Cummins, Edmund H. "The Signal Corps in the Confederate States
Army." Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. 16 (1888), pp.
Page 93 The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
"Though communicating by signal and in cipher is as old as the time of Polybius, its
application to military correspondence and messages on the field of battle had been so
little systematized and developed when you were put in charge of the Confederate Signal
Corps, that the art might, for practical purpose, be regarded as a new one. By judicious
arrangement and administration it attained a high efficiency, and to you largely belongs
the credit for that result." - Letter of Jefferson Davis to Colonel Wm. Norris.
The beginnings of the Signal Service in the Confederate army were about simultaneous in
the Peninsular command of General John B. Magruder and in the Army of Northern Virginia
under General Beauregard. Captain Norris, a member of General Magruder's staff-a gentleman
of scientific education and of some nautical experience-called the attention of the
General to the advantages to be derived from a system of signals connecting his outposts
and his headquarters with Norfolk. Magruder forthwith gave Captain Norris the necessary
authority to establish the service, and appointed him Signal Officer to the command.
The signal used by Captain Norris were similar to the marine signals in use by all
maritime nations. Poles were erected on which were displayed flags and balls, the
combinations of which indicated various phrases, such as were conceived to be most in
demand to express the exigencies likely to arise.
Captain Norris (hereinafter to be spoken of as Colonel* William Norris, Chief of the
Signal Corps, Confederate States army,) caused to be made copper stencils, from
colored plates of the combinations were made, and upon the same page of the book which
contained the plates were written the meanings of the combinations. The plates were
colored by Miss Belle Harrison, of "Brandon," and Miss Jennie Ritchie, of
Richmond. The system was from time to time improved by Colonel Norris, and this was one of
the beginnings of the signal service in the Confederate States army.
The other was at Beauregard's headquarters at Manassas Junction at about the same time-in
the summer of 1861. Captain (afterwards General) E. P. Alexander, attached to the staff of
*His rank in the Confederate States army appears never to have been higher than that of
Page 94 Southern Historical Society Papers.
gard, was one of the officers who had been detailed by the Secretary of War (United
States) to test and report upon the signal system of Dr. (Brigadier-General) Myer, and was
consequently completely master of the system. He organized it efficiently, and thoroughly
instructed a number of men selected from the ranks for their intelligence and good
character. Most of these men afterwards became commissioned officers in the Signal Corps.
The service was in full operation at the time of the first conflict at Bull Run, and the
third shot from Ayres' battery in front of Stone Bridge went through one of Alexander's
signal tents, in front of which the flags were being actively plied.
General Alexander, in reply to a letter asking for information respecting the services
rendered by the signal men under his direction, writes as follows: "Perhaps the most
important service rendered by the Signal Department in the first year of the war was at
the battle of Bull Run, and was in a great measure accidental. Very early in the morning
of the 21st, I was on the hill by Wilcox's House, in rear of our right, and watching the
flag of our station at the Stone Bridge, when, in the distant edge of the field of view of
my glass, a gleam caught my eye. It was the reflection of the sun (which was low in the
east behind me) from a polished brass field-piece, one of Ayres' battery, and observing
attentively, I discovered McDowell's columns in the open fields, north of Sudley's Ford,
crossing Bull Run and turning our left flank, fully eight miles away, I think,-but you can
look at the map-from where I was. I signalled Evans at once, 'Look out for your left, your
position is turned.' Just as he got my message his pickets made their first report to him
of cavalry driving them from Sudley's Ford. At the same time I sent a message of what I
had seen to Johnston and Beauregard, who were at Mitchell's Ford, on receipt of which (see
Johnston's report) Bee, Hampton and Stonewall Jackson were all hurried in that direction,
and the history of the battle tells how they successfully delayed McDowell's progress, till
finally the tide was turned by troops arriving in the afternoon.
"The rocket incident referred to I had almost forgotten. It was only that one night,
on reports, that rockets were seen in the enemy's lines by our stations, that they were
ordered by General Beauregard to send up rockets themselves. It was done simultaneously at
many distant points, and in such a manner as to appear to indicate some important and
general movement; and from what appeared afterwards in Northern papers, it seemed that
McClellan had something on foot
Page 95 The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
which was disconcerted by it, he believing that his plans had been betrayed.
