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A Brief History of the U.S. Volunteer Signal Corps

By John Allison

The Officers of the U.S. Volunteer Signal Corps
The officers of U.S. Signal Corps in a photo taken at the Washington Barracks in July of 1898. Group incl.: 2nd Lt. Wm. Mitchell, Capt. Carl F. Hartmann, Capt. Frank Lyman, Jr., Capt. Wm. H. Lamar, Capt. Thos. F. Clark, Lt. Wm. F.M. Rogers, Capt. J.B. Inman, Lt. Jos. D. Wood, Lt. Sam. M. Butler, Capt. H.A. Giddings, Lt. H.W. Sprague, Lt. T.R.F. Campbell, Lt. H. Haddow, Jr., Capt. A.W. Yancey, Lt. W. Woodard, and Lt. Max Wagnerar (Library of Congress)
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Company Histories:

14th Company


The U.S. Volunteer Engineers, which was generally formed around existing National Guard signal corps, played a critical role during the Spanish American War.

History of the U.S. Volunteer Signal Corps:

After the American Civil War, the United States (U.S.) Army Signal Corps struggled for survival, operating a national weather service, made possible by the telegraph, and the building over 8,000 miles of telegraph lines, much of it between military posts. In the field of communications, the late 19th century was a time of momentous advances, with the telephone, electric light, and phonograph all being invented, and the Signal Corps attempted to keep abreast of developments despite small budgets and personnel shortages.  Brigadier General Adolphus Greely, the Chief Signal Officer, initiated efforts to modernize the Corps’ equipment and practices, including the reintroduction of aeronautics (balloons).

When the U.S. declared war on Spain, the Signal Corps had just $800 in funds, and the branch consisted of just ten officers and fifty enlisted men. On 26 April, Congress approved the addition of 150 men to the wartime strength of the Signal Corps, but this would not be nearly adequate. To make up for the severe shortage of trained signalmen, on May 18 and July 7 Congress approved the formation of a Volunteer Signal Corps. This organization was ultimately comprised of 115 officers and around 1,000 enlisted men. Signal units in the various state National Guard regiments provided many of the skilled technicians required, such electricians and telegraphers.  A total of 19 Companies of approximately 4 officers and 55 men each were eventually organized. Recruiting began on June 2, and within thirty days the corps was nearly fully organized, partially equipped and already had one company in the field in Cuba  with the Fifth Army Corps.

It was required that two-thirds of the officers and enlisted men were skilled electricians and telegraphers. Telegrapher recruits were required to present a certificate from Western Union, the Postal Service or a similar organization attesting to their competency. Electricians were required to submit a similar certificate. In addition, the men had to pass a physical examination. Col. H. H. C. Dunwoody, the colonel leading the new corps, commented that the physical requirements were not entirely adhered to because, if they were, many highly qualified men would have been turned away. Interestingly, he noted in his report that "...telegraph operators, as a class, are usually undersized men." He noted that he had placed an order for one thousand uniforms of varying sizes, but had to return four hundred of the uniforms and ask for smaller sizes.

In order to obtain the needed equipment in short order, Dunwoody was forced to purchase equipment from the New York National Guard. In short, he bought equipment that many of the New York recruits were already using when with the National Guard.

The companies forming the U.S. Volunteer Signal Corps were recruited in the following locations under the officers listed:

1st Company - Capt E. A. McKenna (Served with 8th Corps in the Philippines)
2nd Company - Hartford, CT -Capt. H. A Giddings (Served with 7th Army Corps, Jacksonville, FL)
3rd Company - Brooklyn, NY - Capt. F. T. Leigh (Served with 3rd Army Corps, Camp Thomas, GA)
4th Company - Capt. C. B. Hepburn
5th Company - Washington Barracks, Washington DC -Capt. Henry H. Canfield / Capt William H. Lamar (Served in Puerto Rico)
6th Company - Capt. C. S. Conner
7th Company - Springfield, IL - Capt. J. B. Inman (Served with the 1st Army Corps at Camp Thomas, GA)
8th Company - Augusta, ME - Capt. George W. Butler
9th Company - New York City - Capt. Edward B. Ives (Served in Puerto Rico)
10th Company - Boston, MA - Capt. Thomas F. Clark (Served with 4th Army Corps, Huntsville, AL)
11th Company - Newark, NJ - Capt. Carl F. Hartman (Served with the 2nd Army Corps)
12th Company - Des Moines, IA - Capt. Frank Lyman, Jr. (Served with 3rd Army Corps, Camp Thomas, GA)
13th Company - Columbus, OH - Capt. G. R. Gyger (Served at Montauk Point NY / Camp Wikoff)
14th Company - Indianapolis, IN - Capt. C. T. MacIntire (Served with the 7th Army Corps, Jacksonville, FL)
15th Company -  Philadelphia, PA - Capt. Ambrose Higgins (Served at Montauk Point, NY / Camp Wikoff)
16th Company - St. Louis, MO - Capt. S. S. Sample (Served at Camp Thomas, GA)
17th Company - 1st Lt. L D. Wildman
Balloon Company - Capt. A. B. D. Smead
Field Telegraph Company - Capt. C. C. Clark
Independent Companies  - Capt. D. J. Carr, Capt. J. J. Ryan (San Antonio, TX), Capt. John W. McConnell, 1st Lt. R. O. Richards

History of the 14th Company, U.S. Volunteer Signal Corps:

The 14th Signal Corps Company was composed of men from Indiana.

