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Posted By: Walt Mathers on: 07/16/2013 04:10:24 EDT
Subject: Q & A Thread to Ponder

Message Detail:
Q. I have long heard that the Chief Signal Officer served upon the General Staff. In Col. Scott's 1861 Military Dictionary, the staff of the army is described as existing under "three heads:", 1. General Staff, 2. Staff Corps or Staff Departments, and 3. Regimental Staff.

His description of the General Staff sounds as though its members could and did regulate the activities of soldiers in the field. In Scott's words..."The functions of these officers consist not merely in distributing the orders of commanding generals, but also in regulating camps, directing the march of columns, and furnishing to the commanding general all necessary details for the exercise of his authority." At times, were these characteristic of the CSO's duties?

A. Indeed such characteristics of a chief signal officer were quite similar to those of a general staff, at least on the Federal army side of the equation, the difference being that the signal elements were temporarily 'assigned' to a general commanding by orders issued through the War Department, and, it was the responsibility first, of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army to recommend to the War Department, by name, officers and men, to be ordered into the field with the general commanding, and, where possible, re-distribute such signal parties to various elements within the command as the needs of the service dictated. Signal officers and men were known to be transferred into and out of army commands and ofttimes the entire signal 'detachment' of an army, upon completing a campaign, would be returned to their own departmental signal camps, and later re-assigned to entirely different army commands than which they had been serving.

Scott's '61 Dictionary isn't exactly the best work for one to attempt to understand a CSO's duties and his signal element's interaction with a general staff. The work of August V. Kautz 1864 work, e.g. "Customs of Service" pg. 67-68, by an Act of Congress of March 3rd 1863, section 17., has it interpreted that "Their duty is very similar to that of mounted patrol duty, and they usually accompany the advance of an army or body of troops sent out for observation." This would mean that signalmen operating in the field would be quite active, becoming familiar with their theater of operations, making maps, noting troop branches, movements and strengths; also keeping themselves, their commands and their fellow signal parties abreast of all known and anticipated evolutions on both sides of the field. Furthermore, Kautz states that no drill has been specified for them, except the manipulation of signals, in which they are instructed by the officers. Major Myer intimates in his 1864 manual that a chief signal officer attached with an army in the field ought to stand in with the general commanding as almost a personal secretary.

Therefore, to answer your question, the signal corps fits into none of the three elements you cite above and that the legitimate duties of signalmen in the field must be left to that army's CSO, who in turn would attend councils of war, report directly to and be counseled by the general commanding as to anticipated movements of troops, offering all known intelligence that may aid in determining the best possible course of action, routes of communication, and endeavor to submit prompt and timely after-action-reports that reflect on the legitimate duties rendered by the signal officers and men of his command.

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