"The Munson's Hill and Washington telegraph was never actually worked, because
General Johnston withdrew from the advanced and dangerous position at Munson's Hill Fort
before the day fixed for it to open. Bryan was in Washington city, and was selecting
suitable room to rent, not on Pennsylvania Avenue, but in an elevated part of the city,
from which Munson's Hill could be seen. He was to take the bearing of the hill by compass
from his window, and communicate it to us an agreed upon advertisement in a daily paper
which we received regularly. This would give us the bearing on which to turn our powerful
telescope, loaned for the purpose by a Charleston gentleman, and in position on Munson's
Hill. Then we would identify his window by finding a coffee-pot in it, and by motions of
the coffee-pot, and opening and shutting the blinds, etc., he would send his messages, and
we would reply, if necessary, by a large flag and by firing guns."
"Bryan," was Captain Pliny Bryan, an ex-member of the Maryland Legislature, who,
on the commencement of hostilities, had volunteered in the Maryland Line, so-called,
composed of Maryland volunteers in the service of Virginia, and afterwards turned over to
the Confederate States. He was detailed for the Signal Service, and went to Washington,
accredited to the secret friends of the Confederate States there, and with instructions
that may be inferred from General Alexander's letter.
In February,1862, General Beauregard took command of the Army of the Mississippi, and
assigned to duty as Chief Signal Officer Captain E. H. Cummins, of the Engineer Corps,
Confederate States army. This officer advertised for spy-glasses, as there were none to be
had by purchase in the department, and repairing to Madrid Bend (then occupied by
Major-General J. P. McCown with his force) with a small squad of men, who had been
selected and instructed by Captain E. P. Alexander, and a very poor outfit, set up the
necessary stations to establish communication between the batteries and intrenchments at
New Madrid, Tiptonville, and Island No.10.
The extract following, from official sources, show that, though under manifold
disadvantages, the signal men gave a good account of themselves in the first struggle for
the possession of the Mississippi river.
In his report of the attack upon Battery No.1, by Commodore Foote's fleet, and attempt to
destroy it by an overwhelming superi-
Page 96 Southern Historical Society Papers.
ority of fire, March 17th,1862, Brigadier-General Trudeau, commanding the Confederate
States artillery, says:
"At 9 P. M. Captain Cummins, of the Signal Service, went to Battery No.1 and
established there a signal station, which proved of great service during the various
Further on his report, the General says: "Besides the officers already mentioned, who
were conspicuous for their bravery and coolness under a galling fire, I will mentioned
Signal Officers E. Jones and S. Rose, who never left their posts one minute. While shot
and shell were tearing everythings to pieces, Signal Officer E Jones had his flag-staff
shot from his hands; he coolly picked up the flag and continued to communicate his
Captain (afterwards General) Ed. Rucker, commanding the battery, says: "E. Jones and
Samuel Rose, of the Signal Corps, were engaged with me the whole day in defence of the
redan, and bore themselves with great coolness and gallantry. Signal Officer Jones having
the staff of his flag shot away thrice during the engagement, seized the flag in his hand,
without looking around to listen to exclamations, and continued his important message to
The flag was probably knocked out of Mr. Jones' hands by the mud, tons of which flew in
the air every time the heavy projectiles from the fleet struck the parapet. Captain
Rucker says: "Many shot and shell fell immediately in rear of our guns, while others
passed through the parapet, ploughing up the earth and destroying much of the work."
This explanation is suggested because, while it eliminates the marvellous element from the
story, it detracts nothing from the credit due Mr. Jones for his gallant conduct. It may
seem presumptuous to question the literal truth of reports penned upon the spot by
superior officers, and which, by lapse of years, have passed into the domain of history,
but it should be remembered that official reports, written immediately after a lively
action, are worded under excitement, which has not had time to cool, and in great part
upon reports of others, for nobody is able at such times to see everything; besides which,
the writer of these reflections was himself an eye-witness of the incidents related,
through a spy-glass at a safe which is said to have his hands, after the fight, the
identical flag staff which is said to have been thrice shot away and which was undamaged.
