Standing directly behind the boulder which holds the Signal Corps Monument, you can see most of the signal station sites that were in use on the field. The sites on Culp's Hill and Power's Hill are now obscured by timber. Take your compass and sight the signal stations from left to right as follows: Jack's Mountain - 265 degrees, Meade's Headquarters 35 degrees, Cemetery Hill - 36 degreesi Culp's Hill 44 degrees, Power's Hill - 50 degrees- Although the exact location of some of the Gettysburg signal sites are difficult to pinpoint, it is well documented that the Little Round Top station was the boulder holding the tablet and the one right behind it.
[E. B. Cope, Engineer,Letter,
The history of the Signal Monument is available for review at the National Park Service Library in the Cyclorama building.
Report of Capt. Lemuel B. Norton,
A station was established upon Round Top Mountain, on the left of our line, and from this point the greater part of the enemy's forces could be seen and their movements reported. From this position, at 3.30 P.M., the signal officer discovered the enemy massing upon General Sickles left, and reported the fact to General Sickles and to the general commanding.
At 5.30 P.M. the enemy opened a terrific fire, but our left was fully prepared for them, and the fight gradually extended to the whole front, so that every signal flag was kept almost constantly working. The station at Round Top was once, and that at General Meade's headquarters twice, broken up by the rapid advance of the enemy and the severity of the fire, but were immediately reoccupied when the positions became tenable.
[O.R., XXVII, Part I, p. 202.]
Much of the importance of the Round Top signal station came from the fact that its mere presence caused a delay in the employment of Longstreet's Corps on 2 July. The statior was the direct cause of Longstreet's countermarch. Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws, one of Longstreet's division commanders, recounts Longstreet's decision to countermarch:
Suddenly, as we rose a hill on the road we were taking the [Little] Round Top was plainly visible, with the flags of the signal men in rapid motion. I sent back and halted my division and rode with Major Johnston rapidly around the neighborhood to see if there was any road by which we could go to into position without being seen. Not finding any I joined my command and met General Longstreet there, who asked "What is the matter?" I replied, "Ride with me and I will show you that we can't go on the route, according to instruction, without being seen by the enemy." We rode to the top of the hill and he at once said, "Why this won't do. Is there no way to avoid it?" I then told him of my reconnaissance in the morning, and he said: "How can we get there?" I said: "Only by going back by counter marching-" He said: "Then all right," and the movement commenced. But as General Hood, in his eagerness for the fray (and he bears the character of always being so), had pressed on his division behind mine so that it lapped considerably, creating confusion in the countermarch, General Longstreet rode to me and said: "General, there is so much confusion, owing to Hood's division being mixed up with yours, supposed you let him countermarch first and lead in the attack-" I replied: "General, as I started in the lead, let me continue so;" and he replied, "Then go on," and rode off.
[Lafayette McLaws, "Gettysburg," Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII, p. 69.]
Take your compass and sight a red barn and metal silo at 308 degrees. This is the location where the above conversations between McLaws and Longstreet took place. You can see that McLaws was correct in his assertion that he couldn't continue without being seen by the signalmen at this station.
Col. E. P. Alexander, in charge of Longsteet's artillery and the founder of the Confederate signal service, comments on the significance of the Round Top signal station:
Ewell's corps, holding the extreme left, was to attack the enemy's right on hearing Longstreet's guns. Longstreet was directed, in his march, to avoid exposing it to the view of a Federal signal station on Little Round Top Mountain.
Meanwhile, on the arrival of Longstreet's reserve artillery in the vicinity of the field. I had been placed in charge of all the artillery of his corps, and directed to reconnoitre the enemy's left and to move some of the battalions to that part of the field. This had been done by noon, when three battalions, - my own, Cabell's and Henry's - were located in the valley of Willoughby Run awaiting the arrival of the infantry. Riding back presently to learn the cause of their non-arrival, the head of the infantry column was found halted, where its road became exposed to the Federal view, while messages were sent to Longstreet, and the guide sought a new route.
[E. P. Alexander, Military Memoirs of a Confederate, New York,Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910, pp. 391-392.]
The Round Top signal station was used by a number of two man signal detachments representing the various corps to which they were temporarily attached. A review of the message traffic indicates that Buford's signal officer, Lieutenant Jerome, was the first to use the station on the second day of the battle.
The following messages were sent before noon on 2 July:
Mountain Signal Station
Enemy's skirmishers are advancing from the west, one mile from here.
Round Top Mountain Signal Station
The rebels are in force, and our skirmishers give way. One mile west of Round Top Signal station the woods are full of them.
[O.R., XXVII, Part III, p. 488.]
Jerome, attached specifically to support Buford's division, evidently left the station when the division was pulled from Little Round Top.
