“The line of march will be blazed with a cross”: Osterhaus orders signs for the Fifteenth Corps line of march

During the march across Georgia, a problem which Federal commanders dealt with on a daily basis was traffic control.  Sounds simple, but just keeping the regiments and wagon trains on the right road was a critical task.  Given the bad roads and poor maps, a mistake at a crossroad might delay a column for a day or more.  As the Fifteenth Corps was often spread out with each division covering its own line of march, the officers there were keen to prevent similar problems as they planned for a march through South Carolina.  So on this day (January 6) in 1865, Fifteenth Corps headquarters issued General Orders No. 3:

General Orders  No. 3.
Hdqrs. Fifteenth Army Corps,
Savannah, Ga., January 6, 1865.

During the approaching campaign the following instructions will be observed:
1. Whenever the whole corps moves upon the same road the trees along the line of march will be blazed with a cross +.

2. If the respective divisions move on separate roads the trees will be blazed as follows: For the First Division, cross with straight dash over ; for the Second Division, cross with straight dash under +-; for the Third Division, cross with straight dash on right-hand side +|; for the Fourth Division, cross with straight dash on left-hand side |+.

3. If more than one division, but not the whole corps, move upon the same road, the corps cross will be blazed on the trees, and the division mark, according to the divisions present will be added thereto. For instance, for the First and Fourth Divisions moving on the same road, a cross with a dash above and on left-hand side |+. For Second, Third, and Fourth Divisions moving on same road, corps cross with dash on right and left hand side and under it |±.

Division commanders are charged with the promulgation and execution of this order.

By order of Maj. Gen. P. Jos. Osterhaus:
Max. Woodhull,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

As this loses something in the translation of non-standard characters, allow me to offer this copy of the order as it appears in the Official Records:


The system of signs appears complex at first glance. But after you digest it for a moment, it does make sense.  A “bar” is for a division’s route, and each division has a particular arm of the cross assigned.  Two divisions on the same route receive two bars.  The orders didn’t break down the march for individual brigades, however.

My pal XBradTC will likely chime in at this point to mention the modern equivalent.  Today’s military is more concerned with operational security and such while on the march.  So routes have code names or numbers assigned instead of designating actual units on the move.   Furthermore, with motor vehicles, the military is concerned with marking the directions at intersections.  FM 3-19.4, Military Police Leaders’ Handbook, offers examples of those:


There are much, much more examples offered which take into consideration all sorts of scenarios (detours, bridge weights, road width, blackout lights, etc.).  But that’s the simple version – route numbers (“203”), symbols (“key”), and code-names (“Dog”).

Reading the order as written, it is not clear if the Federals would simply paint the blazes on the side of the trees or cut the appropriate cross into the tree bark.  I suspect the former.  And I’ve often wondered how many trees across South Carolina and North Carolina were “blazed” as such.

The order was one of the last issued by Major-General Peter Osterhaus as the commander of Fifteenth Corps.  Two days later, Major-General John Logan returned from leave to resume the duties.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 20.)



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