Two more brief extracts are quoted to show that the service of the Signal Corps was not
those of carpet knights. Colonel Brown, of the Fifty-fifth Tennessee volunteers, writes:
"The enemy's heavy shot and shell poured an almost incessant volume upon our meagre-
Page 97 The Signal Corps in the Confederate State Army.
earthwork, riddling the parapet in front of our guns, ploughing up the earth in every
direction and tearing down immense threes in a manner baffling description. The scene was
the most terrific conceivable."
General Trudeau also says: "It," the redan fort, "presented the most
appalling picture of ruin and desolation. The parapet was plowed up in every direction and
torn to pieces. Trees were hacked down and torn to shreds by the heavy shells and the
The signal men at Battery No.1 had no protection whatever-not even that of the parapet
behind which the gunners squatted when not firing-for their position was in rear of the
guns, where fell, as Captain Rucker says, "many shot and shell."
Upon the capture of New Madrid and Island No.10 by Admiral Foote and General Pope, the
signal party escaped across Reelfoot lake, taking French leave of the commanding
and paddling across on a raft of their own constructions. They repaired at once, of their
own motion and without orders, to Corinth, Mississippi, then headquarters of the army, and
reported for duty. The signal officer is merely mentioned by General Beauregard in his
report of the fight at Shiloh Chapel (or Pittsburg landing) as doing active staff duty.
After the battle, seventeen men were detailed to be instructed for duty in the Signal
Corps; but as glasses were scarce, and all the country between Corinth and the Tennessee
river was heavily wooded, the men were mounted and served chiefly as scouts and couriers
while their instructions was going on and until sent elsewhere.
Among those detailed at this time was Carlo Patti, a private of the One Hundred and
Fifty-fourth Tennessee infantry-Colonel Smith. He quickly learned his duties and was
zealous in their performance. When not employed with his flags and spy-glass, he was
incessantly playing his violin. He was once sent as lance sergeant in charge of a squad of
prisoners to Mobile, and it was amusing to see the care and watchfulness he displayed in
authority. It would have broken his heart had one of his prisoners escaped. To finish with
Carlo: He remained with the signal corps until captured off Havanna in a blockade runner
in 1864. He was bound for the Rio Grande to join General Slaughter via Havanna and Mexico,
but after his capture never returned to the Confederate States. Peace to his ashes; he was
not a bad sort of a fellow.
On falling back from Corinth, the signal men being sufficiently instructed to go on duty
were dispersed to several points in the command. Clagett with one party going to Mobile,
Page 98 Southern Historical Society Papers.
another to Vicksburg, and Elcan Jones with another to Kirby Smith across the river. These
were three good men meriting the promotion they afterwards got. All of them became
captains in the Signal Corps, and Elcan Jones, the hero of Battery No.1, was, at the end
of the war, Chief Signal Officer to General Joseph E. Johnston.
Although, as has been shown, the Signal Service was in active and useful operation on
several theatres of war-in the East in 1861, and early in 1862 in the West-it was not
until April 19th,1862, that the act was approved organizing the Signal Corps as a distinct
branch of the Confederate army, and the Secretary of War was authorized to establish it as
a separate corps or to attach it to the Adjutant and Inspector's Department or to the
Engineer Corps. The Secretary decided to attach it to the Adjutant and Inspector-General's
Department, and May 29th,1862, was issued General Orders NO.40, A. & I. G. O.,
creating the Signal Bureau, with Major Wm. Norris, of General Magruder's staff, as the
head of it. No uniform was prescribed for the Signal Corps. The officers wore the uniform
of the general staff of the same grade, and the detailed men wore that of the arm of the
service to which they belonged, and on the rolls of which they were borne as detailed men.
The Signal Corps, as organized, consisted of one Major Commanding, ten Captains, ten first
and ten second-class Lieutenants and twenty Sergeants-there were no privates, as men were
detailed from the line of the army whenever wanted, and when their services were no longer
required they returned to their respective commands.