In view of the following message, it is probable that that the Chief Signal Officer, Capt. Norton, joined Capt. P. A. Taylor at the Little Round Top station. He brought the station to the attention of Capt. James Hall who along with Taylor was attached to the Second Corps. You will note that although Norton tells Hall that Little Round Top is a good observation station, he does not direct him to occupy it. This message is typical of the indirect methods Norton employed in fulfilling his duties as Chief Signal Officer.
Round Top Mountain Signal Station
Saw a column of the enemy's infantry move into woods on ridge, three miles west of the town, near the Millerstown road. Wagon teams, parked in open field beyond the ridge, moved to the rear behind woods. See wagons moving up and down on the Chambersburg pike, at Spangler's. Think the enemy occupies the range of hills three miles west of the town in considerable force.
[O.R., XXVII, Part III, p. 489.]
Although the Second Corps signal party evidently did not render a specific report of their Little Round Top activities, the available message traffic indicates that Hall joined Taylor on the Round Top Station by at least 1:30 P.M.on the second of July. There are a number of opinions as to the utility of Capt. Hall's actions which vary from his "saving the day", expressed by fellow signalmen, to that he contributed to the problem by presenting confusing information to Generals Butterfield and Meade.
J. Willard Brown, an enlisted signalman during the war and the postwar historian of the U.S. Veteran Signal Corps Association, gives Hall much of the credit for saving Little Round Top. According to Brown, Hall was responsible for sending messages which caused Warren to visit the station, and then had to convince the general that the Confederate troops were concealed in front to the position.
It was Capt. Hall's announcement that the enemy were moving around Sickles's left that brought Gen. Warren to Little Round Top. When he reached the station the enemy were under cover, and were scarcely visible except to-eyes accustomed to the use of the field-glass. Capt. Hall found it very difficult to convince Gen. Warren that the enemy's infantry and artillery were there concealed. While the discussion was in progress the enemy opened on the station. The first shell burst close to the station, and the general, a moment later, was wounded in the neck. Capt. Hall then exclaimed, "Now do you see them?"
[J. Willard Brown,
Although Hall's version of the account is certainly interesting, his credibility may be suspect. Hall was the Vice President of the Veteran Signal Corps Association and was a protege of Brown's. They visited the station on Little Round Top on July 2, 1888, along with John Chemberlin who was Hall's flagman, during an annual reunion of the organization. [Minutes of The Thirteenth Annual Reunion of the U.S. Veteran Signal Corps Association, held at Gettysburg, Pa., July 2 and 3, 1888.] Hall's version was probably recounted to Brown during that reunion, 25 years after the actual event, and was almost certainly colored by time and parochialism.
Harry W. Pfanz, a modern student of the battle, believes that the messages which Hall sent to General Butterfield contributed to the confusion as to the Confederate activity on the left. He postulates that the signal station could have done a better job providing the Army with information.
[Harry W. Pfanz,
Hall sent the following traffic from Little Round Top on July 2, 1863:
Round Top Mountain Signal Station,
A heavy column of enemy's infantry, about ten thousand, is moving from opposite our extreme left toward our right.
Round Top Mountain Signal Station,
Those troops were passing on a by-road from Dr. Hall's House to Herr's tavern, on the Chambersburg pike. A train of ambulances is following them.
[O.R., XXVII, Part III, p. 488.]
Capt. Hall's party departed the station at some point in the afternoon and left the station without a signal party. According to Brown, Col. Morgan ordered Capt. Hall to report to Gen. Sedgwick.
[J. Willard Brown,
That the Round Top Signal station reported information on the disposition of Confederate troops prior to Longstreet's assault on Sickles is confirmed by Brig. Gen. Gibbon's aide, Lieut. Frank A. Haskell. Lieut. Haskell's "letter" tells us:
About noon the Signal Corps, from the top of Little Round Top, with their powerful glasses, and the cavalry at the extreme left, began td report the enemy in heavy force, making disposition of battle. to the West of Round Top, and opposite to the left of the Third Corps.
[Frank A. Haskell, The Battle of Gettysburg,
The third signal party to assume position on Little Round Top was that of Capt. E. C. Pierce of the Sixth Corps. At the time Capt. Pierce and his detachment arrived, Capt. Hall had departed the site.
Report of Capt. E. C. Pierce, Signal Officer, Sixth Army Corps
The 6th Corps reached Gettysburg at 2 o'clock p.m., July 2nd, after a continuous march of nineteen hours. After resting three hours, orders were given for the corps to proceed to the extreme left of our line and engage the enemy.
Lieut. Geo. J. Clarke and myself assisted Gen. Sedgwick and staff in forming the line of battle, and getting the troops in position, as the tide of battle appeared to turn upon the celerity with which the 6th Corps was engaged. The splendid manner in which our first line went in to the fight fairly turned the tide, and at dusk we had repulsed the enemy at all points. Before that consummation, we had learned that a signal station had been abandoned by some signal officers as impracticable. It being described to us a splendid post of observation, we determined to occupy it. The position, as we eventually found it, was a pile of rock on our left and a little to the right of the place occupied by Hazlett's battery. From it a magnificent view of the entire battlefield could be had, extending from the cemetery, on our right, to the Emmitsburg road on the left. We remained there during the night.
