Glossary of Mid-19th Century Communication Terms
Copyright Signal Corps Association, 2004.  All rights reserved.

A wealth of useful information for new and experienced researchers and living historians.

This alphabetical list of terms and definitions has been assembled from the comments and contributions of many researchers, collectors and emulators of mid-19th Century American military & civilian communications over more than five decades. We hope that the terms you find herein will be of material use, perhaps become a part of your nomenclature and thereby aid in understanding the significant contributions made on both sides of the War of 1861.

You can SEARCH for any term using this our Signal browser's search engine.

(E-wire A&IGO to recommend new or report missing terms, additions or corrections ~ please also include your sources)
SCA Glossary of Terms (revis’d to January 26th. 2004)



Abbreviations, Code of ~comprehensive lists of words or groups of words developed by frequent usage and experience with transmissions in the field (Brown p.88)

Acting Chief Signal Officer ~ a commissioned officer assigned on a temporary basis and charged with the orchestration of signal operations within an army, fleet or department

Acting Signal Officer ~ an army officer temporarily detached by written orders from his command to be instructed by, and perform service with, the signal corps

Action Flag ~ the smallest size of flag (2’ X 2’) included with a US Army regulation or service kit set of signal flags and made of red or white cotton material (with a corresponding seven inch square in its centre) and used during times of close encounters with an enemy.  Also known as the “two-foot” flag

Adjutant ~ an officer selected by the chief signal officer from the subalturns who acts to communicate the orders of the chief signal officer and has duties in respect to his department or detachment assimilated to those of an assistant adjutant-general of an army

Aerial Telegraphy ~ a term given to flag and torch communication using Albert James Myer’s transient system of signals

Aerostat ~ also referred to as an aerostatic globe it is another name for an air balloon

Adjustment Letter ~ a letter known as the reference key is selected on the inner also called a top plate of a cipher disk, which, when locked opposite any given combination (numerals), or key-letter on an outer or bottom disk, adjusts the disk thus becoming the reference key to any combination sent in that particular cipher

Anton's Cipher ~ Brown p.118 -"An ingenious arrangement proposed by Private John C. Anton," who was transferred to the Signal Corps from the 30th Missouri Volunteers. The alphabets, with the numerals and abbreviations, were inscribed upon a single card. It could be easily prepared and easily destroyed. It is fully described and illistrated in "Myer Manual". (year ?)

All Quiet or “AQ” ~ an abbreviation oftimes transmitted along a line of signal stations (usually during specified times of the day) to indicate that all was tranquil and that nothing worthy of official notice had occurred or was needful of reporting

Armature ~ any part of an electric machine or device that vibrates under the influence of a magnetic field or within which an electromotive force is induced.

Army Navy Code ~ see General Service Code

Army Signal Bureau ~ an administrative branch established to gather, exchange and co-ordinate information activities.  The term “Bureau” was sometimes used during the War by both the Union and Confederate signal services

Army Signal Corps ~

Army Signal Kite ~ an airborne marker tethered by string or light cordage, held aloft by wind currents and used to draw attention that an open station was to be found in the vicinity.  Large kites are operated during hours of darkness in order to support the display of lanterns

Army Signal Service ~ a separate branch of an army established to transmit and receive information it is used for intelligence gathering, dissemination or distribution of such within an army or portion thereof

Army Signal Flag ~ light banners usually of light cotton or linen of various sizes and colours used to transmit plain-text or pre-concerted messages along an air-line of sight

Army Signaling ~ otherwise known as the art of aerial telegraphy as used to make clear, concise and condensed announcements, reports, orders or requests wherever visual or wire telegraphy was employed

Army Signal Rocket ~

Army Signaling System ~

Artillery Ranging ~

Artillery Spotting ~


Bain Code ~

Balloon ~

Balloon Corps ~

Balloon Service ~

Balloon Signalling ~

Balloon Reconnaissance ~

Ball Signal ~ used in connection with a marker ball and manipulated by rods or lanyard upon a vertical or horizontal pole and so operated above or below the marker ball as to give an indication of the numerals “one” or “two”.  The numeral “one” is usually indicated when the signal ball is viewed above the marker ball

Battle Flag ~ (see: Signal Battle Flag)

Bearer of Despatches ~ (Brown p. 253 par. 1)

Bearing ~

Beardslee ~

Beardslee Key and Sounder ~  

Beardslee Telegraph ~

Beardslee Magneto Telegraph ~

Beardslee Magneto Electric Telegraph ~

Binoculars ~ (see Marine Glass)

Black Flag ~ flag used when light background would be encountered behind a flagman by an observer, e.g. an elevated tower or a ridge line when viewed from a valley where a light sky blue background would be observed.  There were no black two-foot action flags

Blue Light ~ (Brown 335 par. 3)

Brass Cipher Disk ~

Brass Telescope Holder ~ (Myer ’64 p. 73 insert Round’s holder)

Bureau ~ a subdivision of an executive department set up to co-ordinate activities. See: Army Signal Bureau

Burning Fluid ~ Brown p. 117.


