PDA

View Full Version : Help with a Compass



7thMDYankee
12-19-2006, 05:51 PM
Greetings everyone,

Several years ago a co-worker showed me an officer's compass that was found on her grandfather's farm in Virginia. It was in remarkable looking shape, though, it did not work. On the reverse you could clearly see it stamped 1861 or 1862 - I don't remember - and someone's initials.

Anyway, I want to obtain a reproduction. I've done a quick search on the internet, but the only ones I see hardly look like the original I saw (imagine that!). Thus, my question to the assembled: Where can one go to find a quality reproduction officer's compass?

At this point I will confess ahead of time - I have not researched the subject and ask this only as a matter of curiosity; did all officers carry one or was it delegated only to certain officers?

Thank you in advance.

Rob Weaver
12-20-2006, 09:06 AM
I have seen a number of original compasses, and a number that were carried during the war. All of them were owned by officers that I can remember. You're right, I don't think anyone makes a reproduction at this point. I have a very good compass that my grandfather gave me many years ago which is remarkably similar to Gen Thomas' compass pictured in the Time/Life series. Remarkable up to "1915" which is prominently printed in the center of the face!
Staff engineers carried compasses, as they were sometimes expected to lead columns of troops off-road. To the best of my knowledge, they weren't a specified part of anyones equipment; much like field glasses, if you felt you needed one, you had one.
I would be remiss if I didn't remind us that while positioning his division to attack the muleshoe before Spotsylvania, Fran Barlow got lost blundering around in the dark scant dozens of yards in front of the Confederate works. He muttered to his guide: "Good God! Get a compass so that at least we're marching in the right direction and don't have to march around the world to come up behind them!"

CapitolGuards
12-20-2006, 09:45 AM
At this point I will confess ahead of time - I have not researched the subject and ask this only as a matter of curiosity; did all officers carry one or was it delegated only to certain officers?

Compasses were not an issue item to line or staff officers, for the most part. The only thing that an officer got from Uncle Sam or Jeff Davis either one was his commission papers and a bimonthly paycheck, so if he wanted a compass, it was up to him to procure one.

I found a fairly nice and useful version from the Village Tinsmith at Corinth a couple of years ago that has served me pretty well. Even has a folding sundial included, but that function doesn't work too well in the fog or at night...

Tom

7thMDYankee
12-20-2006, 10:14 AM
Rob and Tom,

Thanks. If I can muster some time over the holiday I will research this further. This sounds like it is related to an area that I have never looked at before. Again, thanks.

tompritchett
12-20-2006, 10:25 AM
Compasses were not an issue item to line or staff officers, for the most part. The only thing that an officer got from Uncle Sam or Jeff Davis either one was his commission papers and a bimonthly paycheck, so if he wanted a compass, it was up to him to procure one.

Makes me wonder about the level of proffeciency that most officers would have had with them. Even in the modern military where land navigation is an intergral part of an officer's training, the old joke is that the most dangerous thing in the Army was a 2Lt with a map and compass. :)

TheSignalCorpsGuy
12-21-2006, 08:02 AM
In ref to a Compass not being issued to Field Officers that may be true, however part of the Signal Corps "Kit" included a Compass which was issued.

Signal units were 'attached' and then 'detached' from various staffs throughout the war. When they found a place to communicate it was usually up high and the Compass came in handy not only for them to get from place to place but to make rough maps of the terrain they saw on those pearches with their 30 power telescopes.

In the Federal Army to be in Signal Corps you had to pass a battery of exams for both Officer and Enlisted. Map reading using a compass coupled with basic cartography was one of the exams.

Pete K
12-21-2006, 08:51 AM
Having taught Boy Scouts and my Geography classes basic orienteering I can understand the confusion some folks have. I have also noted adults have an harder time learning than teens! (now add in the attitude some re-enactors have and....)

