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Capt B F Fisher's Official Report

Report of September 30, 1862

B. F. Fisher

[author biography]

SIGNAL CAMP, NEAR THE MOUTH OF ANTIETAM,
September 30, 1862.

Maj. A. J MYER,
Chief Signal Officer.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the manner in which the signal detachment of the Army of the Potomac has been employed since the 4th of September, upon which day I again resumed command of it, having been absent for a short time to recruit my health. For a detailed account of the messages sent and received and special services rendered, I refer you to the individual reports of the several officers composing this detachment.

The morning of the 4th September I joined the party, then encamped near Alexandria, Va. During the day I rode along the front, ascertained the manner in which our troops were stationed, and made the details for the next morning accordingly. Ordered Lieutenants Fralick and Kendall to Maryland Heights, and sent an order to Lieutenant Rowley to man Point of Rocks, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Poolesville, and Seneca with members of his party until I could send him assistance. Lieutenants Denicke and Daniels were ordered to Great Falls, Lieutenants Hebrew and Pierce to Fairfax Seminary, Lieutenants Jerome and Yates to Falls Church, Lieutenants Hill and Keel to Minor's Hill, Lieutenant Carey to Upton's Hill, Lieutenants Gloskoski and Owen to Hall's house, which was to be the center of all lines, to receive the reports and communications from all stations, and then transmit them by telegraph to Washington.

Friday, September 5, moved camp to the vicinity of Hall's Hill as being more central; ordered Lieutenants Hutchinson and Hall to Fort Pennsylvania. In the evening Lieutenant Herzog and I traveled over the hills in the neighborhood of Langley, to watch for the appearance of the signal torches of Lieutenants Denicke and Daniels upon the tower of Great Falls, according to prearrangements. Not discovering them, we returned to camp about 11 p. m. The next morning I rode up to Great Falls, and found that our lines were not extended to within a mile of our former station; was halted by Major-General Couch, and informed that it was not safe to go any farther in that direction; upon, however, being recognized by the general, I was permitted to use my own discretion, and proceeded to the station and opened communication with Lieutenant Spencer, then at Seneca, some 6 miles farther up the river, and learned through signals from him of the presence of the enemy in Maryland and the breaking up of the stations of Sugar Loaf and Poolesville and of the necessity to abandon Seneca for a short time. At 5 o'clock Lieutenants Daniels and Denicke arrived and occupied the station. Immediately upon giving my instructions, I rode rapidly back to Fort Pennsylvania from which point communication was then opened with Great Falls.

Sunday, September 7, upon returning to camp, I learned that the troops generally were on the road to Rockville; whereupon I took steps to remove the camp at once to the north side of the Potomac, and received your order to report with the party to headquarters of the Army of the Potomac at Rockville, Md. On Monday morning, at daylight, we were in the saddle and on the road for the Upper Potomac, and reported our arrival at Rockville, to Colonel Colburn at 10 a, m., encamped the party, and, with several companies, rode forward to learn the character of the country in which we were expecting our services to be required. We extended our ride, after visiting Seneca Station, to within a few miles of Poolesville, and then returned to camp.

Tuesday, 9th, I ordered Lieutenants Gloskoski and Owen to reopen the station at Seneca, and Lieutenants Camp and Clark to report to General Pleasonton, who had advanced to Poolesville, and open communication with Seneca. In the afternoon I received instructions to connect the headquarters of General Sumner on the right and those of Major-General Couch on the left with those of General Franklin near the center; succeeded in connecting the two latter, but it was late in the day to connect the two former.

Wednesday, September 10, moved forward to Barnesville, taking with me Lieutenants Wicker, Hill, Brooks, Taylor, Hebrew, and Pierce. The cavalry had considerable skirmishing during the day, but no opportunity offered for us to use our signals to any advantage. During the evening I was assured by General Pleasonton that our forces would occupy. Sugar Loaf Mountain during the next day.

Thursday, September 11, connected the advance with General Franklin's headquarters. Sent Lieutenants Brooks and Taylor to Poolesville, with instructions to watch for the appearance of our flag on Sugar Loaf Mountain. About 2 o'clock, learning that the cavalry were on the mountain, I asked for a detail of 20 men, and started forward, passing the pickets about a half a mile from the foot of the hill.

We arrived on the summit about 3:30 in the afternoon, and opened communication immediately with the officers sent in the morning to Poolesville; also with officers stationed near General Franklin's headquarters. Sent official reports of our observations to General McClellan and General Franklin, requesting permission from the latter to retain our escort until the next morning. Lieutenants Roe and Hall, who joined us on our way up the mountain, were left in charge of the station, in accordance with your orders, though I had intended to leave Lieutenants Hill and Brooks with Lieutenant Wicker, who were acquainted with the country and its roads. Lieutenants Hill and Hebrew were then directed to select some point near General Sumner's headquarters, and open communication with the officers on the mountain, reporting the establishment of said communication to the general after it should be in successful operation.

