The Washington Monument Signal Corps Station during the Maryland Campaign and JEB Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid of 1862

On Monday, September 15th, a day after the Battle of South Mountain, the last remaining barrier between the Confederate army and the Union army was now under Federal occupation. With the layout of South Mountain, and a clear view of the Cumberland Valley below, it wasn’t long before detachments of the Union army began establishing communication and observation posts.

According to the official records, during the day of September 15th, 1862, orders came from the commanders for the establishments of several posts located along the mountain ridges of South Mountain. Two lieutenants by the name of Camp and Clark took position on the crest of South Mountain to communicate with General George McClellan’s headquarters. Lieutenants Edward Halsted and Edwin Pierce took position on the mountain near the main road, but were withdrawn during the day.

At 2:00 am on September 16th orders were sent to Captain Benjamin Fisher, who was at Boonsboro, to bring the party forward as rapidly as practicable to near the Antietam Creek. Captain Fisher was also directed to establish an officer at the Washington Monument observation post, so he ordered Lieutenant Halsted to report there, on Monument Knob. Lieutenant Halsted, as well as all members of the signal corps located on South Mountain and Elk Ridge were to report any movements of the Confederate army visible at any point in the Cumberland Valley, whether it was dust or smoke.

By 10:00 am the Washington Monument station was communicating with the other established stations as the main Union army approached Antietam. Lieutenant Halsted was instructed to communicate any movements by the Confederate army during the battle. Careful telescopic examinations were made of the valley. One observation from Washington Monument, as well as one at Elk Ridge, reported that the Confederate army was at Sharpsburg.

As the Union army prepared to meet General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Sharpsburg, the officers at Washington Monument were ordered to be at their post both day and night. The Washington Monument station was worked with peculiar labor. I am unsure if this happened or not, but at some of the other signal stations it was necessary to observe, at times, from the top of a tree while the signals were made from a point beneath, among the branches, where the flagman could only sustain himself by exertion.

During the Battle of Antietam, reports that the Washington Monument signal station failed to report to the signal station near Hagerstown was recorded. Afterward, an investigation was launched against those officers at Washington Monument, as they were given direct orders to be on alert. In Albert Myers’ report, he stated; “The case of an officer absent from his station is now under investigation. I have only to regret that the efforts of those who well did their duty were not followed by successes to our arms, to which they could claim to have contributed.” On September 18th, those stations were held in the same positions for observation. The station communicating with Washington Monument, which had been withdrawn during the 17th, was reoccupied.

A month later during General J.E.B. Stuart’s Raid in Pennsylvania on October 9th-12th, Union signal corpsmen under the command of Captain Benjamin F. Fisher were ordered to reopen Washington Monument for observation by Major Albert Myers on October 11th. Captain Fisher communicated with Lieutenant Spencer who was stationed at Hagerstown, and was also ordered to communicate with those stations located on the Catoctin Mountain. Stuart’s cavalry never back-tracked toward Hagerstown or Williamsport. Instead Stuart made his way toward Cashtown, turning south to Fairfield, before crossing the Mason and Dixon Line at Emmitsburg and then crossing the Potomac River near Hyattstown. Because of this, the Washington Monument signal station was ordered to cease.

The photo is from the LOC and is of Elk Ridge during the Battle of Antietam


Camp Ritchie: Americans Soldiers Learn About the German Army during the Second World War

A few years ago, I wrote a small piece about Camp Ritchie that was just a brief history during the Second World War and I would like to expand on that with this posting. Recently I came across a few items at the Waynesboro Library about Camp Ritchie during the Second World War in the Pennsylvania Reference Room. The first was a scrapbook based upon the fort’s formal history. The book had no author with the exception of a note indicating that it was produced by the War Department. This yearbook style of reading had several photographs of Camp Ritchie during the Second World War that interested me.

The second was a notebook that contained write ups from local newspapers, and thesis’s written by unknown individuals. After reading them, I soon realized that only individuals that served at Camp Ritchie contributed to or had written this on their own. It had a break down of what it was that the American soldier was learning, from class to class, with regard to his training. The break down was truly an interesting find.

In the early part of 1942, General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff took several steps to improving intelligence training for the US Army. Observationalists were sent to England to gain firsthand experience of how Great Britain handled intelligence. Two groups of four officers spent six weeks in England and came back with recommendations on building a Military Intelligence Training program. A curriculum was soon established by the War Department for purposes of Combat Military Intelligence Training. The location of Camp Ritchie to establish this training center was picked for two main reasons, the close proximity to Washington D.C., and the layout of the terrain where several field problems and maneuvers could be simulated.

The curriculum that was established for training purposes dealt with a wide variety of studies that focused on the German, Japanese and Italian armies. The course was divided up between three different phases. The first was general or basic, the second was specialized and finally the field exercises. Additional special courses were also given, and if need be, changes were also implemented.