CapitolGuards
12-21-2006, 09:02 AM
In ref to a Compass not being issued to Field Officers that may be true, however part of the Signal Corps "Kit" included a Compass which was issued.

You're talking about specialized unit equipment, not an item that was issued to every shoulder-strapped fellow who swung a toad-sticker. The topographic engineers and engineers/pioneers had compasses as well, but it was a special tool they had for their mission.

7thMDYankee
12-21-2006, 09:48 AM
Mr. Schultz,

Here is my question in regard to your post: Was the Signal Corps comprised mainly of regular army or volunteer officers?

Some time ago I came across this article; Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833-1861 by James L. Morrison, Jr. (Military Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Oct., 1974), pp. 108-111). You can find the full text posted on JSTOR.

If you cannot gain access to the article, it essentially examines the criticisms West Point received through much of the ante bellum period about the training officers were receiving. There was a heavy emphasis on engineering and related subjects, but severely lacking in matters of the military. This would almost suggest that the "average" West Point graduate possessed at least the rudimentary skills that may be required for the signal corps. Would you agree?

Thank you in advance.

TheSignalCorpsGuy
12-21-2006, 11:18 AM
I agree Mr Jahnke. Thanks for bringing that out.

In the beginning of the war while Signal Corps were still "Acting" Signalists, their ranks were pulled from Infantry Regiments - both Officers and Enlisted for Temporary Duty. After 1863 when Signal Corps became permanent they started recruiting specifically for that duty and the 'temporary' became permanent.

However - even in the beginning - the contents of the "Signal Kit" included a Compass.

The one I have is not as authentic as I'd like. As with my telegraph systems that I use at large events which have progressed from 1890's pieces to period ones at great cost and time to procure, I'm hoping to one day find a period Compass for my impression.

7thMDYankee
12-21-2006, 01:30 PM
I hope you find one. If I see one in my travels I'll send you a PM.

Can suggest a good book about the signal corps? My interest has increased through this discussion, thanks again.

TheSignalCorpsGuy
12-22-2006, 07:21 AM
The Infantry has their manuals and so do we. The manuals we go by are called Brown's Book and Myer's Manual. Finding them in re-print is often pricey so beware.

There IS a web-site that has a WEALTH of information on it about Civil War Signal Corps. That is the Signal Corps Association - Reenactors Division site. www.civilwarsignals.org (http://www.civilwarsignals.org) It's a compendium of about all you'll ever want to know and were afriad to ask about Signals during the ACW. It includes information on Telegraph, Aeronautics as well as Flags.

The person who runs that site is, without a doubt, one of the most knowledgable people in the country about Federal Signals during the war. Walt Mathers is his name. I believe he may have some copies of Brown's book if you are interested. Go to the site and find his email address and see if he has a copy.

There is a person who posts on their forum regularly who is considered THE CS Signal Corps (Secret Service) specialist as well. Dave Gaddy is his name. He recently appeared on History Channel's Man Moment Machine talking about Aeronautics. He also co-authored the book Come Retribution about the possibility of the CS Secret Service and a conspiricy theory dealing with Lincoln's Assassination. Very interesting book.

In any case - Most of the people who post on the forum are not active Reenactors. They're historians - so there's TONS of good info on the forum as well and it goes back for 5 years or so.

If you have current "how to reenact" Signal Corps questions please dont hesitate to ask.

In reference to the Compass - I only WISH that the folks over in India would make a good repro compass. They're the ones who make most of the 'nautical' brass items on Ebay.

I have a very 'loose' connection with a company in Pakistan. I may email them and see if they know anybody who might be interested in making one for production. If it's good - then they can SURELY sell it to all of the reenactors out there.

Well - ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS! Remember the REASON for the SEASON!

TheSignalCorpsGuy
12-22-2006, 07:29 AM
P.S. The direct URL for a review of the Brown's Book by Dave Gaddy as well as purchasing information is at: http://scard.buffnet.net/pages/gene/gene.html