The detailed men an all the various branches of the service numbered about fifteen
hundred, and it was a remarkable fact, that while these men were often employed in
independent service, and were in possession of important secrets, not one of them ever
deserted or betrayed his trust. All the detailed men were instructed in the cipher system,
and entrusted with the key-word. They were also instructed in the use of the electric
telegraph. When occasion required, they became dauntless messengers and agents, going into
the enemy's lines and cities, or to lands beyond the sea; communicating with agents and
secret friends of the Confederate Government and people; ordering supplies and conveying
them to their destination; running the blockade by land and sea; making nightly voyages in
bays and rivers; threading the enemy's cordon of pickets and gunboats; following blind
trails through swamps and forest, and as much experts wiht oar and sail, on deck and in
the saddle, and with rifle and revolver, as with flags, torches, telegraph, and secret
Page 99 The Signal Corps in the Confederate State Army.
What were the duties at headquarters in the Adjutant-General's Department at Richmond, is
best defined in a letter of Colonel Norris' in answer to an officer, representing the
Adjutant-General, asking the question. They were, first: Management of the entire Signal
Corps and cipher system of the Confederate States army - therein is included also (a)
manafacture and collection of all signal apparatus and stores; (b) manufacture,
collection, and distribution of all apparatus-second, management and supplying secret
lines of communication of the Potomac; third, translation of cipher messages received or
sent by the War Department, heads of bureaus, or officers of the army.
The duties of officers and employees on the Potomac are defined as follows: First, to
afford transportation from and to Baltimore or Washington for all scouts, agents, etc.,
who shall present orders for the same from the War Department, heads of bureaus, and
generals commanding armies, approved by Chief of Signal Corps; second, to observe and
report all movements of the enemy on the Potomac river; third, to secure for Executive
Department files of lates Northern papers; fourth, to obtain for heads of bureaus small
packages, books, etc.; fifth, to forward letter from War or State Departments to agents,
commissioner, etc., in foreign countries.
In regard to sources of information and out of what fund paid for, Colonel Norris says:
"Accredited agents constantly in New York, Baltimore, and Washington. These agents
are gentleman of high social position, who, without compensation, have voluntarily devoted
their time and energies to this work. Among them I mention in confidence the name of the
Hon.-. There is no secret service fund beyond the mere pay, rations, and clothing of the
officers and detailed men engaged in them. These lines have never cost the Government one
farthing since I assumed command.
"When secret information is received, it is transmitted to the Secretary of War, to
General Bragg, and the general whose army or department is supposed to be immediately
affected thereby; when it comes, as is generally the case, under cover, sealed and
directed to a particular general, it is forwarded accordingly. We receive information
regularly from the United States on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For prudential
reasons no record of such communications is kept in this office, except in cipher."
To the question, "Do the agents of the Signal Office obtain their information
personally or from friendly parties?" Colonel Norris says: "Two of our agents
acquire their information from personal
Page 100 Southern Historical Society Papers.
observations, the others from friendly parties within the lines." To the question,
"What are the means of testing the credibility of friendly persons living in the
enemy's country?" it is answered: "These agents were selected with great care
and with an eye to their intelligence and devotion and energy. Actual experience alone,
however, must prove their credibility."
"From the first of April to the last of September," continues Colonel Norris on
another head, "we placed files of Baltimore papers, publish one morning, in the hands
of the President next evening. New York papers, of course, a day later."
Colonel Norris gives the history of the secret service branch of the Signal Corps in the
following words: "In the fall of 1862 the necessity of having points on the Potomac
river, at which Government agents and army scouts might promptly and without delay cross
to and from the United States, was so serious ly appreciated that the Secretary of War
suggested the propriety of established one or more camps in King George and Westmoreland
counties, with an especial eye to such transportation. The idea was immediately acted
upon. In a short time the additional duties were assigned to these stations-first, of
observing and reporting all movements of troops, etc., on the Potomac; second, securing
completely files of Northern papers for Executive Department; third, upon requisition
from heads of bureaus to obtain from the United States small packages, books, etc. Here
our duties, strictly speaking, ended. But as we were forced, in order to perform the other
duties, to established a line of agents from the Potomac to Washington, it was determined,
as far as possible, to institute a regular system of espionage. The Government having
failed, however, to place at our disposal the necessary means to carry into execution this
design, we have been forced to reply almost entirely upon the energy and zeal of a few
devoted gentleman of Maryland for such indications of the enemy's movements as they have
been able to acquire from mingling in official circles about Washington, Baltimore, and
It was duty of Colonel Norris to wait on Mr. Davis every morning with the cipher
dispatches from the generals of armies and department commanders. The burden of these
dispatches was, towards the close, calamitous and importunate-reinforcements and supplies
were everywhere demanded. All looked to Mr. Davis for relief and support. It was the cry
of the king to the prophet: "My father! my father! the chariots of Israel and the
horseman thereof!" Colonel Norris bears testimony to the unruffled serenity of his
Page101 The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
through all these trying hours-not an impatient or despondent word ever escaped him. If
Mr. Davis ever knew when he was whipped he never let anyone else know that he knew it.
