Report of 1st Lieutenant George H. Hill, 55th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Acting Signal Officer, Saint John’s River Expedition, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (1 November 1862)

HILTON HEAD, S.C., November 1, 1862.

MAJOR: I have the honor to report: October 1 I was at Mayport Mills, Saint John’s River, Florida, on duty with the expedition under command of Brig. Gen. J. M. Brannan, Lieutenant Town, acting signal officer, being on board the flag-ship Paul Jones, of the naval squadron, Captain Steedman commanding. We kept constant communication open between the land and naval forces.  The signals were very extensively used, both day and night, until the evening of the 3d, after the retreat of the enemy from the battery on Saint John’s Bluff. The signals were also of some service in advancing up the river to Jacksonville on the 5th; and upon our arrival at Jacksonville on the afternoon of the 5th, our pickets being attacked by the enemy’s cavalry, and Lieutenant Town having gone on board the gunboat Cimarron, that vessel was ordered to shell the enemy. The firing being regulated by the signals, the enemy were soon driven back some miles from our lines. While at Jacksonville Lieutenant Town and myself kept communication open between the Navy and the force on shore. On the morning of the 12th we left the Saint John’s River, and on the morning of the 13th, we having arrived here, I was directed by General Brannan to report to Lieutenant Keenan, chief acting signal officer Department of the South, for duty. From the 13th to the 21st I remained on duty at the station at Hilton Head, S.C., when, having received orders from Lieutenant Keenan, I reported to Brig. Gen. J. M. Brannan, on board the U.S. transport Ben De Ford, to accompany an expedition up the Coosawhatchie River. The fleet consisted of 15 vessels (gunboats and transports). There being six other signal officers on the gunboats and transports we successfully kept communication open between General Brannan, commanding the troops, Captain Steedman, commanding the naval forces, General Terry, on boar the U.S. transport Boston, and the other commanders of the different gunboats and transports. At about 12 o’clock midnight of the 21st on board the Paul Jones were displayed three red lights (the signal previously agreed on), and the expedition started up the Broad and Coosawhatchie Rivers, the Paul Jones leading office. At daylight on the morning of the 22d we anchored in the Coosawhatchie River, off the mouth of the Pocotaligo River, at a place known as Mackay’s Point, and as the different vessels came up their troops were at once landed. Lieutenant Cross accompanied General Terry ashore and opened communication with me. From 6 a.m. till about 11:30 a.m., during the debarkation of the troops, the signals were extensively used, so much so in fact that there was at no time an interval of five minutes that I was not engaged in either sending or receiving messages, orders, and reports of the operations of the force on land. At about 11:30 a.m., October 22, most of the troops being landed and having pushed forward, General Brannan and staff landed, and we soon reached the head of the column. When about 6 miles from the place of landing we came in sight of the enemy’s cavalry at a place known as Caston. We opened on them with the artillery, advancing as we fired. We were soon received with a heavy fire from the enemy’s artillery posted in a thick wood. As the country was low and thickly wooded, and the troops not being able to act in concert with the gunboats, our services as signal officers were rendered useless. Lieutenant Cross acted as aide to General Terry and I acted as aide to General Brannan throughout the day, the other signal officers remaining on board the gunboats. After an engagement of nearly an hour the enemy fell back to the north side of a creek, destroying the bridge in their retreat. Here the enemy made another stand at a place known as Frampton, but after a resistance of about two hours they were again compelled to retreat. They fell back to the east side of Pocotaligo River, where they seemed to have rifle pits. They destroyed the bridge across the Pocotaligo River, rendering it impossible for us to reconstruct the bridge in front of their battery of field pieces and the river was not fordable. At this point it is believed the enemy received re-enforcements. We engaged the enemy here until dark, when, our ammunition being nearly exhausted, we fell back to the place of landing (Mackay’s Point) in the morning, a distance of about 10 miles, and by 4 a.m. October 23 the while command had reached and returned to Hilton Head. I learn that our loss in killed, wounded, and missing was 419.*  That of the enemy must have also been severe, besides having lost several prisoners. During the embarkation of the troops and until we arrived at Hilton Head the signal detachments were kept employed and of some service. On the morning of the 24th I received orders from General Brannan to report to Lieut. E. J. Keenan, chief acting signal officer Department of the South, for duty, and I have since been on duty at this station at Hilton Head.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEO. H. HILL,
First Lieut., Fifty-fifth Regt. Pa. Vols., Acting Signal Officer.

Maj. ALBERT J. MYER,
Signal Officer, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.

 * But see revised statement, p. 148.

 

Source:

Report of First Lieut. George H. Hill, Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania Infantry, Acting Signal Officer, including expedition from Hilton Head to Pocotaligo River, S.C., October 21-23, 1862, in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865; (Microfilm M262). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.

 

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