Report of Capt. William B. Roe, Sixteenth Michigan Infantry, Chief
Signal Officer, of operations April 9-July 8


August 20, 1863.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report, accompanied by the individual reports of each acting signal officer, of the operations of the signal detachment serving with the army in this department, from April 9, 1863, to the time of the surrender of Port Hudson to the United States forces under Major-General Banks, July 8, 1863:

As Captain Rowley (who was in command of the corps until Apri1 29) did not make a report of the operations of the corps in the Teche campaign, I will submit the report of the detachment under my charge at Baton Rouge during the time that Captain Rowley and party were operating with the army on the Teche; also the official reports of each officer in his detachment, which will show the amount of duty performed by the corps, and by each officer, during the whole campaign.

On the 8th of April, I received orders from General Augur, commanding at Baton Rouge, to report to Captain Alden, of the U. S. S. Richmond, for temporary duty. Accordingly, on the 9th, I proceeded with a party, consisting of Lieut. George R. Herbert, of the signal corps, and Lieutenants Tenney and Dean, of the Thirtieth Massachusetts Volunteers, to the point opposite Port Hudson, and, with the help of a party from the U.S. S. Genesee, we succeeded by the use of small boats (as the country was flooded by a crevasse) to so far penetrate the swamp as to convince ourselves that we could communicate with the admiral, who was to be down on the 15th, by means of boats, if signals should fail.

In the meantime the masts of the Richmond were raised to such a height that, on the 15th, we were able to signal over the trees with the admiral's ship above the batteries of Port Hudson. We also sent a party across the point with mail, dispatches, &c. (See Captain Alden's report, a copy of which is inclosed;* also reports of Lieut. S. M. Eaton, who was on duty on the Hartford, and Lieut. John C. Abbott, who was on duty on the Richmond.) Much valuable information was transmitted by signals between the two ships, which it would have been almost impossible to have obtained in any other way.

From the 15th of April until the fall of Port Hudson, constant communication was held between the two ships by signals.

On the 29th of April, Capt. William W. Rowley's term of service having expired, I was placed in command of the corps by special orders from headquarters Department of the Gulf, and immediately entered upon the discharge of my duties. Lieut. Joseph L. Hallett was placed in charge of the detachment at Baton Rouge, which consisted of 6 officers, one of whom was in charge of the signal telegraph train.

On the 19th of May, in obedience to orders from Major-General Banks, I accompanied him to the headquarters of the army, then at Simsport, La., and ordered the remainder of the party to proceed by first train to same point.

Immediately on my arrival, May 21, I received orders from yourself to place an officer on the U. S. S. Hartford. Accordingly, Lieut. Roswell C. Harris was sent on board, and Lieut. Thomas S. Hall reported for duty to General Grover, who was then on the move toward Bayou Sara.

On the morning of the 23d, headquarters moved to Bayou Sara, and on 24th received orders from yourself to place an efficient officer on board the Hartford, in place of Lieut. R. C. Harris (who was unable to work the station, it being so elevated), in obedience to which Lieut. S. M. Eaton was ordered to her. The same day, Lieut. Thomas S. Hall was relieved from duty with General Grover, and Lieuts. John C. Abbott and R. C. Harris were ordered on duty with him. I found that communication with the Hartford, Richmond, and thence to General Augur, could be obtained by establishing a station at Bayou Sara. Accordingly, Lieutenant Hall was placed upon the Episcopal church, and communication was established. Lieutenant Hallett and his party were at this time with General Augur in the rear of Port Hudson, and had communication from Springfield Landing to the Richmond by signals, and from same point to General Augur's headquarters by means of signal telegraph train.

May 23, headquarters moved to a point near Port Hudson, and on the 24th I had verbal communication with Lieutenant Hallett, who was with General Augur.

On the 26th, Lieuts. E. H. Russell and John W. Dana were ordered to report to General Weitzel for duty, and my attention was directed to establishing stations, so as to have communication between the different headquarters--a task which I found to be very difficult, as the country was very thickly wooded, and our lines were not far enough advanced to warrant me in establishing stations very near the batteries. Consequently the corps did not prove of much service during the first assault; still, the officers acted as aides to the different generals with whom they were attached, and communication was held with the fleet above and below the batteries by means of signal telegraph train to Springfield Landing, and thence by signals to the fleet.

May 30, communication was opened with the Richmond from the tree-tops on the right and left of our lines. On the 31st, I ordered Lieut. John C. Abbott to the Richmond, to assist Lieut. A.M. Jackson, there being four stations to communicate with from that ship.

At this time communication was established from the commanding general's headquarters direct to the Richmond, Hartford, and Springfield Landing, it being so arranged that the stations were at or near the headquarters of Generals Grover and Dwight.

Many official messages were sent from the headquarters to the Richmond and Hartford. (Please see reports of Lieutenants Eaton, Abbott, and Jackson.)

On the day of the second assault, signal communication was held between the headquarters of Major-general Banks in the center, and General Dwight on the left of our line, by which the commanding general could be informed at any time of the progress of General Dwight. (For a copy of messages, see reports of Lieutenants Hall and Rundlett.) The line from the general's headquarters to the ships was kept in working order until Port Hudson surrendered.

On the 29th of June, Lieutenant Dana was ordered to the left, to communicate with Lieutenant Eaton (whose station was in a barn, from which could be seen most of the enemy's guns on the river front), for the purpose of directing the shots from our guns on the left upon those of the enemy. (Please see report of Lieutenant Dana on directing shots.) The signal telegraph train proved of great service, and from May 28 to the time that I was ordered to deliver the wire to Captain Bulkley, June 5, two hundred and fifty-five official messages were sent, many of which were sent from Springfield Landing to the fleet by Lieutenant Jencks, signal officer at that point. The country being so level and thickly wooded, it was almost impossible to establish stations; still, in our main line there were ten stations, eight of which were in tree-tops or on masts of vessels. Three stations of observation, which were also in tree-tops, and three stations which are not described, were likewise built in trees, and were abandoned for the reason of their being in range of the enemy's sharpshooters. In fact, all the main stations were within range of the enemy's guns. Some officers were driven from their stations, but in every case returned again as soon as the firing was over.

All the officers and men in the detachment have shown a willingness to comply in every particular with the orders given them, and, in many instances, have shown a determination to do all in their power to promote the efficiency of the corps.

I inclose the reports of each officer, also a map showing the stations, the dotted lines showing over which points the signals were worked.*

My desire and determination is to have the corps in this department as good as any in the service, and know if we have the countenance and confidence of the commanding generals we shall be of great service in the army and to the country.

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

 WM. B. ROE,

 Captain, and Chief of Signal Corps, Department of the Gulf.

 Lieut. Col. RICHARD B. IRWIN,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Gulf.

* Not found

* Map omitted

Return to Port Hudson Home     Return to Official Records