CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH,
November 29, 1862.
Lieut. WILLIAM S. STRYKER,
Adjutant, Signal Corps.
SIR: Agreeable to your circular, requesting us to make report of the service performed by us, "the difficulties we have met," and "of all that may be necessary for the Chief Signal Officer to know," I have the honor to submit the following:
On the 16th of September I accompanied the Chief Signal Officer to the summit of Elk Mountain, Maryland, for the purpose to establish signal station there and observe the enemy's movements. The point chosen for observations was an excellent one, and messages sent from it very important. From there we had full view of the enemy's lines. We have reported immediately the positions and each change of position of all their batteries and their forces. From that point I have communicated to five different stations, viz, one at General McClellan's headquarters, one at General Burnside's (left wing), one at General Hooker's, and two in the center of our lines. Same day we reported to General McClellan:
An immense train of the enemy's wagons is moving on the road from Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown. They cross the Potomac and halt about a mile south of Shepherdstown.
September 17 we received from General Burnside this:
Can you see any movements of the enemy on the road or elsewhere?
To General B.:
Yes; they are moving now a strong force of infantry from Shepherdstown into the woods west of Sharpsburg and northerly to our right.
Y. Y. Y.
Can you see any movement of the enemy, particularly in rear of the corn-field in front of us?
I can see no movement, particularly in rear of that corn-field.
Y. Y. Y.
This last message, although insignificant now, was very important then, as it gave assurances that there was no immediate danger to be apprehended from that particular place. At 3 p. m. same day we sent:
To General Burnside:
Look out well on your left; the enemy are moving a strong force in that direction.
Y. Y. Y.
This warning was in time, and it was noticed by General Burnside, as at that hour, I think, General A. P. Hill arrived with his forces from Harper's Ferry to re-enforce the enemy.
These are all the messages I could preserve from that day, as then we had no tents on stations, no wagons, exposed for days and nights to constant rain, and consequently all papers, as everything else in our possession, must have been wet and destroyed.
From that time until the 28th ultimo I was posted on different signal stations, changing them almost every day, until we came to Rectortown, Va. From that place I was ordered to proceed with Lieutenant Owen to Thoroughfare Gap, and "open communication with Water Mountain, Warrenton" (9 miles distant, air line), and "observe the line of railroad." The highest point in that vicinity is on the Bull Run Mountain, called the "Leather Coat Hill," north of the gap, but unluckily the woods on the mountains north and south of that gap were set on fire, and it was impossible for any one to ascend the summit without being roasted. The other hills there are of so almost equal height that it was no easy task to find the proper one to answer our purpose; still, I have found such, as I had the honor to report at that time. We have not sent any reports from that station, because there was nothing to report then; yet that station was very important, and, I think, if it had been allowed to remain there longer, our troops would not have left the gap in such a great haste as they did.
A signal flag is a great annoyance to the enemy, as we have seen from their reports after the battle of Antietam, and also inspires our troops with confidence; when seen by them on some high point, or near them, they know that those near that flag are on the lookout, and look with better eyes than they have. As a proof of this, I will relate a circumstance from the battle at Gaines' Mill, on the Peninsula. When the battle raged in its greatest fury, a few pieces of artillery from General Smith's division opened fire across the Chickahominy upon the enemy. All saw the smoke, but not many could tell where the shells fell or who fired, as the pieces were hidden by woods from our view. Our soldiers began to murmur, "The rebels are outflanking us." All eyes turned in that direction, when a signal flag emerged from the woods and began to wave in answer to my call; every face then brightened up, and men exclaimed with smiles, "That's ours."
November 15, I, in company with Lieutenant Owen, relieved the officers on Watery Mountain. Watery Mountain is a fine point of observation, and it is enough to ascend the top of it to find the desired place; there is a tree known to every one, called the "View tree," and the place where it stands affords view almost in all directions.
We reported from that station all we saw worthy of report, viz, smoke of the enemy's camp-fires at Manassas Gap.
From 19th to 24th instant we were posted on a station near Falmouth, close to Captain Pettit's battery in position, and opposite the enemy's guns. Our reports, then, if of any value, are of too recent a date to need repeating.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieut. Twenty-ninth Regiment N. Y. Vols., Acting Signal Officer.
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/Part 1 (Ser #27), pp. 137-139 [AotW citation 190]