A Simple Clothesline

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Volunteer Rollene McCormack came across a most interesting note from the Union Army Signal Corps following the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg:

“March 11th 1863

5.30 P.M.


Maj. Gen. Butterfield

Chief of Staff


I have the honor to report that our signal in Fredericksburg has yesterday and to day [sic] shown that the forces are moving from that vicinity. The signal does not denote which way they are moving whether inland or down the river.

A clothesline with one piece denotes that the forces in the vicinity of Fredericksburg are on the move. An empty line denotes that they have all gone away. Two pieces shows that they are in force as they have been since the fight. Three pieces that they are being reinforced.

One piece has been displayed all day yesterday and to day [sic], till 4. P.M. when observer came away.



Your obedient servant

Jno. C. Babcock”


Incidentally, Union Army Major General Daniel Butterfield was known for adapting the music for the bugle call “Taps,” while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, in July 1862. It soon spread to other Union Army units and was also used by the Confederates.