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OR XLII P1 #12: Reports of Major Benjamin F. Fisher, Chief Signal Officer, AotP, August 1-October 31, 1864

Numbers 12. Reports of Major Benjamin F. Fisher, Signal Corps, U. S. Army, Chief Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac, of operations August 1-October 31.1

October 25, 1864.

SIR: *

On the 1st day of August the reports from the various stations indicated some unusual stir upon the part of the enemy. A large number


*For portion of report (here omitted), covering operations from

July 1 to July 30, 1864, see Vol. XL, Part I, p. 275.


of cavalry passed toward our left during the forenoon followed by large wagon trains. The cause of this movement was not generally understood, as the enemy appeared to make no attempt to mass upon our left, nor did he evince any disposition to attack us at any point. The only conclusion at which to arrive was that he was trying to place his cavalry in our rear and, if possible, to annoy us in that direction, which supposition was afterward ascertained to be correct. The next morning all of the stations were on the alert for indications of any morning all of the stations were on the alert for indications of any further movements upon the part of the enemy, but after careful observation they failed to discover any. Their lines remained unchanged and nothing was seen, excepting small working parties engaged in strengthening their lines. Upon the 3rd and 4th nothing of interest was reported by our officers upon stations, excepting on the 3rd a movement of a regiment of cavalry and a battery of artillery toward General butler’s front. They also noted additional labor being put upon various points of their lines. On the 5th a new station of observation was established near the Gibbon house. In the afternoon the enemy exploded a mine under our picket-line in front of the Eighteenth Army Corps, with but little or no injury to us. On the 6th the only movement of the enemy observed was the moving toward our right upon the Richmond road of a column of infantry, which consumed one hour and a half in passing a given point. Its strength was estimated at about 12,000; sixty wagons followed. The enemy also placed in position a battery of five guns in the redoubt in the rear of Whitehead’s factory, on the north bank of the Appomattox River. During the three following days no movements were made upon the part of the enemy, but their energies appeared to be directed toward the completion at various points along their front, principally upon and in rear of their second line.

On the 11th the enemy moved about 1,000 cavalry toward our right and our lookouts reported a considerable commotion among their wagon trains, many of those also moving toward our right. On the 12th the enemy continued to move cavalry toward our right, one column being reported 1,100 strong, while straggling parties continued to pass during the day. These bodies of cavalry moved from beyond our extreme left through Petersburg and on in the direction of Richmond. They had not relaxed their efforts toward strengthening their works, nor did they evince any sign of so doing, having rather increased than diminished the strength of their working parties. On the 13th no movements of the enemy were reported as visible by our lookouts and no changes made in his lines, but at 5.45 p. m. of the 14th, the station near the headquarters of the Fifth Corps, reported infantry passing on a road to the right of Petersburg, going toward our right, followed by a train of wagons and ambulances. This column supposed to comprise one division and to be moving to the north bank of the James River to check the advance of the Second and Tenth Corps, which had crossed to that side. During this expedition of the Second Corps the signal officers connected with if performed good service, as per extract from Captain P. A. Taylor’s report:

The Tenth Corps (General Birney) crossed the James at the same time at Deep Bottom, the whole force under command of Major-General Hancock. I at once established flag communication between Generals Hancock and Birney across Four-Mile Creek, sending Captain Thickstun to report to General Birney, with whom he remained until relieved by Captain Dana late in the day. Lieutenant Neel was placed on duty on station at General Hancock’s. His station was moved several times to conform with the changes in locality of headquarters. This line of communication

was maintained until 1.30 a. m. of the 15th, at which time General Birney with his force joined General Hancock on the east side of Four-Mile Creek. During its continuance the lines was much used and afforded great advantages to the commanding general in communicating rapidly with General Birney regarding the operations of his force while separated for the time from the main body by Four-Mile Creek. On the 14th I also established a station of observation at the Potteries, overlooking the enemy’s position on Spring Hill, and a road upon which he moved to re-enforce different parts of his lines. A number of important movements were observed and reported by myself and Lieutenant Neel. Lieutenant N., who occupied this station after the breaking up of his flag station, in addition to his duties of observation, directed with good effect the fire of one of our batteries stationed near him. A station of observation was also established just in rear of our picket-line near the New Market road, which overlooked the enemy’s lines for a considerable distance. Lieutenant Holland was placed upon duty at this point, relieved occasionally by Captain Thickstun.

