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Confederate  Signal  Corps

Captain William Norris

  The Confederate States organized the first independent branch of signalmen in history. The beginnings of the Signal Service in the Confederate army were about simultaneous in the Peninsular command of General John B. Magruder and in the Confederate Army of the Potomac under General P.G.T. Beauregard. Captain William Norris, a member of General Magruder's staff a gentleman of scientific education and of some nautical experience called the attention of the General to the advantages to be derived from a system of signals connecting his outposts and his headquarters with Norfolk. General Magruder gave Captain Norris the necessary authority to establish the service, and appointed him Signal Officer to the command.

     The signals used by Captain Norris were similar to the marine signals in use by all maritime nations. Poles were erected on which were displayed flags and balls, the combinations of which indicated various phrases, such as were conceived to be most in demand to express the exigencies likely to arise.
        Colonel William Norris, Chief of the Signal Corps, Confederate States army, caused to be made copper stencils, from which colored plates of the combinations were made, and upon the same page of the book which contained the plates were written the meanings of the combinations. The plates were colored by Miss Belle Harrison, of "Brandon," and Miss Jennie Ritchie, of Richmond, Virginia. The system was from time to time improved by Colonel Norris, and this was one of the beginnings of the signal service in the Confederate States army.

 Edward P. Alexander

      The other was at Beauregard's headquarters at Manassas Junction at about the same time in the summer of 1861. Captain (afterwards General) Edward Porter Alexander, attached to the staff of General Beauregard, was one of the officers who had been detailed by the Secretary of War (United States) to test and report upon the signal system of Brigadier-General Myer, and was consequently completely master of the system. He organized it efficiently, and thoroughly instructed a number of men selected from the ranks for their intelligence and good character. Most of these men afterwards became commissioned officers in the Signal Corps.    

           Captain Edward Porter Alexander was charged with organizing a small signal element with four men hastily trained in the use of the wig-wag system. His men were in full operation at the time of the first conflict at Manassas, and the third shot from Ayres' battery in front of Stone Bridge went through one of Alexander's signal tents, in front of which the flags were being actively plied.
        General Alexander, in reply to a letter asking for information respecting the services rendered by the signal men under his direction, writes as follows: "Perhaps the most important service rendered by the Signal Department in the first year of the war was at the battle of Manassas, and was in a great measure accidental. Very early in the morning of the 21st, I was on the hill by Wilcox's House, in rear of our right, and watching the flag of our station at the Stone Bridge, when, in the distant edge of the field of view of my glass, a gleam caught my eye. It was the reflection of the sun (which was low in the east behind me) from a polished brass field-piece, one of Ayres' battery, and observing attentively, I discovered McDowell's columns in the open fields, north of Sudley's Ford, crossing Bull Run Creek and turning our left flank, fully eight miles away, I think,--but you can look at the map--from where I was. I signalled Evans at once,' Look out for your left, your position is turned.' Just as he got my message his pickets made their first report to him of cavalry driving them from Sudley's Ford. At the same time I sent a message of what I had seen to Johnston and Beauregard, who were at Mitchell's Ford, on receipt of which Bee, Hampton and Stonewall Jackson were all hurried in that direction, and the history of the battle tells how they successfully delayed McDowell's progress, till finally the tide was turned by confederate troops arriving in the afternoon.”

    Signal Corps, fell under the Adjutant and Inspector's General Department for staff control. On 19 April 1862, the Confederate States Signal Corps was formed as a distinct organization. The branch was initially authorized ten officers, ten sergeants, and any additional soldiers required to perform signal duties. Norris lobbied for more men and had the law amended on 27 September 1862 to one major, ten captains, twenty lieutenants, and twenty sergeants, with soldiers assigned as needed. In addition Special Order Number 40 directed every officer in the Adjutant General's Corps, all staff officers, and all aides-de-camp to be knowledgeable in the use of wig-wags and signals. The equipment they used was based on Myer's system and included the use of a cipher system to encode messages.

    The Confederate Army had a wide view regarding the duties of the Signal Corps. By the end of the war it was responsible for electrical telegraphy, military intelligence, espionage networks, naval communications for blockade runners, and experimentation with hot air balloons. Many of the activities of the branch are still shrouded in secrecy as many records were destroyed to shield activities, and a fire destroyed all of Norris's personal papers. Throughout the War Confederate signalmen relayed critical intelligence and orders to leaders in all theaters of war. By the end of the war, more than 1,500 men had served in the Confederate Army as signal soldiers.


    Wig-wag signaling was performed during daylight with a single flag tied to a hickory staff constructed in four-foot jointed sections. Flags were generally made of cotton, linen, or another lightweight fabric. Flag mounted on 12 foot staffs, were most often used, although 2-foot flags were used when the flagman wanted to avoid enemy attention. Red flags were generally used at sea. For nighttime signaling, torches were copper cylinders, 18 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter with a cotton wick.


