View of Henry J. Cox
graduating from Harvard College in June, 1884, I enlisted
in the Signal Service at Washington the first of the following
August. I was rather surprised in having to undergo a critical
physical examination, even to the noting of a little mole
on my back. I found this precaution was taken so that I
could be more readily identified should I desert from the
passed the ordeal and was routed for Ft. Myer in the afternoon
of that day in a government ambulance, drawn by two mules,
the first government mules to come under my observation.
The fort in those days was not imposing and its mediocrity
in strong contrast with the pretentious post of the present
arrival at headquarters, and just before disembarking, I
heard a faint call from a distance, and this call, unintelligible
to me, was repeated two or three times. I asked the driver
what it was and he replied that the boys over on the barracks
veranda were calling "Fresh Fish."
what does that mean," I asked.
"That means you. You are the fresh fish. So are termed all
recruits who come here."
was my introduction to Fort Myer, often called by connisseurs
who have passed through its portals, making both debut and
exit, "The Signal Service Training School."
at the Fort, with its rigid discipline and fixed hours for
everything from reveille until taps, was in strong contrast
with my easy-going life at Harvard during the previous four
at the Fort were much the same, doubtless, as those of others
of the boys in the old Signal Corps. The chief burden of
the fellows in my class was the super abundance of second
Lieutenants present at the time who were taking the course
prescribed for officers. We had to help them out with their
military signalling, in addition to doing our own, and this
help was not always confined to merely waving flags and
swinging torches, but sometimes included reading the messages
from the opposing stations.
my experiences in signalling with officers come strongly
of these Kimball and I were the poor privates accompanying
the 2nd Loot (Lieutenant). We drove off one morning
late in the fall of 1884 in an ambulance to the designated
point , Munsons, Va. We were to be absent merely for the
day and were to signal to another party located at the Soldiers
Home in Washington. The ambulance did not remain after taking
us to Munsons, but returned to the Fort, with the understanding
that it would come back at 10 p.m. However, after we got
through signalling, the ambulance was not at hand and it
did not show up finally until 2 or 3 o'clock the following
morning. It seems that the sergeant in charge of the stables
had forgotten about the signalling party being out, and
it was not until after the wife of the Loot in charge of
our party, missing her husband, stirred things up, that
the ambulance was sent on its way to our rescue.
journey, however, was not without mishap. In crossing a
wooden bridge over a small stream, one of the mules partly
broke through, and the more we tried to extricate him, the
farther down he went. We finally found the easiest way was
to let the mule slide down all the way into the water in
the stream below, having first removed the harness and while
we were attempting to extricate the first mule, the second
one broke through the bridge. Our experience with him was
much the same as with the first one. We were forced to let
him down into the water also. We then drove the both out
onto the road and re-harnessed them to the ambulance and
went on our way, reaching the Fort just as the bugler was
class was organized in midsummer of the year 1884, the course
naturally closed in the following midwinter. Examinations
were held soon after New Years and it was understood that
there would be a period of some three weeks thereafter before
the papers were marked and the assignments to stations made.
Word came early, however, that three of the fellows would
be ordered immediately to the Central Office for clerical
duty, pending transfer to stations; and when the orders
came my name was included. How we were envied by the rest
of the class as we left the Fort, bound for Washington!
Our classmates had, previous to the examinations, been relieved
from guard duty, etc. their places having been taken by
regular Army guards, but now that the examinations were
ended our fellows had to go back and take their turn walking
post, doing police duty, and all the other beautiful and
desirable things that befall to buck privates; and this
too in midwinter.
were those three weeks at the Central Office! How we fellows
enjoyed ourselves in not having to be routed out by a bugle
call in the cold of the January morning! I can remember
even now the big room on the top floor of 2020 G. St., which
we occupied. In Washington we were in absolute comfort,
and when we awoke in the morning, we could turn over and
take another snooze until 8 o'clock.
acted as hosts for our envious companions left at the Fort
when they made the journey to Washington on pass.
the orders of assignment came to the entire bunch, including
those on temporary duty in Washington - about 22 in all.
And on the last night in January we were shipped out to
all corners of the country, to the Atlantic and Pacific,
on the Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and in the South
- never to meet again. My assignment happened to be Chicago.