Once classes began many refugees, such as those who made up the Ritchie Boys, gladly came in and offered their services. This was firsthand knowledge that was being offered, as many of the refugees were familiar with the armed forces of the Axis powers. Classes of 300-500 students were divided into sections of about 40 men. It was again divided for a final ratio of one officer and six enlisted men. New classes started each month that would last upwards to eight weeks.

Captured equipment from the Axis armies were on hand, ranging from uniforms to weapons such as machine guns, artillery, and vehicles, all lined up to teach the student. These were used for combat simulations, identification, and interrogation purposes. Mock up simulations and drills were also held to prepare students for their deployment in Europe or Japan. The demonstration troops were known as the Composite School Unit or CSU.

The courses were broken down to several sections and subsections. The German Army course had four basic sections and they included the following:

Section I: Prisoners of War. Mock simulations in German military uniform of prisoner interrogations were taught to the students. This was done so they knew how to properly interrogate a prisoner and how to handle problems if they occurred in the field.

Section II, No. 1: Organization and Minor Tactics. This section was divided up into ten components. The first was Infantry Point, Combat Patrol, Squad in the Attack and Rifle Platoon in the Attack. This was to aide the students to visualize the German units and how they operated. The end result was that the student would know what the enemy’s capabilities were on the battlefield.

Section II, No. 2: German Strongpoint. Here students would experience how the Germans dug-in for a defensive position. Students would see wire entanglements, riveted emplacements, and crew served weapons and how those tactics were being used by the German Army.

Section II, No. 3: Light Weapons Identification. They learned about ammunition, rate of fire, weight, range, and penetration. They also learned the tactical employment and usage of the K-98 rifle, pistols, and machine guns such as the M-34 and M-42. Some of the other weapons included the mortar and smaller caliber anti-tank guns. Each weapon was manned by complete crews to show students how they were deployed and how the crews worked.

Section II, No. 4: Medium Weapons and Vehicle Demonstrations. Students learned about ammunition, rate of fire, weight, range, and penetration of some of the larger weapons such as the different caliber of howitzers. Students also saw how troops and supplies were transported. Some of the vehicles were half track trucks and motorcycles. Students learned how these vehicles were deployed in combat.

Section II, No. 5: German Mounted Infantry Platoon. Showed the tactics of how mounted infantry was deployed, with emphasis on how reconnaissance worked.

Section II, No. 6: German Machine Gun Platoon. Here, students saw firsthand the organization and deployment of the platoon.

Section II, No. 7: German Anti-tank Platoon. Students learned about deployments and characteristics of weapons and how motorcycle messenger communication systems worked.

Section II, No. 8: German Light Howitzer Platoon. Students learned about tactical deployment, organization and characteristics of weapons.

Section II, No. 9: German Motorcycle Platoon. Taught students tactics and deployments of these two wheel platoons demonstrated by the usage of bicycles. It also showed students how reconnaissance worked.

The next section or Section III focused solely on German Uniform Identification. Here, students learned about the German Army Ranking system, from the private to the officer. He learned what the colors on the German shoulder straps represented with regard to the branch of service. For example white for infantry, yellow for signals, and red for artillery. The students also learned the different models of uniforms and the insignia they represent. This was done to segregate the prisoners. In many American POW camps, the men of the SS were segregated from the regular soldiers in the army. One reason for doing so was to protect the conscript from the harassment of the SS soldier.

The last section, or Section IV focused on the German Battalion Defensive Position. Here, demonstrations were held to show what a front line German Battalion looked like in a defensive position. Everything from platoon, squad, outposts, reserves, and observation posts were demonstrated.

The above strictly represents the training in regards to the German Army. The Japanese sections focused on the basically the same thing as that of the German training with some minor changes, such as the usage of cavalry with a focus on the Rifle-Saber company.

These demonstrations occurred all over Camp Ritchie. It was not unusual to see American soldiers demonstrating marching, and maneuvers, whether it was on land or by boat using the lakes. Each student learned how to operate each weapon as it applied to his specialty. Displays were often used to show different mines, different grenades and projectiles.

One of the pictures shows an old farmhouse located off of the grounds of Camp Ritchie. The military cut one of the exterior walls from the house to open it up while students sat on bleachers outside and observed how interrogations worked. This was done to resemble a house that had been demolished by the ravages of war.

From what these American soldiers were taught, they would have firsthand, working experience of the equipment that the German and Japanese soldiers used. This would have been an extreme advantage on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. From the day of its activation to it’s deactivation, Camp Ritchie had a total of twenty-four eight week courses of instruction, plus an additional fifteen four week European Theater Order of Battle classes, and seven four week Pacific Theater Order of Battle classes. Refresher courses were also given for specialists lasting eight weeks.