The secret cipher used by the Confederate States War Department was that known as the
court cipher, and has been much used in diplomatic service. A key-word or phrase is
agreed upon by the parties who intend to communicate in cipher. The message is written
under the key. Suppose, for example, the key to be "In God we trust"; and the
message, "Longstreet is marching on Fisher's Hill." It will be written thus:
I n G o d w e t r u s t i n G o d w e t r u s t i n G o d w e t r
L o n g s t r e e t i s m a r c h i n g o n F i s h e r s H i l l
The alphabet is written out in a square, thus:
<chart unable to be copied. MDG>
The first letter in the key is "I", and the letter under it is "L".
Take "I" in the top horizontal column and run down the "I" vertical
column until it intersects the "L" horizontal column. The letter at the
intersection is "T". This is substituted in the message for "L" in
Longstreet. The other letters are converted in the same way, and the message will read
T b t u r p v x n a l u n x g k l r z f h x b a u k f v d m e c
Sometimes the small words were run into the contiguous large ones, and sometimes no
division into words is made, as in the above example. The last is the best plan. If the
words are separated, or if a part of the message is written in plain language, a chance is
Page 102 Southern Historical Society Papers.
given to guess at some of the words, of which an expert is not slow to avail himself. How
important it is not to give such a clue will be seen hereafter.
To decipher the message, the key was written over it, and the process by which it was put
into cipher reversed. To facilitate reading the cipher messages, Captain Wm. N. Barker, of
the Signal Corps, invented a simple but convenient apparatur. The alphabetical square was
pasted on a cylinder and revolved under a bar was pasted the sliding pointer. Under the
pointer and along the bar was pasted the alphabet in a horizontal line. The pointer was
brought to the letter in the key on the bar, and the letter in the word to be converted
was rolled up under the bar and the pointer on the required substitute letter. A model of
the Confederate apparatus is preserved ington.
The Confederate authorities were sometimes so careless or unskillful in "putting
up" their cipher dispatches that some important ones, which fell into the hands of
the enemy, were deciphered without much trouble. One from General Beauregard, just after
the battle at Shiloh Chapel, giving the number and condition of his forces at Colrinth,
was up by merely putting the last half of the alphabet first; that is, substituting
"M" for "A", "N" for "B", "O" for
"C", etc. This dispatch fell into the hands of the enemy, and first reached
Richmond in a "Yankee" newspaper translated.
A message from Mr. Davis, at Montogomery, to General E. Kirby Smith, commanding the
Trans-Mississippi, Department, was partly in plain language and partly in cipher, in which
is found the following" "By which you may effect o-t p g g e x y k-above that
part -h j o p g k w m c t patrolled by the," etc., etc.
An expert of the United States Military Telegraph Corps guessed that that part of the
dispatch was meant to read: "By which you may effect a crossing above that part of
the river patrolled by the," etc., etc. The guess was right, and by applying it, the
key-phrase was discovered to be "complete victory," and there was, of course, no
trouble in reading what remained of the message in cipher. The author of the history of
The Military Telegraph in the Civil War says this meaning occured to him at first sight,
and would have occured to any one familiar with military affairs in that section.
The same writer makes the reflection: "It is a question if the Confederate cipher
system was any more difficult to the uninitiated than one of the first examples of secret
writing found in history. We
Page 103 The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
refer to the Spartan Scytale cipher. When the general of the army ventured into the
enemy's country, or was cut off in his own, he communicated with the Spartan Ephors by the
use of a staff called a Scytale, an exact duplicate of which was possessed by the Ephors.