Upon the morning of the 15th a careful examination of the enemy’s lines in the vicinity of Petersburg failed to disclose any further movements on their part. Some of their camps, broken up the previous day, appeared re-established in their old positions and reoccupied at daylight in the morning, showing that they had not removed many troops from our front. Everything remained quiet until 2.45 p. m., when a column of 1,500 infantry moved into the city from the southwest. This was the only change visible during the day. On the 16th the camps re-established the previous day were again broken up, and the force which occupied them apparently moved to the left, although they did not appear on the line of the Weldon railroad. Some of the troops in the fortifications in our front were relieved and moved in same direction, and others took their places, which did not materially weaken their front line. From the information derived from the reports of the different station on the morning of the 17th instant led me to believe and to report to the commanding general that the enemy’s lines in our immediate front had been, to a great extent, weakened within the two or three days previous, which opinion was afterward confirmed. At about 1 a. m. on the 18th instant a heavy cannonading opened along our lines and continued for about and hour. At 4 a. m. the Fifth Corps commenced moving toward the Weldon railroad, and shortly afterward two brigades of the enemy moved from their works in the vicinity of the lead-works and passed southward along the Weldon railroad to meet General Warren’s advance. A sharp engagement ensued, which at first was to our disadvantage, but we subsequently compelled the enemy to retire a short distance. At 4.30 p. m. a division of the enemy’s infantry was reported by our stations as moving to the support of their force on the Weldon railroad. On the 19th stragglers were reported early in the morning as passing toward our left along the Weldon railroad, indicating that infantry in some force must have passed during the night. The strength of that force it was, of course, impossible to determine. In the afternoon, about 2 o’clock, the rear of a column of infantry (about two brigades) was observed moving toward our left, and at 5 p. m. a battalion of infantry, apparently the head of a much larger column, appeared on our left of the lead-works and halted. A heavy rain then set in and precluded the possibility of further operations on that day.

During the morning of the 20th no activity upon the part of the enemy was visible until 11 a. m., when a brigade of about 1,500 infantry moved out of Petersburg toward the left, and between that time and 4 p. m. about 2,500 or 3,000 more moved from their same place in the same direction. These troops moved apparently to the support of their forces on the Weldon railroad. During the previous night the Second

Corps had returned from its position on the north side of the James River near Deep Bottom to its camp on our line and re-enforced the line weakened by the withdrawal of the Fifth Corps to the left. Reports were made by the several stations on our front during the 21st of the movement of the enemy’s forces, none of which were of any great importance. During the day General Meade moved two divisions of the Second Corps to the Weldon railroad at Six-Mile Tavern, where one of them was placed at work destroying the track in the direction of Reams’ Station. On the 22nd the information received from the signal stations indicated that several bodies of the enemy’s cavalry had come from the direction of Richmond and passed south on the west side of the Weldon railroad. A considerable body of infantry was also observed coming from opposite our right and massing along the railroad about one mile south of the lead-works. This body of infantry was immediately placed at work throwing up entrenchments in that vicinity. This force occupied the same position on the morning of the 23rd and from all appearances had labored upon their works during the whole night, so much so that their line presented quite a formidable appearance when it was sufficiently light to observe it. No movements of bodies of troops were reported during the day, although a number of stragglers reported moving from direction of Richmond toward Petersburg from daylight until noon might indicate that a large body of troops had passed over that route during the night. Lieutenant George J. Clarke established a new station of observation near the Weldon railroad in front of the Fifth Corps this day, from which a very good view of a portion of the enemy’s lines was had. On the succeeding day the enemy appeared more active. In the morning two divisions of the Second Corps proceeded by a circuitous route to Reams’ Station and commenced to destroy the railroad below that point. The enemy, probably to check that movement, moved about 12,000 infantry in that direction and made several other minor movements, all of which were observed and immediately reported by the stations in our front.

