Tag Archives: Washington DC

A Book by Albert J Myer Discovered

wig wag signal flagsAlbert J Myer was a medical doctor by training, yet his contributions went far beyond the realm of medicine.  He was the first Chief Signal Officer of the US Army.  To his credit, he is the reason there is a Fort Myer. When he developed the Wig-Wag System of signaling, it became a revolutionary concept that improved communications especially in time of battle.  It was used by both the North and the South during the US Civil War. After the war, he continued his work and first established the Signal Corps School at the downtown offices in Washington DC.  Practical use and training was difficult for two reasons:  lack of space for the students, which included both US Army Soldiers, and students from the US Navy.  the second was sufficient space to practice using the signal flags and or torches (they comprise the US Army Signal Corps branch insignia) General Albert J Myer then sought out a place outside the city confines of Washington.  It was Fort Greble , another of the Defenses of Washington during the Civil War.   It was found to be unsatisfactory. So his search continued.  It was on Arlington Heights where he found the best location - Fort Whipple - the location would later carry his name and become Fort Myer. Since the surrounds about all the fortifications which numbered nearly 70, were clear-cut of trees for line of sight and line of fire for the artillery,  it was best suited to have wig-wag students stand on the heights and a complement down at the Washington Monument to practice their signaling. A book was discovered published in 1870 by General Albert J. Myer, the First Chief Signal Officer of the US Army, entitled "Extracts from the Manual of Extract from the Manual of SignalsSignals."  It was clear that an US Army Signalman was provided the correct equipment to "Get the Message Through...."  The kit was wrapped in what appears to be canvas that included straps for securing it and pouches on the interior to contain the staffs.  Each contained one each of the two types of wig-wag flags,  three staffs to raise the flags (or torch) high enough to be seen by the recipient.  In addition, a haversack was included to hold the two torches for night signaling and a canteen filled with fuel for the torches. Signalmen also marched in formation when assembled as a unit. Their kits hoisted and carried on their shoulder as if it were a weapon.  Kits were also subject to inspection. They also had a manual of kits and flags similar to a manual of arms that a Soldier would have in carrying their weapon. The book also contains information about "field telegraph trains" and how they were used to assist in the placement of telegraph wire strung on lances.  These trains consisted of a battery wagon, and a combination of wire wagons and lance wagons. For more interesting history about Fort Myer including over 200 historic timeless photographs,  Buy the Book, an author autographed copy is available.

He Bought the Book

We were sent this message and here in his own words is the reaction to the book about Historic Fort Myer:
Recently I purchased a copy of John Michael's outstanding book, "Images of America: Fort Myer", where he is recounting the history of Fort Myer, Virginia, a military outpost, if you will, that is bathed in American Military history. His work is truly a mini-museum laid out before you on 127 pages, that are filled with photographs, and I mean priceless photographs, and reinforced with factual information relating to the chronological events that not only shaped America, but its Army. I couldn't begin to share with you all that I read and saw within the pages of the magnificent book, because I don't think I could do it it justice. John Michael has truly poured his heart into his prose, and I personally believe that if you are either a history buff, or a Soldier who has once served on this Post of Generals, this book needs to be in your library, with many a "dog eared" page.
Bernie Bernwall (Wilson) Author of "What Wouldn't Jesus Do?" And, And, veteran of The Old Guard of the US Army, 3d Infantry Regiment" Get a copy of Bernie's book from Amazon:

