Number 9. Report of Captain Charles L. Davis, Chief Signal Officer, March 29-April 9, 1865

   

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in Appomattox Campaign Reports (95)

No. 9. Report of Captain Charles L. Davis, Chief Signal Officer.1

HDQRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, SIGNAL DEPARTMENT,
April 22, 1865.

COLONEL: In compliance with paragraph 9 of Special Orders, No. 94, headquarters Army of the Potomac, April 14, 1865, I have the honor to submit the following report of operations of the signal corps of this army from the 29th ultimo to the 9th instant:

During this period the disposition of the corps was as follows: One officer and from seven to ten men with each army corps, one officer and forty men with the depot camp, five officers and sixty men with the reserve party, and two officers and seven men with these headquarters. The parties with army corps had general instructions to make themselves and their men on the flanks and front of the corps to which they were attached, to gather for the corps commander such information, by means of telescopic observations, as they were able to obtain of the movements of the enemy; also to be ever watchful for opportunities to open communication by signals with these headquarters, especially when such communication would be important; they were also instructed to make themselves useful as aides-de-camp, when the nature of the country or the movements of the troops prevented the performance of their legitimate duties. The reserve detachment was at all times, weather and movements of the troops favoring, distributed along the front and flanks of the army, with the same general instructions. A small portion of this detachment, however, was always kept in hand for the purpose of opening any lines of signal communication or establishing any station of observation that the occasion might require.

At the date of the commencement of this campaign {March 29] the stations occupied by the reserve party in front of Petersburg were almost identically those occupied during the past winter, viz:

No. 1, at the Walthall house, on the road leading from the City Point Railroad to Point of Rocks, and bearing north 45 east from the central part of Petersburg. This station commanded a view of parts of the city of Petersburg, portions of country south and southeast of Petersburg, points on the Richmond and Petersburg road north of Pocahontas, a point on same road near Port Walthall Junction, and three of the enemy’s signal stations on the left bank of the Appomattox River, and all signals used on the enemy’s stations were intercepted and interpreted.

No. 2, on a hickory tree, on a knoll of ground near the Gibbon or Friend house, bearing north 70 east from the central part of Petersburg, commanding a partial view of the city, the military roads on the northeast and northwest slopes of Cemetery Hill, a road leading north from Pocahontas, and the enemy’s batteries on left bank of the Appomattox.

No. 3, at the Avery house, commanding a plain view of the enemy’s lines of works on the east slope of Cemetery Hill from the crater to the lead-works, a road running north from Pocahontas [same as seen from No. 2], a point on the Cox road a short distance west of the city, and a point on the South Side Railroad three miles west of the city.

No. 4, on a pine tree, in Fort Davis, commanding a view of the enemy’s works from the Jerusalem plank road to the Halifax road, and a clear view of the roads in the vicinity of the lead-works.

No. 5, on a pine tree, near the picket-line, half a mile north of Fort Howard, commanding a very close view of the enemy’s works from his Fort New Orleans to Fort Lee [Battery 41], the Boydton road near the lead-works, and a point on the Cox road a short distance west of the city.

No. 6 was a small tower near the Aiken house, and was used entirely as a station of communication, communicating by signals with all the stations along our front, and being located near these headquarters placed them all in communication with this point.

No. 7 was a tower, 145 feet high, on Peebles’ farm, near Fort Fisher, and commanded an extensive and clear view of the roads, camps, and works of the enemy south of the Appomattox and west of Battery 45, on the Boydton road, and extending around to Spain’s house, on the Boydton road, and the enemy’s Battery 54.

These stations were all in successful operation on the morning of the 29th ultimo, and all connected by signals with a station at the deserted house, headquarters of Major-General Parke, who was in command of the line of works from our right to the vicinity of the tower on Peebles’ farm, and a telegraph line had been run to this tower, thus connecting all with these headquarters in the field.

At this point I beg leave to take from my daily record a synopsis of operations of the corps and the movements reported to the commanding general.

March 29, the army moved to-day, crossing Hatcher’s Run and moving toward the Boydton plank road. No special changes observed in the enemy’s lines in the morning. Working parties larger than usual. At 5 p.m. a column of cavalry, estimated at 2,500, and one of infantry, estimated at 4,000, both followed by large wagon trains, came from north side of Appomattox, and moved along Boydton road toward our left.

March 30, stormy day. Difficult to see into enemy’s lines. A small body of infantry moved toward our left, on Boydton road, at 4 p.m.

March 31, much activity in enemy’s lines. Some charges made in the artillery in their forts by changing from one fort to another. Indications of a larger force than usual in front of the Ninth Corps. Troops deployed along their works behind the entire line. Heavy wagon trains moving west on Cox and Boydton roads, coming from north side of Appomattox.

April 1, established stations of observation in tree-tops near picket-line, in front of Crow’s house, south of Hatcher’s Run, and on Boydton road, south of Burgess’ Mill. Continued passage of wagon trains and artillery on roads seen from stations on right, going mainly toward Petersburg, on Boydton road. Intercepted signals of the enemy furnish no important information.