On the morning of the 25th the enemy made a heavy attack upon the line of the Second Corps near Reams’ Station, and a severe engagement resulted. During this attack Captain Thickstun occupied a station upon the skirmish line until it was driven back. During the night the Second Corps retired from Reams’ Station, having accomplished the work for which it had been ordered there. Some important messages were intercepted by our stations on the right from the enemy’s signal stations and promptly reported. The enemy the next day returned the force which had assaulted the Second Corps on the day previous toward our right and proceeded to strengthen the line which had been so much weakened by the withdrawal of that force. On our part no movement was made and the enemy were sufficiently occupied in re-arranging their line to prevent them making any other demonstration. On the 27th no movement of large bodies of the enemy was seen, although some of his cavalry was reported moving around our extreme left, going southward, and small bodies of infantry were reported as in motion in vicinity of lead-works. Working parties were diligently employed upon his works in our front.

For the two succeeding days the enemy appeared remarkably quiet, and although reports from our stations were regularly and frequently made, no movements of interest transpired. On the 30th the only change visible was the movement of about 3,000 infantry from Petersburg toward our left, from which nothing was heard afterward, but it was supposed that they were intended to re-enforce their line opposite

our left, as in the evening it was reported that the enemy appeared in stronger force along their line on that front. On August 31 everything was quiet along both lines while both parties were engaged in strength-ening and completing their fortifications. From September 1 to 4 no movements of any consequence were observed to be made by the enemy, although our stations were strictly careful to note every change, however small, or any movement of troops or trains, however insignificant they might appear. During this time the enemy were actively employed each day in strengthening and perfecting such works as were already commenced. They also extended their main works west of the Weldon railroad. On the 5th of September the station located near the Jerusalem plank road reported a supposed movement on the part of the enemy, indicated by a cloud of dust rising from west of the Weldon railroad. From that time nothing of interest occurred and no reports of operations or changes in the enemy’s line, excepting a steady continuance of their labor upon their works, was received until September 13, when their camps northeast from the lead-works were reported as removed and a less force than usual visible in their old entrenchments.

On the next day (the 14th) about 800 infantry were reported as having moved from beyond the Weldon railroad toward our left front, and it was further reported that the enemy came out from their camps into their works about 11 a. m., and remained in line about three or four hours and then returned. On the 15th several reports were received of the enemy’s movements of infantry from the vicinity of the Weldon railroad in a westerly direction and down the Squirrel Level road. As further developments proved, this was the support to the cavalry upon what has been termed the “cattle raid.” During the following day many reports were received concerning the movements of the enemy, which, however, were of minor importance, but on the afternoon of the 17th an extensive move was made apparent by a heavy could of dust rising from the left of the lead-works and beyond the railroad. The main movement was on a concealed road, and such bodies as moved on the road in sight were most of the time hidden by the dust. Two batteries were observed accompanying the column. These troops moved out without doubt to cover the return of the raiding expedition. On September 18 and 19 the enemy moved, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, in small force toward our right. Their camps appeared much more extensive in our front during these two days, and their working parties were mover active than usual upon their old lines and a third one in rear of them. One the 20th the stations on the right reported that some of the enemy’s camps near and west of Petersburg had been broken up. There were also some troops moved into the city from the southwest and placed in position in front of the Tenth Corps. On the 21st the enemy were reported as still working on their fortifications near the Weldon railroad. A movement of about 900 cavalry to the eastward was also reported, but no infantry movements were seen. the 22nd nothing of importance was seen or reported, excepting the industry of their working parties, and on the following day nothing of moment was observed, excepting the movement of a brigade of infantry in considerable force, which were promptly reported to the commanding general.

On the two succeeding days, and during the morning of the 28th, the enemy were reported as moving toward our left, but on the afternoon

of the 28th they commenced marching toward our right. On the morning of the 29th they evinced great activity in all their camps, and during the day moved heavy bodies of troops from all along our lines (mostly from opposite our left) toward Richmond, taking large wagon trains with them. This commotion was caused by the transferring of the Tenth and Eighteenth Corps to the north side of the James River, and with a view to the checking of their advance toward Richmond on that side of the river. The following is a resume of my evening report to the commanding general upon this date:

During the morning the actions of the enemy in their camps indicated preparations being made for a movement. At 11.40 a. m. a column of 2,000 infantry and trains moved toward Richmond. About the same hour 4,000 infantry moved into Petersburg from the south. At 12.25 p. m. six regiments and a battery of artillery moved toward Petersburg from the extreme left near the Weldon railroad. At 12.30 p. m. 1,000 infantry and 200 cavalry movemed southward from Petersburg, disappearing behind Cemetery Hill. At 1 p. m. about 4,000 infantry passed southward, disappearing behind Cemetery Hill. At 3.30 p. m. about 3,000 infantry moved toward Richmond, north of the Appomattox. At 3.45 p. m. 2,000 infantry and a battery of artillery moved toward Richmond, north of the Appomattox. At 4.30 p. m. three batteries of artillery and a herd of cattle passed toward Richmond. Trains moving almost constantly northward on the Richmond turnpike. At sunset a column numbering about 3,000 moved from roads west of Petersburg, bearing to the right.

On the 30th of September there appeared to be but few troops of the enemy behind their works in our front and but few camp-fires seen.

The day was very smoky and interfered materially with observations. The only movement of importance reported this day was the passage of about 3,000 of the enemy’s infantry toward our left, we having extended our lines the previous day toward the Boydton plank road.

Such is a comparatively full but hastily compiled account of the operations of the detachment of the Signal Corps connected with this army for the months of July, August, and September. To the energy and zeal of the officers and men of the detachment am I indebted for the results we have accomplished.

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


Major and Chief Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac.

Lieutenant Colonel W. J. L. NICODEMUS,

Commanding Signal Corps, U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.
November 2, 1864.

COLONEL: in compliance with instructions, I have the honor to submit the following report of operations of the signal detachment connected with the Army of the Potomac during the month of October. For the detailed organization and distribution of the command at the opening of the month, I would respectfully refer you to my monthly return to your office for September 30, 1864:

Upon the 1st of October the Army of the Potomac was establishing itself firmly upon the ground in the vicinity of the Peebles farm, having extended its lines beyond this point a few days before. During our operations at this time the signal stations along the lines kept the commanding general informed of the various movements of the enemy’s force made to meet our advances upon the right and left flanks. The

main movements were made during the 27th and 30th of September, as noted in my report for that month. However, upon October 1, the enemy moved several large bodies of troops westward upon the Boydton plank road, in order to re-enforce their right flank in position along the Duncan road. Upon October 2 several camps upon the Appomattox were reported as having disappeared. Two thousand infantry and a battery of artillery came from the direction of Petersburg and moved toward our extreme left. The lines in front of our old position were more settled. October 3. Several movements reported to-day, the enemy apparently taking men from certain portions of their line and adding them to other points, in order to retain the equilibrium of defense and meet the changes upon the part of our army. These movements were severally reported as made. Established a station of observation near our extreme left, overlooking enemy’s position along the Duncan road.

October 4 to 9. No movements of the enemy visible. Established stations of observation at the Church road and at the Squirrel Level road, from which points almost the entire line of the enemy from the vicinity of the lead-works westward along the Boydton plank road to its junction with the Duncan road, thence southward around our left, could be seen and located. In addition, all movements made during the day upon the Boydton plank road could be noted. The enemy were busy during this period completing their line of works. October 10. From 3,000 to 4,000 of the enemy’s infantry were reported moving westward on the Boydton plank road to-day. From October 12 to the 26th no movement of any importance was discovered, and the reports from the stations were confined to detailed accounts of the enemy’s working parties and the efforts made to strengthen their line of defensive works. October 27. The Army of the Potomac moved against the enemy in the vicinity of Hatcher’s Run. This information served a double purpose. It convinced him that he need not anticipate any assault by the enemy upon the lines weakened in order to give all the troops possible to aid the advance toward the South Side road, and also advised him of an approximate estimate of the actual numbers opposing his projected movement. Upon October 28 the commanding general, having decided to withdraw his troops and reoccupy his former position, was kept informed of the corresponding movements on the part of the enemy, so that he should at all times hold himself prepared to meet any offensive demonstration on the part of the enemy at any point of the lines. October 29,30 and 31. Reports placed the enemy in their old camp and position. Second-class Privates James F. McKee and Justus Keller are recommended by the officers with whom they severally serve as deserving to be advanced to the grade of first-class privates.

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


Major and Chief Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac.

Lieutenant Colonel W. J. L. NICODEMUS,

Commanding Signal Corps, U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.


  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 205-211
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