Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

C.S. Signal Corps Items Donated — Galveston

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 14, 2014

Forgot to post this — it’s a pretty big deal here locally. Galveston County Daily News, June 1, 2014:

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Civil War artifacts telling Galveston’s history donated to Rosenberg Library
 
By PEGGY DILLARD 
 
A number of Civil War-era artifacts have recently been donated to the Galveston & Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library.
 
Two of these new items describe early Confederate efforts to prevent Union naval activity in Galveston Bay.
 
The Union Navy posed a significant threat to the fledgling Confederate States, which had limited maritime assets.
 
On April 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Blockade Against Southern Ports requiring the closure of 3,500 miles of Atlantic and Gulf coastline and 12 major ports, including Galveston.
Galvestonians immediately responded by organizing their most experienced men to defend the island and banded together in 1861 to form an early warning system against attack.
 
A ticket or souvenir card to Hendley’s Lookout was recently donated by Richard Eisenhour.
 
Situated on the roof of the Hendley Building, the lookout served as a Confederate watchtower during the Civil War.
 
Men stationed in the rooftop observatory closely monitored the movements of Federal gunboats blockading Galveston’s harbor. Newly constructed in 1860, the Hendley Building, 2016 Strand, housed the offices of cotton merchants William and Joseph Hendley. It remains as the oldest commercial building in Galveston.
 
Galveston’s militia leaders officially established the observatory by Special Orders issued on June 4, 1861 by Commandant S. Sherman. It was ordered that “eight men, who shall also be master mariners, and of good repute for skill and experience, be selected from the ranks of enrolled militia of Galveston County.”
 
J.J. (Joseph) Hendley, L.M. Hitchcock, Sydney Scudder, D.C. Healey, Alexander Pitt, John Y. Lawless, Jerry Smith and Charles Fowler were detailed for special service as signal masters and were stationed at the watch tower on the Hendley Building. These men, who ranged in age from 28 to 56, were all experienced seamen and sea captains.
 
Their observations began on April 22, 1861, just days after the firing on Fort Sumter and Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation establishing a blockade of all southern ports.
 
The men organized themselves into eight watches with each watch covering a 24-hour period. Each watch commenced at 8 a.m. and continued until 8 a.m. the following day.
 
An Observatory Logbook was maintained and the men ordered to submit daily dispatches to the commandant reporting on their observations. One of these logbooks is in the Galveston & Texas History Center and is believed to be one of the few surviving accounts from this observatory.
 
The men served as officers of the watch and were assisted by detachments from various Home Guard units with details coming from the Island City Rifles, the Independent Rifles, the German Citizens Guard, Galveston Guards and Sherman Guards to name a few.
 
The men organized the watches so that each man worked every seventh or eighth day.
 
Some of these men captained their own boats and on their off days, traveled between New Orleans and Galveston bringing newspapers and supplies.
 
In the first few months of watching the movements in Galveston Bay, the night’s watch battled boredom, mosquitoes and men who showed up unfit for duty.
 
Some of these detailed men proved unreliable and were often times found asleep at their post. The officers submitted a letter of protest about this behavior to the commandant when several of the detailed men had reported under the influence of drink and then proceeded to break one of their best telescopes.
 
The letter reads: “The officers of the watch would call attention of the commandant to portions of several reports lately, as to unfitness for duty of many detailed to stand guard during the night at the tower. … The drunken scamps reported last week, seriously injured one of our best telescopes, and we are now compelled to remove the best glasses at night to protect them from injury.”
 
The problem must have been resolved since no more instances of drunkenness or sleeping on duty were recorded.
 
After several months of little to no activity and complaints that the “War Flags” were becoming mildewed for want of use and wondering why Lincoln “declines presenting himself,” the U.S.S. South Carolina appeared off the coast on July 1, 1861, and lay at anchor off Galveston Bar.
 
Just a couple of days previously the watch played host to several young ladies visiting the observation tower.
 
Even as Galveston prepared its defenses and readied for war, visitors still wanted to see the view of the harbor for themselves.
 
The Galveston Civilian Extra of July 3, 1861 noted: “Yesterday forenoon the lookout on Hendley’s Buildings run up the red flag, signalizing war vessels … bringing groups of curious observers to the observatories with which Galveston is so well provided.”
 
The last entry in this logbook is dated Dec. 27, 1861, but it is believed the watch continued and other logbooks recorded.
 
The Galveston & Texas History Center has one of the surviving logbooks in its collection.
 
The ticket or souvenir card to Hendley’s Lookout lends credence to the belief that the men of the night’s watch hosted frequent visitors to the cupola atop the Hendley Building and issued tickets or souvenir cards.
 
The Observatory Logbook contains several entries of ladies visiting and bringing pies and bouquets of flowers. The coordinates on the card roughly plot to Mechanic and 14th Street, which is not the location of the Hendley Building, so it is a mystery why these coordinates were used.
 
The placement of the Stars and Stripes on the card does not definitively place the ticket in the postwar era since a printer would have used whatever patriotic advertising he had on hand.
 
The Descriptive Roll for Signal Corps in District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, donated by Ed Cotham, is a roll book that lists 39 privates detailed in the Signal Corps in the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona from 1863 to 1865. An additional 19 are listed as “Guard in the Observatory” at Galveston.
 
The U.S. Army established the Signal Corps as a new branch and appointed its first signal officer in 1860. Shortly after the war started, the Confederate Army followed suit when it became apparent that the ability to send coded messages about the enemy’s movements was an extremely valuable service.
 
The Descriptive Roll for Signal Corps is believed to be the work of Lt. Albert Loftus Lindsay, who was assigned to the unit in April 1862.
 
Lindsay was born in Old Point Comfort, Va., in 1832 and lived in Richmond. He joined the 15th Virginia Regiment on April 27, 1861, at the rank of second lieutenant.
 
Soon after, he was detached for signal duty under the command of Maj. William Norris of Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder’s staff. Lindsay transferred to Texas in 1862 along with Magruder and eventually became chief signal officer for the entire state of Texas. Headquartered in Galveston, Lindsay established signal stations in Galveston, on Bolivar Point and on Pelican Spit. This network covered a distance of six miles and effectively covered the entrance to Galveston Bay.
 
Operators used flags during the day and torches at night to communicate with each other. The observatory atop the Hendley Building was probably incorporated into this network.
 
These items are on display at the Galveston & Texas History Center in the Rosenberg Library along with other Civil War items from the collections.
 
The Galveston and Texas History Center relies primarily on donated materials to build its collections and would like to thank its donors for their continued support.
 

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