Call ~

Candle Bomb~

Canteen ~ a vessel used to carry liquid.  (See signal canteen)

Canvas Signal Case ~

Cap Badge ~ a device fabricated, later issued and designated to be displayed upon the top or the front of a Federal signallist’s hat.  While there is documentation showing a Richmond, VA jeweler advertising to create crossed-flag pins out of silver coins, no record is known to their having actually been made nor are there any extant examples.  Some Southern signallists were known to have worn “SC” brass letters upon their head wear

Carbine ~ a short rifle usually associated as a cavalry weapon. The Sharpe’s 1859 breech-loading pattern constituted the mainstay long arm for the US signal corps.  Spencer’s carbines were issued to US signallists late in the War.   Confederate signallists were also known to carry carbines

Cardboard Cipher Disk ~

Cart ~ for signal purposes a light duty two-wheel’d conveyance or dray supported upon springs, fashioned after, or being designed as a Finley or Coolidge ambulance and used in conjunction with Flying Telegraph trains

Chappe Semaphore Telegraph System ~

Chief Signal Officer ~ CSO

Choke ~

Chronosemic Code ~

Chronosemic Signals~

Cipher ~

Cipher Code~

Cipher, Confederate ~

Cipher Disk ~

Cipher Key ~

Cipher Machine ~

Cipher Reel ~

Cipher Wheel ~

Civil War Signal Corps ~

Civil War Signal Service ~

Civil War Signals ~

Clamp Rings  ~ Brown p. 117

Code  ~ Any cryptographic system in which arbitrary symbols (or groups of symbols) represent units of plain text of regular length, usually single letters; units of plain text are rearranged; or both, in accordance with certain predetermined rules.

Code of Abbreviations ~

Code, Four Element ~

Code, General Service ~

Code, Homographic ~

Code, Military ~

Code, Myer ~

Code, One-Eight ~

Code of Boat Signals  ~ a group of pre-concerted applications already compiled in a book for the use of small boat handling amongst naval forces (see: General Service Homographic Code)

Code Of Signals ~

Code, Polybius ~

Code, Spencer ~

Code, Three Element ~

Code, Two Element ~

Combination ~

Command Control Accountability ~

Compass ~

Composition Fires ~

Composition Lights ~

Conductor ~ any material (e.g., copper) which allows an electrical charge to flow through it.

Confederate Code ~

Confederate Court Cipher ~

Confederate Military Telegraph ~

Confederate Secret Service ~

Confederate Signal Corps ~

Confederate Signal Corps and Secret Service ~

Confederate States Army Signal Bureau ~

Confederate States Army Signal Corps ~

Confederate States Army Signal Service ~

Confederate States Army Signal Corps and Secret Service ~

Confederate States Cipher Key ~

Copper Canteen ~ made of copper, with one seam, and- soldered - capable of containing one half-gallon of turpentine or other burning-fluid

Copper Stencils  ~ Brown p. 205

Copper Wedge Strips ~ both the flying and the foot light are manufactured with permanent "copper wedge strips" below the fenestra.  See: Flame Shade

Corporal ~ grade between private and sergeant. No corporals were enlisted into the permanent US or CS signal service, however, privates did serve as ‘lance’ corporals albeit without chevrons.  No signal insignia is now known to have been affixed to corporal chevrons in the war-time US signal corps. 

Corps ~ the Articles of War uses the word ‘corps’ in the sense of recognizing a portion of the army to have been organized by law with a head and members.  The Confederate Army Signal Corps was established by law in February of 1862 while the United States Army Signal Corps was authorized by law as a permanent organization in March of 1863

Coston Lights ~

Coston Pistol ~

Coston's Composition Telegraphic Night Signals ~ (Myer ’64 p. 54)

Coston's Night Signals ~

Coston’s Telegraphic Night Signal System ~

Countersign Instructions ~

Countersign Signals ~

Court Cipher ~ see: Vigenere Page

Cryptogram ~


CS Signal Corps ~

Current ~ Term used to describe electrical charges moving through a wire.