Dear General Totten…

National Archives- College Park MarylanWhile working on what would become "Images of America - Fort Myer", I spent much of my time digging and sorting among the wonderful resources of the US National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The Archives are a vast storehouse of the United States historical items, some more important than others - all in all the location at College Park is only one in their network of "archives"    If you have the chance to visit the Maryland location and do any research, you'll soon find that you can spend much of your life there pouring over the collections. "Images of America - Fort Myer" contains over 200 historical photographs.  Many were found among the Signal Corps collection of still photographs stored at the Archives.  When one is presented a box of 50 to 100 photographs, where the selection may have only included one photo in the box,  it's a wonder just what else is nestled within ....  That curiousity resulted in some outstanding finds of images that have never been published before.   It also resulted in finding for the first time ever a note written to General Joseph Totten by President Abraham Lincoln.  It was written about the older of the Whipple sons, William Whipple, who by virtue of the note was appointed to West Point.  Extending the branch of the Lincoln Legacy Tree that connected what would become first Fort Whipple and ultimately Fort Myer. The note (which wasn't supposed to be where it was found) was sandwiched between two photographs protected by a sheet protector.  It now appears for the first time in print on page 015 of the book.   The existence of the note combined with a second note also written about the Whipple sons, this one about the younger one, requested that he be appointed to the Naval Academy. The contents of the first note appears below:

Executive Mansion

Washtington, DC

'May 13, 1863 - May 14, 1863, My dear Sir, I wish to appoint William Whipple, son of the General  who fell in the recent battle on the Rappahonack, to West Point, next Spring, and I wish to file this as a remembrance for the subject.

Your truly,

A. Lincoln

Has anyone come across the second note?

With the Lincoln note included, consider getting your own copy of "Images of America - Fort Myer" -  A personalized - autographed copy of the book may be obtained - Buy the Book

Defend the Capital

The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the US Civil War.   A few days in April of 1861,  Fort Sumter had surrendered after continual pounding of artillery on the fortification... Those in Washington DC, when they heard of this, began to make plans to erect fortifications which would "Defend the Capital" in case of attack Historic Map of Washington DCby the Confederates. Jefferson Davis had already been inaugurated as President of the Confederacy and slowly the secession of Southern states had begun. The two river crossings - Aqueduct Bridge and Long Bridge were among the first to have fortifications put in place.  By the war's end, 70 fortifications and 90 artillery batteries would surround Washington, DC.   Among those would be Fort Whipple - built in 1863 and named after General Amiel Weeks Whipple, it occupied the high ground at Arlington Heights overlooking the Nation's Capital.   In essence it was the second line of defense, backing up Fort Cass as part of the Arlington Line.   Arlington House, also known as the Custis-Lee mansion was the headquarters for all the defenses of Washington during the US Civil War.   President Abraham Lincoln would cross the Potomac River to meet here with General Whipple to get briefed on the progress of the actions. All of the fortifications and batteries are very well located, diplayed and discussed in a book written and recently updated entitled "Mr. Lincoln's Forts"  by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II. In the book - "Images of America - Fort Myer"   you will also find more about this historic time in America and the developments, events, people and views that impacted the US Army, the United States of America and the world.

Clang clang clang went the trolley

horsecar - trolley
horsecar trolley
Before the horseless carriage began its domination and surrendered horse travel to more recreational rather than neccessity,  many cities across the United States had an ever growing network of trolleys.  First powered by horse (horse-cars) then when the electrical grid developed, overhead wires replaced horsepower with electric power.   Fort Myer was no exception.  In the 1890s, a horsecar entered the Post from the Rosslyn area about where Wright Gate stands and went along Arlington National Cemetery's wall up the hill to the depot near where the Old Post Chapel would eventually be built.   Passengers woulld either be coming to visit Arlington National Cemetery or Fort Myer.  The line was a spur of the Washington Arlington & Falls Church Railway (WA&FC).   A depot stood across the way from the Post's Hospital (which later became Post Headquarters). The line would become electrified and extend ultimately to Nauck.   Little remnant of the trolley remains today... only in the minds of those who've read about this wonderful means of transport of old.

The First Lincoln Inauguration

lincoln first inauguration 04 MAR 1861On the 4th day of the month of March in 1861,  a newly elected Abraham Lincoln stood in front of a Capitol building that was still under construction - the replacement of the dome - in the building  that had been damaged during the war, when the British burned several buildings including  the Capitol and White House.

As he took his oath of office as the 16th President of the United States and later delivered his inaugural speech, who knew what the next few months would bring as the first shots of the Civil War upon Fort Sumter, in harbor of Charleston, South Carolina