American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt


During the war it was often necessary to signal from place to place.

During the night, signalling was done by torches, during the day, by flags.

Suppose there were two signal parties, on two different mountains, five or ten miles apart. Suppose there is a battle going on near one signal party, or a bridge has been burned, or the enemy are coming near. The other signal party will need to know of all this. So first of all the flag-man sets up his flag. The officer gets his field glass in position, and watches until he finds that the signal party on the other mountain has seen the signal, and is waiting to receive the message.

Now the flag-man begins to signal. He waves his flag to the right, or the left, or the front.

Suppose to the right means 1, to the left 2, in front 3. Now, if the flagman should dip twice to the right, once to the left and once in front, that would make the number 1,123.

When the officer on the other mountain had got the whole signal, he would look in a book he carries, called a "signal code." and learn what 1,123 means. Perhaps he would find that it meant "railroad bridge burned," or "send us troops at once," or "we have defeated the Confederates," or "Grant is only five miles away."

Of course these books have to be kept very secret; and if in any way one of them should fall into the hands of the enemy, a new set of numbers would have to be made out for it wouldn't be a very nice thing to have the enemy know what the signals meant.