Higgins, Smith

132nd New York State Volunteers
U.S. Signal Corps

Smith W. Higgins
132nd New York State Volunteers, Company B
U.S. Signal Corps

Smith W. Higgins worked as a seaman until he enlisted in the army on August 21, 1862. He was thirty-three years old at the time, stood five feet four inches tall, and had black eyes and dark hair. He left behind his wife of three years, Harriet, whom he married in 1859; and their son, Lloyd, who was born on October 29, 1860.

He went to Staten Island to join the 132nd New York State Volunteers, also referred to as Spinola's Brigade, after the general who led them. Parts of the regiment were made up of Iroquois Indians who were recruited off of Seneca and Tuscarora reservations.

Higgins was quickly promoted to 3rd Corporal on September 9, 1862. Soon after, on September 28, the regiment moved to Washington, D.C. On October 4, the regiment boarded a transport to a station near Suffolk, Virginia. Later that month, Higgins' company was ordered to do a reconnaissance to the Blackwater River. They left on October 30 with three days' rations, and returned November 1. Company B formed part of an expedition that again went to the Blackwater, and was held in reserve at the skirmish at Zuni.

In December, the 132nd was ordered to New Bern, a major railroad terminal in eastern North Carolina. The men remained there until February. They set up camp behind entrenchments to the right of Fort Totten, where they were able to command the front approach to New Bern. While there, Higgins was promoted to 1st Corporal, on January 19, 1863.

On March 6, 1863, the company formed part of an expedition to Pollacksville, Trenton and Young's Cross Roads, returning on March 10. They were involved in light skirmishing, but there were no casualties. During April, the regiment engaged in a series of expeditions, but there was no fighting.

On May 23rd, 1863, the regiment was ordered to support the 58th Massachusetts at Bachellor's Creek. Colonel Jones, leader of the 58th, was killed in action, and some of his forces began to withdraw. The 132nd advanced, however, and pushed the Confederates back to Kingston, North Carolina. Higgins' regiment remained at Bachellor's Creek from June through August.

After passing an exam, Higgins transferred to the U.S. Signal Corps, on August 28, 1863, by order of Major General Foster. The role of the Signal Corps was to send important information quickly. In the early days of the Civil War, Generals relied on dispatches delivered by horseback. This process was both slow and unreliable. The Signal Corps devised a way of sending information quickly. The Corps would follow the army and set up forward observation posts on high ground, allowing the men to observe the enemy through high-powered telescopes. A soldier using a flag on a long pole then sent a message to a central relay station. A dip of the flag to the right or left indicated a number; these numbers stood for letters that then made up the message. The message was then sent by telegraph from the central station to headquarters. At night, the men used poles with torches, rather than flags. This, unfortunately, made them excellent targets for sharpshooters. Nevertheless, the Signal Corps served a very important role in the Civil War.

Higgins, Smith
United States Signal Corps training camp at Georgetown District of Columbia

Higgins was assigned to Captain Clum of the Signal Corps. After a year, he was granted furlough on August 31, 1864. After his return, Higgins contracted malarial fever and was treated at the regimental hospital in Bachelor's Creek by Dr. Rice. He was later moved to Foster General Hospital, where he was declared unfit for duty in March of 1865. When the war ended, Higgins was discharged from the army on June 30, 1865, in Georgetown.

Members of the Signal Corps on station at Fort
Ethan Allen, Virginia across the Potomac River.

Smith Higgins then returned to his wife and son in Yaphank. They had three more children: Anne, born March 8, 1867; Charles, born April 8, 1873; and Wilson, born August 7, 1882. Higgins was an active community and church member in Yaphank. He completed the 1890 U.S. Census for Yaphank and surrounding areas. He was also elected and served as the Yaphank school clerk and librarian.
In addition, he was an active member of the G.A.R., a political and social fraternity for Union veterans, and participated in many of their gatherings. Along with more than 50,000 other veterans, Higgins attended the G.A.R. encampment at Boston in 1890. While there, he was entertained at the home of Henry Cabot Lodge.

Smith W. Higgins passed away at the age of seventy-eight on July 23, 1908, after suffering from chronic bronchitis. He was buried in Yaphank.


Signal Corps Association web page

Click here to see letter written byHiggins to the Patchogue Advance

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