First Division Army of Northern Virginia Signal Dept.
What does the Signal Corps have to do with infantry? Actually a lot. When used properly, the Signal Corps can enhance a reenactment for both the spectators and the participants.
For the spectators, the Signal Corps can provide a means to explaining how communications were carried out over long distances, prior to the telegraph or where telegraph wasn’t available. Spectators are often intrigued by the flag waving and are caught by surprise when they find out that there was no Morse code at the time. They can be brought to a modern understanding that a form of signaling is still used, particularly on ships with flags (semaphore) and at modern airports, where the flags are replaced by orange flashlights.
For the reenactor, the use of signals affords the opportunity to rely less on modern means of battle control (via radios) yet still get the message across in a timely manner. Sometimes using signals can get a message out faster than even mounted couriers can. Signals can be used either for coordinating the Union and Confederate movements in a battle, or for each side’s divisions, battalions, or companies individually.
Flagging signals is as easy as 1-2-3 if you can remember that 1= down to left side, 2 = down to right side, and 3 is down directly in front of you. An attention signal is waving the flab over your head in a large figure "8", and an error message is holding the flag up over your head and to the left side. The harder part is reading the signals when you are answered, because the sequence is some what reversed. (Mirror image)
The code is primarily based on a series of 1’s and 2’s. (For you computer geeks, this is almost like binary code!) A 3 is used to separate words, 33 separates sentence or phrases, and 333 separates ends of messages.
2/3 11/2112/3 121/1/1122/22/11/112/2/22/1122/333 translates as
I a m s i g n a l i n g .(In this case, the end of the sentence is the end of the message, therefore a 333 is used instead of 33.)
Open Text Code (For spelling out words)
|11 A||2 I||2122 Q||222 Y|
|1221 B||2211 J||122 R||1111 Z|
|212 C||1212 K||121 S||2222 AND|
|111 D||112 L||1 T||1121 ING|
|21 E||2112 M||221 U||1222 ED|
|1112 F||22 N||2111 V||2221 TION|
|1122 G||12 O||2212 W|
|211 H||2121 P||1211 X|
|12221 1||11121 4||22111 7||11111 0|
|21112 2||11112 5||22221 8|
|11211 3||21111 6||22122 9|
As you can see, signaling by use of individual letters and their corresponding numbers could take quite a bit of time; EXCEPT that the people who came up with signals also came up with a kind of signal "shorthand", called a preconcerted code. Using this, entire sentences can be reduced to three (more or less) series of flag signals. Thus a command, such as "recall skirmishers" comes out to nothing more than "12112/3 12212/333"
There are approximately 62 different orders that can be given using preconcerted signal code.
Some examples of preconcerted code:
|1 Advance||12111 Repeat||2211 Infantry|
|11 Ammo Exhausting||12121 Reply at Once||2122 Left|
|12 Artillery||12112 Retire / Recall||2121 Minutes|
|111 Attack||12122 Retreat||2112 Move / proceed|
|112 Begin Engagement||12211 Right||22221 Wait|
|1121 Center||2 End engagement||22212 When|
|1122 Clear||22 Extend||22211 Yards|
|1211 Close||21 Faster||22122 Yes|
|1212 Concentrate||222 Federal||22121 Your|
|1221 Confederate||221 Final / last|
|11212 Relay (or) Pass||211 Fire|
|11221 Reinforce (ments)||212 Flank|
|11222 Renew (or) Resume||2212 Identify|
Numbers can also be signaled, using the preconcerted code:
|22112 One||21221 Four||21122 Seven||21111 Zero|
|22111 Two||21212 Five||21121 Eight|
|21222 Three||21211 Six||21112 Nine|
It is unfortunate that some regularly armed reenactors see signalmen as "those silly guys out there waving flags". Those "silly guys" are telling them where to go and what to do. So don’t ever get a signalman mad at you, - he could end up sending your brigade into oblivion!