USS Signal I  

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Signal I SwStr

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Signal I
(SwStr: t. 190- 1. 157'; b. 30~; dph. 4'4"; dr 1'10", a.
2 30-pdr.r., 4 24-pdr. how., 2 12-pdr. D.r.)

The first Signal-a wooden-hulled, stern-wheel steamer built in 1862 at Wheeling, Va. (now W.Va.)—was purchased by the Navy on 22 September 1862 at St. Louis, Mo. Although no record of her commissioning has been found, we know that she was in operation on 22 October 1862, for, on that day, she departed Corondelet, Mo., and headed down the Mississippi to join in the campaign against the Confederate river fortress at Vicksburg. Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Scott was mentioned as her commanding officer in an order issued on 14 November and presumably commanded the ship from the start of her service.

Signal's first weeks were devoted to duty as a dispatch vessel. On 29 November, she and Marmora entered the Yazoo River on a reconnaissance expedition and ascended that stream some 21 miles. From time to time, riflemen fired upon the ships from the river banks; but, in each instance, the ships shelled and dispersed the attackers. That afternoon, the ships returned to the Mississippi unharmed.

Signal's work for the day-steaming up and down shallow, winding streams in hostile territory-was a sample of the service she would perform throughout her career. She and Marmora again ascended the Yazoo on 11 December to obtain information needed for a projected joint Army-Navy expedition in that area to outflank Vicksburg. They di covered Confederates had placed torpedoes in the channel and returned to report and to volunteer to destroy the explosive devices. The next morning, accompanied by Cairo, Pittsburg, and Queen of the West, they returned up the Yazoo to destroy the "infernal machines." During this early mine sweeping operation, one of the torpedoes exploded under Carro; and she sank 12 minutes later. Cairo was the first of over 40 Union ships to be torpedoed during the Civil War. The expedition returned to the Mississippi after dark that evening bringing the survivors from Carro.

On 4 January 1863, Signal got underway in an expedition up the White River to attack Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post, Ark., which surrendered on the 11th, after a three-day battle. About a month later, Signal made a reconnaissance up the White River and brought back information of the military situation at Little Rock, Ark.

Late in February, Signal returned to the Yazoo and devoted most of her time probing that stream until Vicksburg fell on 4 July.

During the ensuing months, Signal served as a dispatch vessel and patrolled the Mississippi to interdict Confederate commerce especially from the Red River. On 8 December 1863, Signal and Neosho defended disabled merchant steamer Henry Von Phul which had been shelled by a Southern shore battery.

On 19 April 1864, Signal was ordered to ascend the Red River to Alexandria, La., to protect coal and provision barges waiting there for the use of the flotilla of gunboats Rear Admiral David D. Porter had led farther upstream in the campaign known as the Red River Expedition.

On 4 May, Signal was ordered "to take on board a bearer of dispatches from Major General Banks and proceed down the river . . ." About 20 miles down stream, the ship was fired upon by Confederate cavalryman, and she returned the fire with her starboard guns. The engagement continued intermittently until she reached USS Covington and Army transport John Warner some four more miles below. The two ships were Iying to while the gunboat's rudder was being repaired.

Signal rounded to and made fast to the stern of Covington, and both ships continued to engage the Confederates throughout the day and night. At daylight, the three ships got underway; but, upon rounding Dunn's Bayou, John Warner's whistle signaled "enemy in sight." Artillery and small arms fire soon disabled the transport which drifted ashore blocking the channel below the gunboats. In the ensuing battle, Signal was disabled and ran aground where she was reluctantly set afire and abandoned by her crew who were captured ashore. The two other ships were also lost.