July 3. At daylight we commenced making observations, the results of which we reported by orderlies, to Major-Generals Meade, Sedgwick, Sykes, Hancock, Birney, Pleasonton, Newton, etc.
Headquarters signal station was in plain sight all the time, and we could hence call it, but not without exposing the lives of our men to the deliberate aim of the enemy's sharpshooters, who, stationed behind rocks, in tops of trees, etc., fired with fatal effect upon all that showed themselves. They kept two guns of Hazlett's battery silent, except when worked by volunteers, and kept up a continual fire upon the rock, not ten feet square, occupied by us. Seven men, including officers, who were drawn there by curiosity, were killed or severely wounded by the combined fire of the sharpshooters and artillery. About 11 A.M. we were joined by Lieutenants Wiggins and Camp, who agreed with us upon the impossibility of employing flag signals, and consequently we continued to report by orderlies.
About 3 P.M., the enemy opened fire with all their artillery upon our lines, and the necessity of sending orderlies increased as'Gen. Warren, Chief of Engineers on Gen. Meade's staff, who came to our station at 2 o'clock, p.m. directed us to keep a lookout on certain points, and to send messages every few minutes to Gen. Meade during the day. In this connection, I wish particularly to place upon record the fact that the signalmen attached toLieut. Wiggin's party and mine are worthy of all commendation for the bravery displayed by them in riding to and for, through an unexampled artillery fire, with important messages. During the afternoon of this day, after the enemy were repulsed from our right and centre, Major-Generals Meade, Sedgwick, Sykes, Pleasonton, etc., visited our station, and remained there until Gen. Crawford's division drove the enemy and sharpshooters from their position.
July 4th. We opened communication by flag signals with headquarters station and made constant reports of the movements of the enemy. At 4 o'clock P.M., Lieutenants Wiggins and Camp reported back to Ist Corps by order of Gen. Newton-"
[Capt. E. C. Pierce, report,
Diary entry of Sergeant Luther C. Furst, USA, Flagman, Sixth Army Corps
July 2d, 2 P.M. We have just made the second halt for orders. We are now within four miles of Gettysburg. After a short rest advanced again. Got up to our line of battle about 4 P.M., having made a march of thirty-six miles, the longest rest being one hour. We immediately reinforce our troops upon the left, they being pressed very hard. We just reach the conflict in time to make secure the Round Top Mountain to our forces. The fight now became general along the lines extending to Gettysburg, which is plainly visible from this point. Our forces have been able to hold their positions at every point. The 6th Corps came up the Round Top Mountain six lines deep, secured and made safe our position on little Round Top. We immediately established the signal station on the crest, the other signal officers having deemed it impracticable.
July 3rd. Were up before daylight. Began to signal in direction of Gettysburg at daybreak. Held our station all day, but were much annoyed by the enemy's sharpshooters in and near the Devills Den. Have to keep under cover to protect ourselves. The large rocks piled up all around us serve as good protection- Today there have been seven men killed and wounded near our station by the enemy's sharpshooters: hundreds on all sides of us by the enemy's severe cannonading. Up to near noon there has been considerable skirmishing along the line. A little later the whole of the artillery on both sides opened up and shell flew fast and thick. A good many have been struck near our station, but we are able to keep up communication. The fight upon the right is said to have been very severe, but our trooos have held their positions and repulsed the enemy at every point. The loss of the 6th Corps has not been great, owing to the advantageous and protected position.
[Sergeant Luther C. Furst, Diary entry,
As described by both Capt. Pierce and Sgt. Furst, on the third of July, this station was under such fire that it lost its utility as a station of communications but remained a station of observation. Messengers were used to relay the information obtained by the signal parties to the army headquarters. Historian George R. Stewart tells us: "Pickett began his advance from the bottom of a swale, and for several minutes his lines moved forward without anyone on Cemetery Ridge being able to see them. Almost at once, however, his two front brigades came under observation from Little Round Top, and the alert men of the Signal Corps sprang into action. The Vermonters of Stannard's brigade, occupying low ground, knew that the attack was launched before they saw a Confederate Flag or soldier."
[George R. Stewart, Pickett's Charge,
If Stewart is correct in his assertion that the Vermonters knew that Pickett's brigades were underway, they must have received the information by courier from this station.
Now you should proceed to STOP 3. Return to TANEYTOWN ROAD (HWY 134) and turn LEFT. Drive 1.4 miles and turn right on GRANITE SCHOOL HOUSE LANE. Drive 0.6 miles and stop along the road. You will see a monument in the woodline at the base of a small hill to your left. This prominence is POWERS HILL. Walk to the top of the hill and stop by the artillery battery monument. The hill is heavily timbered, but in the late autumn and winter you can sight LITTLE ROUND TOP at 235 degrees.