Earlier this year the Signal Corps Regimental Association (SCRA) announced the commissioning of a painting in honor of the regiment’s 150th Anniversary. Don Troiani’s work depicts a signal detachment and senior officers gathered on Cheves’ Rice Mill, overlooking the Ogeechee River, on December 11, 1864. Fort McAllister, in the background, blocked access to Ossabow Sound and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Admiral James Dahlgren. For General William T. Sherman, the fort was the last obstacle preventing access to much-needed supplies after the March to the Sea. In the painting, while signal-men send messages to General William B. Hazen’s Division storming the fort, they are also communicating with a boat sent to make contact with the Federals after the long march from Atlanta.
Captain James M. McClintock is the signal officer seated on the platform, looking through a telescope. In the background, looking across three bends of the Ogeechee River, the smoke indicates Hazen’s Division is proceeding to storm the works. Out there near the smoke is Lieutenant William H. Sherfy, signal officer detached to Hazen. In the painting, McClintock and his flag-man have just sent the orders for Hazen to attack.
Missing in the frame is the tugboat Dandelion with Lieutenant George A. Fisher, from the Department of the South headquartered in Hilton Head. Fisher had orders to establish contact with Sherman’s columns. But of course he had no way of knowing where those columns might be. In the painting, McClintock and Fisher have exchanged greetings.
This activity occurred right at sunset that December day. As the sun sat, the end of the March to the Sea played out. Shortly after the flag conversations, at about 5 p.m., Sherfy signaled, “Fort McAllister is ours.” Thus in the span of a few moments, Sherman’s much traveled army opened the way to the sea. After resupply, Sherman’s men invested the city of Savannah. And by Christmas, that city was in Federal hands. The painting captures the drama, tension, and relief among the assembled officers at the culmination of the campaign.
I have a small personal connection to this print. In 1997, my commander approached me as the semi-official battalion historian with a fund-raising project. She wanted to commission a print, highlighting a Signal Corps action during the Civil War. In particular, she preferred an incident from Georgia, close to our home station of Fort Stewart. So the incident at Fort McAllister was a natural selection.
I did the research. A fellow officer began searching for a suitable artist we could approach. After a few weeks, and the help of the Fort Stewart post historian, I had the storyline down. We even made a visit to the site of the rice mill. Although to our disappointment, we could not see anything but marsh. So we packaged the information and selected photos to make our pitch.
After phone and mail inquiries, the only artist interested at the time was Dale Gallon. I volunteered to drive from Savannah to Gettysburg and meet with Wayne Motts, then consulting for Gallon. I made the pitch, but in the end, I think the story line lacked the punch and setting that the artist preferred. At that point our project paused. All I could do is send the complied information to the SCRA, in hope that someday the subject would come up again.
Looking back at a copy of the notes, my suggested scene was:
Foreground of CPT McClintock and soldier signaling a tug in the distance (about a mile off, left background). Off to the side, Generals Sherman, Howard and staff observing the signals and pointing. On the right background, Fort McAllister with a battle going on, firing cannons causing smoke.
Certainly a lot of action to work into a small section of canvas. Don Troiani did a better job than I could have imagined.
And for those with an interest in the Signal Corps and communications in general, please visit the Signal Corps 150th Anniversary web site. The anniversary coincides with the Civil War Sesquicentennial rather nicely. You’ll find articles covering the Civil War activities of the Corps along side details right up to the most current wars.
Pro Patria Vigilans!