Friday, September 12, joined the camp near Urbana, having established two several points along the route with the station on the mountain and headquarters as it passed by. Opened communication from a point near the camp-ground in the evening. During the day Lieutenants Rowley and Spencer were ordered by yourself to Sugar Loaf Mountain to assist in the management and working of said station. Received a message from Lieutenant Fralick, stating that he had arrived at Point of Rocks. I sent him Lieutenants Harvey, Jerome, and Horner, who were to establish a station under the direction of Lieutenant Harvey at the Point.

Saturday, September 13, went forward early in the morning to Frederick, which had been occupied by our troops the evening of the day before. Located two officers in the cemetery to open communication with the station on Sugar Loaf Mountain, while I rode out to the gap west of Frederick and reported to General Pleasonton. Having left two officers there, and sent two back to the city, I had with little delay the pleasure of seeing the line working satisfactorily. The enemy having been driven back and closely followed by our cavalry and artillery to the foot of the South Mountain, two officers, Lieutenants Camp and Clark, accompanied General Pleasonton to the village, while Lieutenants Hebrew and Yates took position on the crest of the mountain, between Frederick and the former place, opening communication with the officers in Middletown, but failing to attract attention of the officers at the headquarters station. This line was a failure, though at one time it was working and several important messages were sent to General Burnside by General Pleasonton.

Sunday, September 14, moved forward to Middletown. Located Lieutenants Dinsmore and Adams on the crest of Short Mountain to communicate with the station on Sugar Loaf Mountain and the station at Middletown, near General McClellan's headquarters, thus connecting our advanced position with the telegraph station at Point of Rocks. Opened communication between General Pleasonton's position, upon the field of battle, then raging in the vicinity, where the Hagerstown Pike crosses South Mountain, and that of General McClellan near Middletown. During the afternoon I ordered Lieutenants Hill and Wicker to select a point as far up the mountain as possible, and communicate back to Middletown. This detail, I was informed, was interfered with by General Pleasonton, and the officers returned to their old position near the batteries. In the afternoon, by your direction, Lieutenants Paine and Carey were sent to the field on the mountain, but did not succeed in working to advantage before night terminated the contest that raged at times fearfully along the side and summit of the mountain. During the day I sent Lieutenant Kendall to join Lieutenant Pierce, then with General Franklin's column, with instructions to communicate with Middletown, either directly or through the mountain station. Of these two officers I heard no more until they joined us at Keedysville.

Monday, September 15, by your direction, Lieutenants Camp and Clark took position on the crest of South Mountain to communicate with Lieutenants Wilson and Owen, near General McClellan's headquarters. Lieutenants Wicker and Gloskoski were ordered to report to General Burnside, who was crossing the mountain on a road about a mile south of the main road and leading directly toward Sharpsburg. Lieutenants Halsted and E. Pierce took position on the mountain near the main road, but were withdrawn during the day, and Lieutenant Halsted ordered to Washington Monument. We remained over night near Boonsborough, and next morning pushed forward to Keedysville, expecting a decisive battle to be fought during the day. According to instructions, I placed Lieutenants Camp and Clark to open communication with Lieutenant Halsted on the monument, on the summit of South Mountain; Lieutenant Wicker at a central point, near Keedysville, to communicate with Lieutenants Owen and Stone, on the extreme left; Lieutenants Hill and Carey at the center, and Lieutenants Wilson and Barrett on the right. During part of the day I was with General Meade's command, on the extreme right, making observations and reporting them to him and headquarters. In the afternoon I was at the central station and in the evening receiving instructions from you to open communication with the mountain station, but received it too late for any effect that day. During the afternoon sent Lieutenant Hill to report to General Hooker, who had moved to the right beyond General Meade's position.

The next morning, Wednesday, September 17, the great battle of the Antietam opened. Placed Lieutenants Wilson and Barrett on the hill near the headquarters of General McClellan, to communicate with Lieutenants Hill and Brooks, near General Sumner's headquarters, on the extreme right. Established a station communicating with the station on the mountain, and assisted Lieutenant Owen in receiving messages during the morning. In the afternoon I went out to Lieutenants Kendall and L. Pierce, on the extreme left to assist in selecting a point from which we could communicate to headquarters; found that it was impossible to communicate direct, and therefore called the station on Elk Mountain, and through it opened communication from a point near General Burnside's position with the station at said headquarters. Lieutenants Pierce and Barrett were directed to go to the front, on the west side of the Antietam, and open communication with. headquarters, which was successfully accomplished, and reported by them to the generals commanding troops in that vicinity. Lieutenants Wicker and Clark were also directed to take position in a certain field beyond the position selected by Lieutenants Pierce and Barrett. They arrived at the designated place, opened communication with Lieutenant Wilson at headquarters, but shortly afterward, our line being driven back at that point, their flag disappeared, and when next heard from they were somewhere beyond Lieutenant Hill's position. Lieutenant Clark states in his report that this to us unaccountable change of position was contrary to his understanding of instructions received, but he was overruled by Lieutenant Wicker's idea of what their instructions were, and thus yielded to the change. Lieutenants Wilson and Owen were afterward directed to take the position thus left vacant, which they did, and bravely held it until the enemy retreated.

