Signal Flags

n addition to communicating by telegraph, both armies in the Civil War communicated by signal flags in a system known as wig-wag. The signal system was del veloped in the 1850s by an Army doctor named Albert Myer, who created it based on his doctoral dissertation on sign language for deaf people.

The system was designed so soldiers could communicate visual signals to each other over long distances—up to a few miles away. Depending on where they were and the weather conditions, soldiers used one of three flags: a white flag with a red square on it, a red flag with a white square on it, or a black flag with a white square on it. If the soldier was signaling from a hill or at sea, a red flag would be more easily seen; if he was signaling from a wooded area, a white flag would show up better, and if it was snowy, a black flag would be most visible. At night, signalmen replaced their flags with torches, always keeping another one at their feet as backup.

Signaling in wig-wag could be very dangerous work: the signalmen had to be fairly high up so that the signals could be seen from a distance, and if his fellow soldiers could see the signalman, so could the enemy. Usually the signal station would be at the highest point

Signal station on the Ogeechee River at Fort McAllister.

Savannah, Georgia, vicinity.

Signal station on the Ogeechee River at Fort McAllister.

Savannah, Georgia, vicinity.

Signal Corps, Central Signal Station, Washington, D.C.

closest to, but not directly in, the battle area. Sometimes, though, there were no hills or naturally high places, so troops would build towers for signal stations. These made members of the signal corps especially visible targets for the enemy.

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