible to him at any point in the valley, or clouds of dust, or signs of forces approaching or near the position held by our army. He was afterward instructed, by signals from the field during the progress of the battle at Antietam, to particularly notice any approach made in the valley behind the Elk Mountains, which, bordering the Antietam, touch the Potomac near the mouth of that creek. Additional instructions were given Captain Fisher upon his arrival at Keedysville.

At 10 a. m. there had been established on the field at Antietam a signal station communicating with the station on the monument, one on the left, on an elevation near the left of General A. E. Burnside's forces, which communicated with the station on Elk Mountain, and one on the right near General G. G. Meade. A station of observation had been previously established on the crest of Elk Mountain at the gap, afterward cut for the convenience of the officers there stationed, and now designated by the soldiers as "McClellan's Gap."

The extensive view from this position commanded Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown, with very many points of the battle-field, the approaches to it, and the country in the vicinity. A careful telescopic examination of all points thought to be of interest was made, and a full report of the enemy, then in front of Sharpsburg, and of such movements as were visible, was sent to the general commanding. Officers were kept at their posts on this station by day and night, with but a few hours' interval, from the commencement of the battle until the retreat of the enemy beyond the Potomac. The station was worked with peculiar labor, it being necessary to observe at times from the top of a tree, while the signals were made from a point beneath and among the branches, where the flagman could only sustain himself by exertion. All stations communicated with a central or headquarters station. From these points reports amid messages of various value were transmitted throughout the day. The movement of the enemy which seemed most to attract attention, and which was twice reported - once from Washington Monument and once from the station on Elk Mountain - was the apparent motion of large trains from behind the woods west of Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown, and into Virginia.

In the afternoon the enemy's line of battle seemed to have changed from in front of Sharpsburg. About dusk that evening commenced our attack upon their left. Lieuts. J. B. Brooks and W. H. Hill, ordered to move with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, commanding the right, skillfully located their station this night near his headquarters, and close to the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike, and were ready at this position at daylight.

On Wednesday, September 17, was fought the principal battle of the Antietam. The general plan of signal operations was similar to that of the preceding day, the reports from the station on the right and from the station on Elk Mountain being concentrated at what was known as the Headquarters station, near General McClellan. A station was posted on the left at the position of General Burnside on the field, thence communicating with the mountain, and receiving reports for that officer. As our lines advanced on the west side of the Antietam, driving in the enemy's left, stations were established as closely as possible behind the lines, and near to the generals commanding in that portion of the field. A station was thus established, subject to artillery fire, by Lieuts. E. C. Pierce and W. F. Barrett, at the Miller house, near the position of General E. V. Sumner. The signal package carried on the saddle by one of the flagmen of this party was cut in two by a cannon-shot.

When the field near Roulette house was cleared by our troops, an advance station was ordered to that position. The point was reached by Lieuts. F. N. Wicker and G. J. Clarke. They had transmitted but few messages when the station was displaced by the breaking of a part of our line. The position was soon retaken by our troops, but these officers did not reoccupy it. The fire had been close, the horse of one of the officers being slightly wounded. An hour afterward this station was occupied by Lieuts. F. Wilson and F. W. Owen, sent to supply the places of the two officers first detailed, and was bravely and efficiently worked by them under a considerable artillery fire until night. These stations were kept in communication with general head- quarters.

Throughout the battle the labors of the officers and men on some of these stations was almost incessant, and all exerted themselves zealously to gain and forward to headquarters any information or message to bear upon the result of the action. It was the fortune of Lieuts. J. B. Brooks and W. H. Hill to forward from the right some messages and reports of much importance. One of them, a message from General E. V. Sumner, announcing the wavering of the line and the need of re-enforcements, could probably have been sent so rapidly in no other manner. The reports from the mountain station so overlooking the field of battle were of peculiar interest, and the faithful manner in which this station was held and worked is worthy of commendation. All the stations were kept by the officers upon the field on the night of the 17th. Night signals were used, however, only between the mountain and general headquarters.

On the day and night of September 18 the stations were held in the same positions. There was constant observation and report in reference to the enemy, and movements noticed in different parts of the country. On this day the station communicating with Washington Monument, which had been withdrawn during the 17th, was reoccupied. At sundown and until dark the enemy's smoke distinctly marked the positions held by them on this side of the river and about Sharpsburg. During the night they hastily retreated.

On the morning of September 19, upon the advance of our cavalry, under General A. Pleasonton, in pursuit of the enemy, and the opening of the enemy's batteries in Virginia at the ford of the Potomac, officers who had accompanied the rapid movement of our troops established, under the direction of Captain Fisher, a station near Shepherdstown. This station communicated with the general commanding the army at headquarters until the occupation of Sharpsburg by our troops in force. On this day a signal party was ordered to Maryland Heights, whence, on the afternoon of the 20th, communication was opened with headquarters of the army at Sharpsburg. The earliest information was thus given on that day of the occupation of that place by our forces and of the condition of Harper's Ferry as relating to the future movements of our army. From the day on which the enemy were driven from Maryland until the present time they have occupied points in Virginia partially visible from the stations of observation established upon our lines. These have been maintained upon the mountain at McClellan's Gap, east of Sharpsburg, on Headquarters Mountain, nearly east of Shepherdstown, on Maryland Heights, on Bolivar Heights, on Sugar Loaf Mountain, and on Fairview Heights, northwest of Martinsburg. The range of country brought within fair telescopic observation extends from the Seneca River on the east to Hancock, Md., on the west, far south into the Shenandoah Valley and north into Maryland. It has been difficult for any movement of importance to be made by the enemy without being noticed from some of these stations.