Captain Charles T. Maclntire, who, since 1892, had been Major and Chief Signal Officer of the Indiana National Guard, was commissioned as Captain to organize a company for the U.S. Army Signal service which was designated the 14th U. S. Volunteer Signal Corps Company. The company was mustered into U.S. service on July 7th, and ordered to Washington, D. C., arriving at Washington Barracks (now Fort Lesley J. McNair) on July 9th.  At Washington Barracks, the men of the company were further trained in signal techniques and military drill until their departure on 29 July for Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida, arriving at the latter location on July 31, 1898. 

Of course, by the time the company arrived in Florida much had changed. The Santiago Campaign in Cuba had concluded. The Spanish naval squadron was destroyed at the Battle of Santiago. The city of Santiago had fallen and the Spanish forces in the area had surrendered. Shortly afterwards, only two weeks after the company arrived in Florida, the U.S. and Spain had agreed to an armistice. The fighting had ended. The 14th Company, called Company C at Camp Cuba Libre, was placed in a separate camp with two other companies - the 2nd Company and one additional company from New York called Company A and B. The three companies were under the command of Lt. Col. Maxfield of the regular army. Some of the men were still hoping to be sent to Cuba, while others felt that since the fighting was over, that they had done their duty and should be sent home. Drilling continued, however. The company apparently took part in a formal review of the Seventh Army Corps in early September, something that was not popular with men who wer not used to drilling and marching under the hot Florida summer son.

In early September, Capt. Maclntire suggested that the company be sent to Cuba to serve two more years in the occupation force. This did not go over well with the men of the company. To address the issue Lt. Col. Maxfield had the men of the 14th Company assemble. He asked that any man who wanted to remain in the service of the army to take one step forward. Of the forty-seven men, only seven stepped forward. Maxfield supposedly said to Capt. Maclntire "There is patriotism for you." Maclntire, apparently flushed from embarrassment that his men did not agree with his sentiment, stated that "I thank God that I am a native of Ohio. I am no longer from Indiana." He apparently also indicated that if the company was mustered out in short order (and it was), it would be "a great disgrace to Indiana, an immense disgrace. If I am compelled to return to Indianapolis, I shall feel like sneaking in by a back door." The seven men were transferred to the Second Company.

It should be noted that many volunteers regiments in the army were being mustered out at this time, and the mens' desire to return to civilian lives, their jobs and family now that the war's fighting had ended did not reflect badly on the men of the 14th Company.

The 14th left Florida on September 14, and arrived at Camp Mount, Indianapolis on September 16, and was furloughed for 30 days. On its arrival, the company was provided with a dinner provided by the Ladies Aid Society. Maclntire later wrote to thank the ladies of the society feeling to failed to do so properly at the time.

The company was mustered out on October 31, 1898.  During the company’s term of service, it lost one man, Sgt. Louis D. Callison of Warsaw, Indiana. Callison died at Washington, D.C. on 7 September after transferring to the 2nd Company, U.S. Signal Corps. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Warsaw.



"Camp Cuba Libre," Logansport-Pharos Tribune. August 30, 1898, 8.

Clerk of Joint Comittee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899). Vol. 1, p 749 - 751, 790-797.

Find a Grave – Grave of Louis Callison -

Gore, James K, Maj. Gen. and Adjutant General, Record of Indiana Volunteers in the Spanish-American War 1898-1899. (Indianapolis: W. B. Burford, 1900).

Raines, Rebecca. "Manifesting Its Destiny: The U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Spanish-American War," Army History Journal. No. 46 (Fall 1998–Winter 1999), p. 14-21.

Record of Indiana Volunteers in the Spanish-American War 1898-1899. Issued by authority of the Sixty-first General Assembly of Indiana.  Gen. James K. Gore, Adjutant General. W. B. Burford, Contractor for State Printing, Indianapolis, 1900. Available online in the public domain via the Library of Congress at

"Thanking the Ladies Aid Society," The Indianapolis Journal. September 24, 1898, 8.

"They May Get Out," Logansport-Pharos Tribune. September 7, 1898, 16.

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