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Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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On the evening of May 26 the chief signal officer was informed that a force under General Fitz John Porter would move at daylight to attack the enemy at Hanover Court-House. He was directed to provide a signal party to accompany it. A signal party of 7 officers, with their men, fully equipped and with three days’ rations, were ordered to move with the troops at daylight. The chief signal officer accompanied this party. It had rained during the night and part of the previous day. On the morning of the 27th it was still raining. The columns moved with difficulty and slowly.

At about 11 a. m. the outposts of the enemy were encountered. About noon the head of our column near Hanover Court-House came suddenly upon a force of the enemy apparently advancing to meet it.


The lines of both armies were formed at once and the battle commenced with artillery.

At nearly the right of our line our principal battery was posted, and was instantly engaged. A few hundred yards to the right of this battery, and in front of our line, was a clump of woods, from which was had a good view of the enemy and also of the fields they occupied. Lieutenants Marston, Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, and Gloskosky, Twenty-ninth New York Volunteers, and acting signal officer, were ordered to establish a station here to observe the enemy and to report by signals to Lieutenant Horner, Sixth New Jersey Volunteers, and acting signal officer, who was placed at the battery, and to headquarters station, near the general commanding.

Lieut. G. H. McNary, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, was posted on a house some distance in the rear of the battery and commanding a view of the fields in front. He was directed to report at headquarters station. (It was intended to use this station to communicate with the front in case our line advanced fighting.)

Lieutenant Thickstun, Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, and acting signal officer, was placed upon a house on the left, where he could see the open country, in order to report any movements of the enemy from that direction. Lieutenants Norton, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, and acting signal officer, and Wiggins, Third New Jersey Volunteers, and acting signal officer, were held in reserve. All the officers mentioned were in the range of artillery fire.

The fire upon the stations occupied by Lieutenants Marston and Gloskosky, Horner, and McNary was particularly severe. The flag had no sooner been raised on the advanced station than it was greeted by a volley of musketry. Though immediately screened behind trees, its position was much exposed throughout the action. Lieutenant Horner, stationed with the battery, received, of course, his share of the shots directed at the guns, whilst Lieutenant McNary, posted in the rear of the battery, was in line of shots, which went over it, and seemed by his elevated position to attract not a few intended for himself.

Messages were received from the advanced station by the station at the battery, directing the aim of the guns, announcing the retreat of the enemy, and replying to a question as to the nationality of a body of troops which appeared on the field; this latter, fortunately, just in time to prevent our own forces, which, advancing, had that moment come in view, from receiving the fire of our guns.

The enemy were driven from their first position after a contest of an hour’s duration. Our line advanced toward Hanover Court-House in pursuit. The stations at first established were abandoned by order of General Porter. The signal officers were sent forward with the first skirmishers, reconnoitering and reporting from elevated points in the field and on the right and left of the line as it advanced. A station was erected on the top of a large house overlooking the field of battle near which it was and the valley in which the village of Hanover is located. From this station a report was made that some regiments of the enemy with artillery were visible in the valley near Hanover. Our advance soon after moved rapidly to that village. The signal party was hurried to the front to seek the position of the enemy, and kept on the road going west of Hanover until a camp of the enemy was visible. It was here learned from the returning troops that the general advance of the army was not in this direction, whilst the sounds of [242] artillery announced that a conflict had recommenced near the first scene of battle. Hastily turning back, the party again arrived on the field just as the last shots were fired.

On the following day the army occupied the same position. The dead were buried; the wounded were cared for. The condition of the enemy’s camp showed with what haste they had retreated.

A station of observation was opened on a prominent house near the held of battle, whence frequent reports were made to headquarters. Other minor stations were also established. The officers were called in from these stations at sunset. It was thought there might be a battle on the following day, and an order was sent back to camp directing more officers to report the next morning. The party bivouacked on the field.

At daylight the next morning the chief signal officer was ordered by General Porter to send a party to General Emory, under whose command expeditions had been sent out during the night. The headquarters of General Emory were found at a church or school-house beyond Hanover. They were connected by a line of repeating stations with those of General Porter yet upon the battle-field.

The chief signal officer was also directed to extend a line as far toward the left on the Ashland road as was practicable. The headquarters of General Morell, commanding on the left, were connected by repeating stations with general headquarters, and when a few hours after, the signal detachment ordered in the night arrived, this line was extended a mile and a half toward Ashland. A signal station was erected upon the roof of the mansion before mentioned.

About 9 a. a dense cloud of smoke was reported as visible from this station. It was some miles distant and in the direction taken by one of our expeditions. Not long after a signal dispatch from General Emory announced that our troops had reached Ashland and the destruction of the railroad bridge. This was followed by other brief messages and reports. Orders went soon after to General Emory to call in his forces.

The object of the advance on Hanover (the destruction of the enemy’s communications by railroad north) had been accomplished, and the army corps was about to rejoin the Army of the Potomac. The signal lines were ordered to be broken up. The last message—one of “All quiet” - came from the left. The party was concentrated and moved for their camp on the Chickahominy. At 1 o’clock all our troops were in motion on their return, and the headquarters of General Porter had left the field of battle.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.240-242

web page Rickard, J (19 November 2006)

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