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Darnestown in Montgomery County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The Signal Corps and Wartime Communications

The Civil War

 
 
The Signal Corps and Wartime Communications Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
1. The Signal Corps and Wartime Communications Marker
Inscription. A Signal Corps station and training camp was established near Darnestown in 1861. Signaling with flags was invented by army surgeon Albert J. Meyer and first used against the Navahos in border warfare before the Civil War. Signaling with flags provided a rapid way to convey intelligence and battlefield orders.

Red Hill in Georgetown Washington D. C. served as the main headquarters and training center for the Union Signal Corps. The Corps had 300 officers and 2,500 men and one of the highest casualty rates of any unit in the Union army.

Information was relayed in a chain called "Signal Tree Lane" extending form Harper's Ferry up-river and all the way down-river to Georgetown. On a clear day signals could be seen for 10 miles, but with rain and fog, visibility was obscured, which sometimes made this an unreliable means of communication.

A New York infantry officer remembered being sent to Darnestown to attend a school of instruction: "The men had been selected with great care for their physical, as well as mental ability...Most of the Twenty-eighth will remember the 'Chestnut-tree station' on the Magruder farm near Darnestown, it was picturesque. The upper limbs sustained a platform for the man to wave his flag, while just underneath was the platform for the officer, who, with his glass, kept watch of
Civil War Signal Tree image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
2. Civil War Signal Tree
Close-up of image on marker
Library of Congress
the communicating station. These platforms were some forty or fifty feet above the ground and were reached by rustic ladders. This was the first line of signal stations established on the Potomac. "


(sidebar)
Flags & Lights

Other than the Signal Corps, the only means of wartime communication at that time was by scouts of horseback, word of mouth form local residents, observation balloons, and telegraph lines.

From towers, building tops, tall trees, and platforms, the Signal Corps used flags and telescopes during the day and flares or torches at night to send coded messages.

The wig-wag system used signal flags of white with red square centers to provide important information during the war.
 
Erected 2012 by Montgomery Parks.
 
Location. 39° 6.218′ N, 77° 17.452′ W. Marker is in Darnestown, Maryland, in Montgomery County. Marker can be reached from Darnestown Road (Maryland Route 28) east of Seneca Road (Maryland Route 112), on the left when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is in Darnestown Square Heritage Park. Marker is at or near this postal address: 14029 Darnestown Road, Gaithersburg MD 20878, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Civil War in Darnestown
Signal Corps Member with Signal Flag image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
3. Signal Corps Member with Signal Flag
Close-up of photo on marker
Library of Congress
(here, next to this marker); Civil War Troops & Darnestown Residents (here, next to this marker); Darnestown: A Strategic Point of Defense (a few steps from this marker); Disease, Death, and Medical Discoveries During the Civil War (within shouting distance of this marker); Clues to the Past: Oral History and Archaeology (within shouting distance of this marker); A 19th Century Crossroads (within shouting distance of this marker); Andrew Small Academy (within shouting distance of this marker); The Origins of Darnestown (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Darnestown.
 
Categories. War, US Civil
 
Magruder's Signal Tree image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
4. Magruder's Signal Tree
Illustrated by David Hunter Strother 'Port Crayon' Harper's New Monthly Magazine October 1886

The Darnestown signal station was on Samuel T. Magruder's farm on the Seneca Road, which General Banks used for his headquarters. An especially large Chestnut tree, 18 feet in circumference and denuded of most branches, was fitted with platforms for the signalers.
Close-up of image on marker
Cornell University Library
November 1863 signal envelope image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
5. November 1863 signal envelope
Close-up of image on marker
Signal Corps Museum
Signal Corps Sketch image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, October 22, 2013
6. Signal Corps Sketch
Close-up of image on marker
Library of Congress
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on October 31, 2013, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 308 times since then and 33 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on October 31, 2013, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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