Fellow Signal Corps friends, below is the AAR for the US Signal Corps for the BGA event. The event was a spectacular success in my opinion, with 10 to 12 thousand reenactors. I was absolutely floored by how Pickett's Charge turned out on the final day, it was just really amazing to stand there at the wall behind the guns as the Confederates approached, and they did such an amazing job at making it look real. Signal Corps action on day two was an incredible experience, particularly as the Confederates advanced on Little Round Top - the fighting got so intense, at every message, we wondered if we would be able to finish before we had to withdraw behind our lines. What a feeling!|
I want to thank you all for your help and assistance with the many questions I had as I prepared to lead the US Signal Corps at this historic reenactment.
150th Gettysburg (BGA) After Action Report (2013)
HD-QTRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
July 2nd 1863
I have the honor to report on the actions of the U.S. Signal Corps which was placed on active service under your orders on the second day of the 150th Gettysburg Blue and Gray Alliance event. The unit originally formed for service was the 2nd ME Vol. Inf. Reg. Signal Detachment, which took over duties as the U.S. Signal Corps upon instruction from Gen. Wm. Watson. Two signal parties were formed for flag duty on day two of the reenactment. I commanded the first party (HQ detachment) consisting of a flagman, a scribe and myself, acting as Acting Signal Officer, while 1st Lt. Michael McDonald commanded the second party consisting of a flagman and himself, acting as a scribe and Acting Signal Officer.
On day one of the engagements, I coordinated with Gen. Watson regarding positioning and duties, where I was given the order to establish one signal party at the Little Round Top location and the other party at the Peach Orchard as a detachment of the 2nd Reg. USVs, commanded by Col. Chuck Young. I was informed that HQ would be located at Little Round Top. I also held U.S. Signal Corps drill at approximately 4 o’clock at the top of the hill near the Federal encampment, near the artillery. This drill was observed by many curious spectators and reenactors alike. The men were ordered to report for duty at 12 o’clock the following day at the encampment of the 7th NJVI, 2nd Reg. USVs for the scheduled actions from 2 to 6 PM including: Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard. Furthermore, I coordinated with Capt. Thomas Nelson of the Confederate Signal Corps and his 1st Sgt. Don Sellers. We arranged certain preconcerted codes and exchanged information about intended actions.
On the morning of day two of the event I scouted the field and determined likely locations for the two signal parties. I coordinated with USV 1st and 3rd Regiment commanders Col. David Childs and Col. Scott Buffington, respectively, informing them that the U.S. Signal Corps would be on the field and be able to send messages between our locations on Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard. I also met with Col. Young. of the 2nd Reg., who requested that the Signal Corps send the countersign for day two to HQ and that signal detachments at HQ disseminate the countersign to the divisions and regiments, etc. The countersign I received from HQ was as follows:
Countersign: Chancellorsville General: Hooker
The battle was delayed a half-hour or so, but our parties took to the field at about 1 o’clock to get in position, establish communication and send test signals and the countersign. Initial positions are marked on the attached map with white signal flags (fig. 1). The Little Round Top scenario commenced first, and very soon the rear of our position was occupied by three regiments. To our right was an artillery battery. We continued to send signals reporting our observations and coordinating with the 2nd Reg. USV Signal Detachment and noticed advancing rebel forces on the Union left. I immediately reported to the regimental officers nearby informing them of our orders, offering our services, and coordinating safe locations for us to fall back to, should the enemy press our position, that would enable us to maintain line of sight with the signal party near the Peach Orchard. Eventually, our position became untenable and we were forced to retreat back behind the infantry to avoid capture. We took up a new position on the right flank of the Union force on Little Round Top, to the left of the artillery battery positioned there. We continued to send signals until the end of the Little Round Top scenario, and noted that at some time during the scenario Gen. Crowder took command of the position and Gen. Minton proceeded to the Wheatfield. At this point, the signal party in the Peach Orchard relocated, and we lost contact with them and we proceeded to move down to the Wheatfield to reestablish communication.
After sending signals in the Wheatfield, we moved behind the Peach Orchard to the base of Culp’s Hill where we observed the signal flags of the Confederate Signal Corps, and we proceeded to exchange signals with them. Not long after establishing communication with the Confederate Signal Corps we received the message “End Engagement” which we communicated to the nearest regimental commander – the battle ended before the command was communicated any further. We stayed a short while, exchanging signals with Capt. Nelson’s signal party before retiring to our camp.
We received many questions and much curiosity wherever we went, including being interviewed by a member of Military Times magazine while on Little Round Top. Feedback from spectators was very positive, and there were many questions about what we were doing. Including a brief description of the signal corps in event programs and literature might be a good idea for future similar events. Furthermore, we noted that there is a general hesitancy by officers to make use of the opportunities to send messages through the signal corps. We noted one company commander on Little Round Top was late in joining up with a regiment in the Peach Orchard but despite our offers to communicate with his commanding officer in the Peach Orchard where our signal party was, the officer declined and proceeded to march his men to the Peach Orchard without any communication. I want to encourage all officers to spread the word up and down the chain of command that using the signal corps to send messages is encouraged, and officers should not feel that their message is “not important enough.”
I would like to extend again my sincere appreciation to you, Gen. Minton, and to your Chief of Staff Gen. Wm. Watson, for making the U.S. Signal Corps portrayal a possibility, and I want you to know that it is absolutely amazing to have been a part of the 150th Gettysburg reenactment in such a historic fashion – sending signals from Little Round Top as the Confederates approached our position was a memory I will not soon forget. I also want to extend my thanks to Col. Young, who was very helpful and made our portrayal all the more realistic with the sending of the countersign. I look forward to working more with Col. Young at smaller events, as he is the commanding officer of the regiment that I typically fall in with. Finally, the signals could not have been sent without the efforts of Pvt. Tyler Ouillette, Pvt. Joe, Pvt. James Clark and 1st. Lt. Michael “Mick” McDonald.
I hope that the Signal Corps can continue to be of service to event administrators in the reenacting community and I encourage command staff to utilize them where possible as they more the Signal Corps is utilized during engagements the easier it will be to recruit new signal personnel to continue this fascinating service.
Respectfully submitted by your humble servant,
Sgt. C. Logan Robertson,
Acting Commander, U.S. Signal Corps