April 2, the Sixth Corps broke through enemy’s lines in front of Fort Gregg before daylight, and during day swept around to the Appomattox, thus surrounding the city. Reports of movements seen from stations on the right, affecting mainly that portion of the line under General Parke, were made direct to him by Lieutenant Dillingham, serving with the Ninth Corps. Station of communication and observation established by Lieutenant Dillingham in Fort Rice, headquarters of General Parke, placing him in communication with his telegraph office at the deserted house. All the stations in front of Ninth Corps busily employed on observation and communication duty for the benefit of employed on observation and communication opened from headquarters

Generals Meade and Grant, at the Harmon house, on the Boydton road, to the tower on Peebles’ farm; also with headquarters of Generals Wright and Gibbon, moving on the field, and numerous dispatches transmitted [a telegraph office being at the tower]. Report of the movements of a battery of artillery on the flank of the Sixth Corps signaled to General Wright, which resulted in the capture of part of it. Large fires in Petersburg burning all day. Heavy wagon trains moving on north side of Appomattox, going north, and a long column of troops moving north toward city, from direction of lead-works, in the afternoon. Re-enforcements to the enemy of infantry, coming from the north side of Appomattox, also reported about noon. Established stations of observation at the Turnbull and Whitworth houses, near the junction of Cox and River roads, just before dark, and minor movements of the enemy seen from them reported to General Wright.

April 3, Petersburg was evacuated by the enemy last night, and our troops entered the city at 4 a.m., driving out the rear guard of the enemy. Upon the occupation of the city by our troops signal communication was opened from the Methodist church, in Petersburg, to headquarters Ninth Corps, and dispatches from General Parke to General Willcox transmitted. Established a station on the custom house and endeavored to open signal communication with the tower at Cobb’s Hill, for the purpose of getting a report of the movements of the enemy seen from that point, but unsuccessful. Occasional puffs of smoke noticed on line of Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, indicating that the enemy was probably damaging the road. All stations around Petersburg abandoned, and reserve party marched with the troops.

April 5, established a station of observation on a house at Jetersville. About 3,000 of enemy’s cavalry bivouacked at a point north 30 west and about three miles distant. A hasty observation made from a tree-top half a mile north of Jetersville revealed the fact that a large force of the enemy was bivouacked about three miles north of that point, but the near approach of the enemy’s cavalry compelled the abandonment of this point of observation.

April 6, stationed at Jetersville. Made frequent reports of the movement of the enemy’s wagon trains, guarded by cavalry and infantry, on the Paineville and Deatonsville road, near Deatonsville, and soon after that point was struck by our cavalry communication was opened by signals from that point to the headquarters of Generals Meade and Grant, at Jetersville, and dispatches transmitted from and to Generals Grant, Humphreys, and Meade.

April 7, the line of signal communication from Deatonsville to Jetersville abandoned. Endeavored to open a line from Rice’s Station to Prince Edward Court-House, but, as an intermediate point necessary to be occupied to open this line was not accessible for some hours after it was desirable, this effort was not a success. Signal communication opened from High Bridge [headquarters of General Meade] with the advancing column of General Wright, moving toward Farmwille, and dispatches transmitted to and from Generals Grant, Meade, and Wright. At a later hour communication opened from the same point to the vicinity of the Second Corps, and one dispatch to General Humphreys transmitted. These stations were abandoned at dark.

April 8, terms of surrender offered to the rebel Army of Northern Virginia. No lines of communication opened nor movements of the enemy reported to-day. A signal party sent to Appomattox Mountain, but arrived there too late in the day to make any observations, but

reported indications of that point having been used by the enemy as a station of observation a few hours previous, and the capture of a marine glass left at that point by the enemy.

April 9, on the occupation of Appomattox Mountain, at daylight, by a signal party our advance was found some miles beyond it, and no indications of the enemy seen within the view from that point, and the station was abandoned.

But one casualty occurred during the campaign, viz, one private slightly wounded.

One signal flag of the enemy was captured by Second-Class Private Henry Greenwood, on the morning of the 3rd of April, from an abandoned station of the enemy in Petersburg, Va.

The flag of the rebel gun-boat Nansemond was taken from the person of an enlisted man [whom he captured] by Second-Class Private Morgan D. Lane,* on the morning of the 6th of April, in advance of the Fifth Corps, near Jetersville, Va.

I have endeavored to give above a synopsis of the service performed by the signal corps in the recent-short and successful campaign.

Officers and men were ever ready and willing to perform any duty I required of them, and feeling that the campaign must terminate in success, seemed to vie with each other in the effort to render good service. The officers serving with army corps were particularly zealous.

I take pleasure in testifying to the energy and efficiency of Lieutenant C. Stickney, serving with General Humphreys; Lieutenant L. A. Dillingham, serving with General Parke, and Lieutenant T. H. Fearey, serving with General Wright. Lieutenant Fearey allowed no opportunity for usefulness to pass unimproved. Lieuts. A. M. Thayer, E. H. Wardwell, E. S. Moffatt, and Charles Herzog, of the reserve party, and Lieutenant F. S. Benson, my adjutant at these headquarters, deserve mention for the zeal and fidelity with which they discharged their duties.

I cannot give special mention to the non-commissioned officers without mentioning all of them; all performed their duty faithfully and intelligently.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

CHAS. L. DAVIS,
Captain and Chief Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac.

Colonel GEORGE D. RUGGLES,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.

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*Awarded a Medal of Honor.

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Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 636-639

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