Lieutenants Taylor and Stone, having charge of that part of Headquarters station communicating with the stations on the west side of the Antietam, were very prompt and attentive to all calls given. After Lieutenant Owen was ordered to the other side of the Antietam, Lieutenant Stryker was left in charge of the one branch of Headquarters station, and, with the exception of several intervals, remained during the two succeeding days, almost constantly employed in receiving messages from the station on Elk Mountain. I would here take the opportunity of stating that the officers at this station, which was during the 17th and 18th a most important one, were undivided in their attention to their duties, answering calls promptly, and reading, with few exceptions, with good success. During the day the officers from the stations along the road pursued during the advance of the army reported at Headquarters station, they having been called in for other duties, by an order that directed Lieutenants Dinsmore and Adams to establish a station in the vicinity of Frederick, open communication with the station on Sugar Loaf Mountain, and send forward by telegraph all reports received. The station on Elk Mountain, manned by Lieutenants Gloskoski and Camp, sent many important messages during the day. In the afternoon, you being present on the mountain in person, we had the benefit of your own observations. At the approach of night the wearied armies ceased their strife, and for the time the battle was over.

About 8 o'clock p. m. I returned to camp to attend to duties relating to the necessaries and comforts of my command.

In the morning, expecting the battle to be renewed, 6 o'clock found me at the Headquarters station. During the morning a continued stream of messages flowed from the mountain stations, and were received by Lieutenant Paine and myself, Lieutenant Stryker having accompanied Lieutenants Wicker and L. Pierce, who were stationed on the left, near General Burnside's position, the other stations remaining as they were the day previous, Lieutenant Stryker having returned from the left and Lieutenant Paine receiving the messages from the mountain during the day, Lieutenants Kendall and Hebrew relieving them in the evening. No attack was made by either army, both apparently gathering renewed strength for the battle we all felt must come. The night passed, and from the station on the mountain we learned next morning that the enemy had fallen back from Sharpsburg to the south bank of the Potomac. With Lieutenants Daniels, Fralick, Carey, Hebrew, and Horner, I joined the advancing cavalry, and opened communication from a position near where a few hours afterward General Porter located his headquarters. Leaving the station in the charge of Lieutenants Hebrew and Horner, and sending Lieutenants Fralick and Daniels to Maryland Heights, I accompanied, by request, General Porter to the bank of the river, and received instructions that, as a battery would be quietly placed in position back of a hill, I should prepare my officers to direct the fire of the battery from my position on the bank of the river. I chose to take part myself in preference to sending others, and having been joined by Lieutenant Owen, I sent him to the battery while I resumed the forward position, where we remained during the entire afternoon, signaling the effect of the several shots as the battery played upon the opposite bank.

Saturday, September 20, communication was established with Maryland Heights. which has since been kept open from various points. Headquarters having moved forward, Lieutenants Stone and Taylor broke up their stations and established them near the new location. After which, changes were made which will be best understood by giving you a detailed account of the present disposition of the detachment. Commencing with the right, we have at Fairview Lieutenants Rowley and Roe, with instructions to send by signals to Hagerstown reports of observations made, to be received by Lieutenant Spencer and forwarded by telegraph to Major-General McClellan. Near Downsville are Lieutenants Denicke and Clark, communicating with the Headquarters station, through the station on Elk Mountain, at which latter station are Lieutenants Jerome, E. Pierce, and Owen. On the mountain, just east of headquarters, present camp, are Lieutenants Wicker and L. Pierce. At Headquarters station are Lieutenants Stone and Taylor, communicating with stations on the right, and Lieutenants Kendall and Gloskoski, communicating with stations on the left. On Maryland Heights are stationed Lieutenants Daniels and Hall. On Bolivar Heights, with General Sumner, are Lieutenants Hill and Brooks. On Loudoun Heights, with General Greene, are Lieutenants Halsted and Camp. On Sugar Loaf Mountain are Lieutenants Hebrew, Yates, and Carey, communicating with Lieutenants Dinsmore and Adams at Frederick, the two latter forwarding reports by telegraph. Lieutenant Harvey is on special duty, per order.

Lieutenants Fralick, Barrett, and Wilson are sick, the two latter not seriously. In camp are Captain Fortescue and Lieutenants Horner, Paine, and Collin. Many of the officers need equipments, and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Lieut. L. B. Norton, in order to thoroughly prepare the party for another campaign, if called upon during the fall. I look forward to better success and more pleasant duties hereafter. The officers, gathered from different divisions of the army, and not accustomed to each other's mode of working, have become somewhat acquainted during the present campaign, and it can be expected that there will be an understanding and more harmony in the manner of communication.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

B. F. FISHER,
Captain, Commanding Signal Detachment, Army of the Potomac.

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. 126-130  [AotW citation 181]

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