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Battlefield Communication during the Civil war Origin of the U.S. Signal Corps Wig Wag System.

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Presentation on theme: "Battlefield Communication during the Civil war Origin of the U.S. Signal Corps Wig Wag System."— Presentation transcript:

1 Battlefield Communication during the Civil war Origin of the U.S. Signal Corps Wig Wag System

2 Major Albert Myer The origins of the U.S. Signal Corps can be traced back to Albert Myer, an army doctor, who invented a method of communication using line of sight to send coded messages across battlefields. Developed in 1856, prior to the Civil War, it was called flag telegraphy. During its use in the Civil War it became known as wig wag because of the movement of the flags. BACKGROUND: In 1854, Myers became an assistant surgeon in the Army and was sent west where federal troops were fighting Indians. Inspired by the sight of Indian smoke signals and hand communications, he developed a wig-wag communications system that used flags by day and lanterns and torches by night. He was campaigning for the Army to adapt his system when the Civil War began. wig wag: (noun) the act or process of sending messages by the movements of two flags or the like waved according to a code. (Can also be used as a verb.) Random House Unabridged Dictionary

3 On June 21 st, 1860, Congress approved the creation of the United States Signal Corps with Albert Myer as the first signal officer with the rank of Major. However, the bill passed by Congress didn t provide any personnel to work for Myer. It wouldn t be until March 3 rd, 1863 that the United States Signal Corps received a formal organizational structure. Abraham Lincoln signed a bill which included the position of chief signal officer with the rank of colonel, a lieutenant colonel, two majors, a captain for each corps or military department, and as many lieutenants, not to exceed eight, per corps or department as the president deemed necessary. Each officer was provided one sergeant and six privates.

4 Candidates for the Signal Corps had to be able to _______________ and _______________. They were also required to pass a series of exams. Confederate soldiers who were selected for the Signal Corps were paid an extra 40 cents per day in their pay. READWRITE Union Code Book

5 Signal Station on the Mississippi Signal tower at Jacksonville ~ FREDERICKSBURG ~ THE COURTHOUSE STEEPLE IN THE CENTER CONTAINED FEDERAL SIGNALMEN Former house of John C. Calhoun at the mouth of the Savannah River. Signalmen used: Visibility was very important! Steeples Trees Scaffolds and towers and Mountains in their quest to be seen. Lookout Mountain in Cumberland Mountains Rooftops

6 Two reasons communication was necessary were to ________________ and _________________ the troops. MOVEWARN Communication in battle was necessary for success! Lutheran Seminary used during the Battle of Gettysburg. Cobb s Hill Signal Tower Cobb Hill, Virginia, 1864

7 The method of flag telegraphy, or wig wag, was first used in combat by the Confederacy. A former Myer trainee, Lt. E.P. Alexander, sent flag signals at the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) to warn the Souths General Beauregard of a Union flanking movement. Bull Run Battlefield

8 Union signal station at Antietam Union forces successfully used flag signals in September 1862 when General Burnside was alerted to an attack by Stonewall Jacksons cavalry at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. Two months later, the Union victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was directly influenced by signalmen who scaled the strategic heights of Little Round Top to warn that it was undefended.

9 Round Top Mountain Signal Station July 2, 1863, A.M. General Butterfield: The rebels are in force, and our skirmishers give way. One mile west of Round Top Signal station the woods are full of them. Jerome Round Top Mountain Signal Station July 2, 1863 Capt. Hall: Saw a column of the enemy's infantry move into woods on ridge, three miles west of the town, near the Millerstown road. Wagon teams, parked in open field beyond the ridge, moved to the rear behind woods. See wagons moving up and down on the Chambersburg pike, at Spangler's. Think the enemy occupies the range of hills three miles west of the town in considerable force. Norton, Taylor Union Communications from Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg

10 The technique of wig wag is a two element system in which a flag waived to the left or the right represents a 1 or a 2. Combinations of 1 s and 2 s represent specific letters, much like dots and dashes represent letters in Morse code. A third motion of the flag to the signalman s front represents a 3 which provides punctuation between words and sentences. Click here to view demo FLAG TRAINING LESSON- Two Element Flash Demo Example: A = 11 3 = end of word B = 1221 C = = end of sentence D = 111 E = = end of message F = 1112

11 Standard Union Signal Kit Flags –usually cotton or linen; 2, 4, or 6 feet square. (White flags were usually used since they showed up best against most backgrounds.) Poles - 4 x Hickory poles, 4-ft long and jointed like a fishing rod. Torch - Copper cylinder with reservoir for fuel and a wick. Canteen and Service Can - for carrying tourch and lantern fuel in 1/2 and 5 gallon amounts. Case and haversack - for storage. Funnel, pliers, wormer and shears - for filling and trimming torches. And finally the kit case - to house it all.

12 To encrypt the message, a signal disk made of two disks of brass or cardboard was used. One contained the alphabet, the other numeral combinations. By rotating the disk and changing the alignment of the numbers and letters, the codes could be easily changed. Side Note: Telescopes and field glasses were an essential part of a signal party's equipment. Union officers were accountable for their equipment and were under strict orders not to let any fall into enemy hands. Union and Confederate used essentially the same wig wag system. Interception of messages by the enemy was a constant concern. Once, Confederate signal operators intercepted a message that read, Send me a copy of Rebel Code immediately, if you have one in your possession. The Confederates quickly changed their codes. Both sides began using Cipher Disks to encrypt their messages.

13 By the end of the war the US Signal Corps numbered some 300 officers and 2,500 men. The final transmission of the wartime signal corps was from the roof of army headquarters (the extant Winder Building in Washington, D.C.) to a single station of the once proud Army of the Potomac, across the river: "Sic transit gloria mundi," "thus passes the glory of the world." Who were "the ablest, coolest, and most daring men in the Army"? This was the term applied by George Ward Nichols, in his in his Story of the Great March. He was describing the men of the signal corps, probably the least known and least appreciated body of men in the Civil War. (David Winfred Gaddy)


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