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THS RECOLLECTIONS OF A SIGNAL OFFICER Edited by Lester L. Swift Countless Civil War participants penned memoirs. Not surprisingly, most of those who felt they had something to say—to die public or to posterity—either had sat in high places or, if of lesser military status, wished to recapture for readers the comradeship and the hazards of camp and batdefield. We consequendy possess numerous reminiscences by generals, on the one hand, and front-line soldiers on the other. The complexities of command and the color of combat are thus well-documented by witnesses. Relatively rare, however, are the memoirs of men who fought the war, often just as devotedly, in less dramatic circumstances. The writer of these hitherto unpublished recollections served as a Federal Signal Corps officer for two years, 1862-1864, during which time the fledgling technical branch came into its own as an invaluable mditary service. Besides giving us an excellent picture of the often rigorous routine of a flagman, he provides some unusual commentary —from a junior officer's perspective—of Federal operations in two lesserknown theaters of the war: along the southeast coast and on die James. A lucid writer, his observations about commanders and events may not always be profound, but are never without interest. His glimpse of the unlikable General Ben Butler field-testing a Gatling gun on some unsuspecting Confederates is alone enough to make these memoirs worthwhile indeed. Gustavus Sullivan Dana was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1839. He served an apprenticeship as a machinist in Springfield, Illinois, before returning to Hartford. As a three-month volunteer in the 1st Connecticut Infantry, Dana became acquainted with the war at First Manassas . He then reenlisted in the 6th Connecticut, where—already a "veteran "—he was immediately made a company first sergeant. The regiment subsequendy took part in the successful Port Royal Expedition, the reduction of Fort Pulaski, and several other coastal operations. Lester L. Swift is a metallurgical engineer and inspector with the Solon Manufacturing Company, Chardon, Ohio. 36 The Department of the South, of which the 6th Connecticut was a part» began expanding northward along the coast toward Charleston, South Carolina, early in 1862. Dana gained promotion to regimental sergeant major on January 17, 1862, and was commissioned a second lieutenant on March 23 following.i The narrative that follows consists ofportions of Dana's undated "Personal Recollections." The first part of the "Recollections" is omitted, and we start with Dana's narrative in September, 1862, when he became interested in transferring to the Signal Corps. On Gen [Ormsby M.] Mitchel's first trip of inspection to Beaufort [South Carolina], Lt [Franklin E.] Town, in charge of the Signal Station , borrowed the 6th Connecticut] V. [olunteers] garrison flag. It accidentally happened that I knew just where it was and no one else did. After getting it for him and while returning from the S.[ignal] Department ] s Quarters with Town, he asked me if I would like to be detaded in die Signal Corps. I told him I would and in coming down the river to H[dton] H[ea]d with dispatches a few days before, I had noticed officers communicating from Kane Island to the steamer I was on by waving their caps & I thought it was pretty slick and I would like it very much if I could know what they were so merry about. He said they were about to order a detail of 4 officers under instruction and he guessed he could get me in. No such luck for me I told him and didnt give it another thought till nearly the last of Sept when Col Chatfield called me in his private office and asked me why I was desirous of leaving his regt when I knew he had tried to do what was right by me. I told him I was not trying to leave his regt. "Well what does this mean then" he said and handed me a special order from Dept. Hdqrs detailing me in the Signal Corps and ordering me to report at H.Hd. Oct 1st. I explained to him how Lt Town bro't the matter up and that it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 36-54
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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