 Since aerial telegraphy was sometimes conducted within the clear sight of the enemy, security was a major problem. The Signal Corps introduced a cipher disc, a simple device that allowed the encryption of text. Two concentric discs were inscribed with letters and their numerical equivalents. The sending and receiving party had to agree on the specific alignment between the two discs, ensuring that both parties had identical alignment. To encipher a message, the signal officer selected an "adjustment letter" on the inner disc and then made this letter correspond with a preselected numerical code or "key number" on the outer disc. The signal officer would typically give the key numbers to the flagmen without revealing the plain text version of the message.

Virginia / West Virginia

Confederate Guide and Spy

Nancy Hart.png

Nancy Hart

    What is known is she was born about. 1846 and her father was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and this info is from various historical societies and the Hart family resided in Boone County, Virginia 1850, this is on the 1850 U. S. Census. It must be remembered that Boone County was a part of Virginia before 1863 and after the War Between the States it was a county of West Virginia..... Stephen and Mary was the only Hart family resided in the mountain districts of Roane County Virginia in 1860's and the names are on the 1870's and 1880's Roane census. Here they settled near the mouth of Triplett Run Creek which flows into the West Fork Little Kanawha River, which rises in southern Calhoun County and flows northwestwardly along the boundary of Roane County.

    Stephen and Mary Hart were Christians and were trying to bring their family up right; Stephen always had family worship, no matter how busy he was. They were very firm in their family training, yet most loving and kind. They farmed and raised thirteen children to start a long line of Hart descendents.

    In the War Between the States, two of their sons would fight for the North and one daughter (Nancy) the South "Rebel of the Family". Despite some happy memories of Nancy the older siblings JaneMarthaJamesCharityWilliamKelly feels that their younger sister Nancy may have missed out on the sense of stability or belonging that she craved and so desperately needed as a child.

   Nine years old and she got that excited look in her eyes when she carrying a musket and started to learn how to ride horseback, when she got older she squeezed in the time to learn to shoot, stalk, track, hunt, fish and look after herself. Nancy thought she may have been missing out on something cool when she did her unenjoyable chores, help cook, clean, laundry, and look after her six younger siblings, Floy Catharine, Dolliver, Rebecca, Salina and John. At the beginning of her adolescence fourteen, Nancy impressions of her father and mother were that they were Christians and were trying to bring her up as a Christian and that she must obey them and girls need to learn how to cook, clean, laundry, iron, etc.

    So Nancy as a teenage rebellion against authority, against her parents' pressure, religious, political beliefs and she didn't want to be like other young women who married and lived on farms. She felt that a girl's abandonment one's name upon marriage was clearly her loss of individuality and she wasn't going to take a husband and lose her individuality and anyway she wasn't sure a long-term relationship was for her. One day in 1861 she join a band of rebel raiders known as the Moccasin Rangers, they were pro-southern guerrillas in central West Virginia until 1862. The Daughter of Stephen and Mary Hart was prepared to die for her southern beliefs and even some Yankee old-timers said Nancy Hart was "Born to Rebel" with her rebel yell "Wahoo" and she was always saying to herself, Whoop! Hurrah! Yay for the president of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis.....  Nancy Hart served as a Confederate scout, guide and spy, carrying messages between the West Virginia Confederate armed forces, collected intelligence, conducted sabotage and gathering contraband behind Federal lines for the southern guerrillas and Confederates Infantry Regiments and following her heart and beliefs for the Confederacy cause.

    She volunteered to be a spy for General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson after learning the basics of nursing and sanitation from Ann Reeves Jarvis. She impersonates a nurse and Rebel Hart wore clothes that did not indicate any thing more than that she was a nurse. The information retrieved by Nancy spying on Union regiments was accurate and help General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson to offset their numerical disadvantages that the Confederacy faced that spring. The activities of Nancy Hart helped the Confederate General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson in his famous Valley campaign. He was one of the greatest fighting generals in the Confederacy, born in Clarksburg, Virginia on January 21, 1824.  Stonewall Jackson was raised of Scotch-Irish ancestry just like Nancy. The Valley Campaign was a spring 1862 campaign through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia during the  war, the finest example of military strategy and speed of deployment from a civilian standpoint.

    Hart family had strong feelings both for and against the War Between the States and we the Hart family referred to Roane County as a struggle of "Brother Against Brother" "Father Against Son" "Sister Against Brother" and "Neighbor Against Neighbor." Nothing better illustrates this than the Hart family Stephen and Mary Hart of Roane County West Virginia.


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