As a summary of the operations of the corps as connected with this campaign, I have to report that these operations have extended in the establishment of stations from Alexandria, Va., to Fairview Heights, in Maryland. There have been occupied in all fifty-one stations. I forward herewith a map and list of the stations occupied, and a map showing the plan of the stations at the battle of Antietam. From before the departure of this army from Washington to the present time, the country in which it was to operate, or through which it was to pass, has been always under observation from some of these positions. The duties of the signal officers require that their watchfulness and reports should embrace occurrences in the night equally with those in the day. In each of the engagements of the campaign, officers of the corps have taken some part. They claim to have announced the entry of the enemy into Maryland, and his retreat beyond the Potomac.

Of the value to this army of the watchfulness of these officers, of their observation, and the consequent reports made by them, and of their transmission of intelligence, the general who commands the army can best judge. Of the zeal with which the officers have tried to aid its successes, and of the willingness and endurance with which they have undergone hardships few officers are required to meet, it is my duty to make mention.

The following officers are mentioned for their services during this campaign:

For services at Sugar Loaf Mountain, September 4, 1862, observing and reporting the advance of the enemy into Maryland: First Lieut. B. N. Miner, Thirty-fourth New York Volunteers. The signal station was held so long by this officer that he was captured in leaving it.

For services at Sugar Loaf Mountain from the time of its recapture and during the engagement at Catoctin Pass, and the battles at South Mountain and Antietam: First Lieut. W. W. Rowley, Twenty-eighth New York Volunteers; First Lieut. J. S. Hall, Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers; First Lieut. W. B. Roe, Sixteenth Michigan Volunteers; Second Lieut. J. H. Spencer, First Minnesota Volunteers.

For services at Point of Rocks prior to and during the battle of South Mountain: First Lieut. I. J. Harvey, Second Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps; Second Lieut. F. Horner, Sixth New Jersey Volunteers; Second Lieut. A. B. Jerome, First New Jersey Volunteers.

For services at the battle of South Mountain: First Lieut. J. C. Paine, Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers; First Lieut. C. F. Stone, Sixth Maine Volunteers; First Lieut. F. E. Yates, Fourth Excelsior; Second Lieut. W. F. Barrett, Twenty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers, stationed at the tower at Middletown; First Lieut. S. Adams, Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers; Second Lieut. R. Dinsmore, Fifth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, Stationed at Catoctin Ridge, west of Frederick; Second Lieut. N. H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers; Second Lieut. G. J. Clark, Sixty-second New York Volunteers, stationed near the General-in-Chief.

For services at the battle of Antietam and on the pursuit to Shepherdstown, Va.: First Lieut. F. Wilson, Fifth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps; Second Lieut. F. W. Owen, Thirty-eighth New York Volunteers, occupying the advance station near Roulette's house, and bravely maintaining it for some hours under an artillery fire; First Lieut. J. B. Brooks, Fourth Vermont Volunteers; Second Lieut. W. H. Hill, Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, occupying a station near the Hagerstown turnpike, and freely exposing themselves under fire in the discharge of their duties (this station was near the right of the army); First Lieut. E. C. Pierce, Third Maine Volunteers; Second Lieut. William F. Barrett, Twenty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers, occupying a station near the position of Generals Sumner and Smith upon the field, and subject at times to artillery fire; First Lieut. J. Gloskoski, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers; Second Lieut. N. H. Camp, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, at the signal station at McClellan's Gap, on Elk Mountain, overlooking the field; First Lieut. William S. Stryker, Twelfth Virginia Volunteers; First Lieut. J. C. Paine, Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers; First Lieut. C. F. Stone, Sixth Maine Volunteers; First Lieut. P. A. Taylor, Forty-ninth New York Volunteers, at Headquarters station, near the general commanding the army; First Lieut. S. Pierce, Twenty- seventh New York Volunteers; First Lieut. C. S. Kendall, First Massachusetts Volunteers, near General Burnside's headquarters, on the left of the army; First Lieut. E. L. Halsted, Fortieth New York Volunteers, on Washington Monument, on Blue Ridge; First Lieut. J. A. Hebrew, Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers; Second Lieut. F. Horner, Sixth New Jersey Volunteers, with the advance on the 19th and at the attack on the enemy's batteries near Shepherdstown.

Capt. B. F. Fisher, acting signal officer, in immediate charge of the party with the Army of the Potomac, and under whose personal supervision many of the stations reported were established, is entitled to mention for the zeal which has characterized his conduct throughout the campaign, and the courage and ability with which he discharged his duties at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.

There are laid before the commanding general in this list the names of officers who have served in the presence of the enemy now for more than a year, and whose labors have elicited the official thanks of generals and other commanders. There is hardly one whose name has not been more than once officially mentioned for gallant or faithful service upon the Peninsula, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, or on the Rappahannock. There is yet no definite mode by which to give them substantial reward or promotion.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ALBERT J. MYER,
Signal Officer, and Major, U. S. Army.

Source: OR1





Notes

1   US War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR), 128 vols., Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1880-1901, Vol. 19/Part1 (Ser #27), pp. 117 - 125  [AotW citation 174]

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