The party desiring to write, first wound a slip of parchment around the staff and then
wrote his message lengthwise with the stick. After which, when it was unrolled, only
unmeaning letters, wholly unconnected with one another, appeared, but the receiver rewound
the ribbon on his Scytale, and all was plain."
The alphabet first used by the Confederate Signal Corps was a modification of that
introduced by General Myer into the service of the United States. It became necessary to
change it several times during the war, as from observation of messages sent in the
field the United States signal men learned to read the Confederate messages, while the
Confederates took the same liberty with the messages of the other side.
Early played a ruse on Sheridan in the Valley campaigns. Finding that Sheridan was reading
his signals, he caused the following dispatch to be sent to himself by his signal flags:
"Be ready to advance on Sheridan as soon as my forces get up, and we can crush him
before he finds out I have joined you.
"(Signed) J. LONGSTREET."
When this was communicated to Sheridan, as Early intended it to be, Sheridan telegraphed to
Washington, and Halleck telegraphed to Grant. In time, the answer came to Sheridan that
Longstreet was nowhere. When Early was asked about it after the war, he simply laughed.
The Signal Corps was nowhere more useful than were the defense and operations were
conducted in a field in which water occupied a large place in the topography. Such were
Charleston, South Carolina, and Mobile. The reports of Captain Frank Markoe, Signal
Officer at Charleston, show that during the siege thousands of messages were sent from one
post to another, and from outposts to headquarters, most of which could have been sent in
no other way, and many were of great importance.
Page 104 Southern Historical Society Papers.
It is hoped that the length of the following extracts from Captain Markoe's reports will be
excused by their interest:
"During the month (July,1863,) my corps has been at work day and night. At Cummins
Point (Battery Gregg) Lance Sergeant Edgerton and Privates Du Barry, Lance, Hunger, Martin
and Grimball have gallantly worked their post with untiring zeal and ability, constantly
under heavy fire of the enemy's fleet and land batteries. Fortunately, I have no
casualties to report, although their station has suffered from the enemy's fire and is
full of holes. As there was no other means of communication with Morris Island, their
labors have been very heavy. They have sent over five hundred messages, and at least a
third of them under fire. As they are completely exhausted, I have relieved them and sent
the men from Sullivan's Island to Battery Gregg. I have read nearly every message the
enemy has sent. Many of them of great importance. We were forewarned of their attack on
the 18th, and were ready for them, with what success is already a part of history. The
services rendered by the corps in this respect have been of the utmost importance. But I
regard to state, that by the carelessness of staff-officers at headquarters, it has
leaked out that we have read the enemy's signals. I have ordered all my men to disclaim
any knowledge of them whenever questioned. My men have also been actively employed in
guiding the fire of our guns, and have thus rendered valuable service."
In his August report, Captain Markoe says: "At Fort Sumter, H. W. Rice was twice
injured by bricks. At Battery Wagner, I. P. Moodie was shot in the thigh by a musket ball;
J. D. Creswell was struck in the face by pieces of shell, and I received a slight flesh
wound in the side by a piece of shell. These are all the casualties, I am glad to say. The
work done has been very large, as the telegraph line has been constantly out of order for
days at a time. We have continued to read the enemy's signals, and much valuable
information has been obtained. I have temporarily changed the signals, as we intercepted a
message from the enemy as follows" 'Send me a copy of Rebel Code immediately, if you
have one in your possession.' I make the men, moreover, work out of sight as much as
possible, and feel that they can make nothing of our signals."
In his next (September) month's report, Captain Markoe continues: "Morris Island was
evacuated by our forces on Sunday night, the 6th of September. I brought off my men and all
the signal property on the Island. Lance Sergeant Lawrence and Privates Clark and Legare
were stationed at Battery Gregg, and Privates Grimball and
Page 105 The Signal Corps in the Confederate States Army.
Hatch at Battery Wagner from the 1st of September to the day evacuation. They were exposed
to the heaviest fire that the enemy had ever put upon those works, and performed their
duties with conspicuous gallantry. Often the enemy's shell, exploding on the fort, would
completely envelop the men and flag with smoke and sand for a minute, but as it cleared
away the flag would still be waving. I have to report Private Clark badly burned in the
left hand, and Lance Sergeant Laurence struck on the right arm with a piece of shell. From
the commencement of the attack on Morris Island to the day of the evacuation, my men have
transmitted nearly one thousand messages on that Island. On the night of the 5th, the
enemy made an attack on Battery Gregg, which failed, and was repulsed by the timely
notice from Sullivan's Island Signal Station, which intercepted the following dispatch:
'To Admiral Dahlgren-I shall you please send two or three monitors by dark to open fire on
Fort Moultrie as a diversion. The last time they were in, they stopped
may do so to-night. Don't want any fire in the rear. (Signed) General Gilmore.'
"The attack on Fort Sumter, on the night of the 8th, was foiled by a similar notice.
The dispatch war: 'General Gilmore-The senior officer will take charge of the assaulting
party on Fort Sumter the whole to be under the command of an experienced naval officer.'
"During the attack on Sumter, Private Frank Huger was placed in charge of the
fire-ball party on lthe parapet, numbering some thirty men, and assisted in giving the
enemy a warm reception. Major Elliot, commanding the post, speaks highly of his conduct on
that occasion. The enemy have been using a cipher in signalling, which has so far baffled
our attempts to read their messages. They have not used it lately, however, and several
important dispatches have been read."
Captain Markoe's rolls show the employment of seventy-six men, of which number he lost
through casualties as large a per cent. as any command in the action. Twelve of his men did
nothing but read the enemy's papers.
Mr. A. T. Letwich, who was stationed in the cupola of the courthouse at Vicksburg, in
1863, contributes the following reminiscence:
"During the siege, a fifteen-inch mortar shell went through the top of the
courthouse and exploded on the lower floor, where there were quartered some one hundred
or so men. It seemed to me as if the whole earth had exploded, for I was in a room on the
second floor -
Page 106 Southern Historical Society Papers.
and need scarcely say that the horrible sight of finding fourteen men scattered into
fragments and a number of others wounded, was terrible to behold.
"You know, of course, that we emptied every cistern in the town and depended upon the
muddy Mississippi water in the hot summer time to quench our thirst; that we ate bread of
ground cow-peas, and depended for meat upon dead mules and rats."
An indispensable condition to the prolongation of the war was the running of the blockade
of Southern ports by the swift cruisers built and fitted expressly for the purpose. Such
were the profits of this business that the owners could well afford to lose vessel and
cargo her third trip if the two first were successful. No life could be more adventurous
and exciting than that of a blockade-runner. The Signal Corps played its part here also.
Every blockade-runner had its signal officer furnished with signalling apparatus and the
key to the secret cipher. The coast was lined with stations for thirty or forty miles up
and down on either side of the blockade-part. The blockade-runners came in close to shore
at night-fall, and fitfully flashed a light, which was soon answered from the shore
station. Advice was then given as to condition of things off the port, the station and
movements of the hostile fleet, etc. If the word was "go in," the beacon lights
were set and the blockade-runner boldly steamed over the bar and into the port. A naval
officer was in charge of the office of orders and details at the several ports, whence
proceeded all orders and assignment in relation to pilots and signal officers.
Captain Wilkingson, C. S. N., in his interesting Narrative of a Blockade-Runner, tells the
following incident illustrative of the uses of a signal officer in this line of duty:
"The range lights were showing and we crossed the bar without interference and
without a suspicion of anything wrong, as would occasionally happen under particularly
favorable circumstances that we would cross the bar without even seeing a blockader. We
were under the guns of Fort Fisher, in fact, and close to the fleet of United States
vessels, which had crossed the bar after the fall of the fort, when I directed my signal
officer to communicate with the shore station. His signal was promptly answered, but
turning to be, he said: 'No Confederate signal officer there, sir; he cannot reply to me.'
The order to wear around was instantly obeyed; not a moment too soon, for the bow of the
chameleon was scarcely pointed for the bar before two of the light cruisers were plainly
visible in pursuit, steaming with all speed to intercept us. Nothing saved us from
captured but the twin screws,
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which enabled our steamer to turn as upon a pivot in the narrow channel between the bar
and the ribs. We reached the bar before our pursuers, and were soon lost in the darkness