Daniel's Battery ~

Day Code ~

Day Signaling ~

Day Signaling System ~

Day Signals ~

Detachment ~ a term which implies any fraction of a body of men , or an entire corps charged particularly with functions which are dependent for their duration upon circumstances in war or actual service.  A troop; squadron, or party of soldiers; a knot of men who jointly carry out any charge.  See : Signal Detachment


Early Signals ~

Early Telecommunications ~

Electric Telegraph ~ instruments used in sending and receiving messages excited by the introduction of battery current, electrical signals can be transmitted nearly instantaneously over great distances. An electrically operated device or system for distant communication by means of visible or audible signals.

Electromagnet ~ Works just like an ordinary magnet except that it only attracts while electricity is passing through its coil.


"Faraday" ~ Michael Faraday, a pioneer of electrical technology.

Federal Cipher Disk ~

Federal Secret Service ~

Federal Signal Corps ~

Fenestrae ~ (Brown p. 116)

Ferrule ~  a short tube or bushing for making a tight joint as between pole sections.  Signal flag pole sections are ferruled at the ends with brass, and fitted to be jointed together as some fishing-rods are jointed. The third joint is guarded with brass for six inches at its upper extremity, to protect it from the flames of the flying torch, which is always attached to this joint.  For Exception See: Flying Torch

Field Glass ~

Field Telegraph ~

Fire Brand ~

Flag ~

Flag Bag ~

Flag Code ~

Flag Construction  Brown p.116.

Flag Corps ~

Flag Communications ~

Flag Kit ~

Flag Staff ~

Flag System ~

Flags ~

Flame Shade ~ a ring of thin copper, two inches wider than its centre opening, and fitting by a flanged socket in such a way that the ring projects out from the body of the torch on all sides. It is fitted onto the top of the tube at about one inch below the fenestra or openings. Flame-shades are secured by pressing them firmly down upon the torch’s wedge strips.  A shade is used to prevent the flame from travelling down the side of the torch and thus over-heating it. Flame-shades are detached when torches are packed away. Separate flame shades are provided for both the foot and flying light, the foot shade being four inches in diameter while the flying torch shade measures three and one half inches across

Flare ~ another term for fusee it is a night signaling device made of dry chemical compounds with or without their own ignition strikers.  Flares usually are manufactured so as to burn one color only, for instance red, but are known to come in yellows, whites and blues depending on the ingredients of their chemical makeup (see Coston)

Flash Signals ~ (Myer ’64 p.32)

Fire Ball ~ made like a light-ball, except that, being intended to light the works of an enemy, it is also loaded with a shell

F.L.L. ~ Stands for "Fire Little to the Left of Last Shot" -General Orders No. 7, dated Office of the Signal Officer, Washington D.C., May 25th 1863, Leonard F. Hepburn, Capt. and Signal Officer

F.L.R. ~ Stands for "Fire Little to the Right of Last Shot" -General Orders No. 7, dated Office of the Signal Officer, Washington D.C., May 25th 1863, Leonard F. Hepburn, Capt. and Signal Officer

Fly ~ the free outer vertical edge of a flag which is opposite the fore or hoist edge  affixed to the halyard

Flying Telegraph ~

Flying Light ~ a copper cylinder, eighteen inches long and one and one-half inch in diameter; it is closed at one end, with the exception of a nozzle. through which it can be filled, and which closes with a screw-cap; it is open at the wick end, and on its sides, at this end, are four fenestra or openings, one inch long, half an inch broad, which open into the wick, so providing that however the flame may be driven by the wind, it will find a portion of the wick exposed

Flying Torch ~ In the regulation set of equipments (four sections of staff) the flying torch attaches to the "third-joint" (the forth joint being the upper most tip) by copper clamp-rings and screws.  In the late-war service kit, the middle (or second) joint of staff is used to attach the flying light as three joints only were provided with service kits

Foot Light ~ an illumination either of an open flame or lantern so placed in a line with a distant station as to serve as a reference point for left and right movements performed during certain transmissions of transient night signals

Foot Torch ~ a copper cylinder, eighteen inches long and two inches in diameter, it is similar in its structure to the flying torch

Four Element Code ~

Fuel Canteen ~

Funnel ~ oftimes of copper construction were employed when transferring fuel from the service can to the canteen and could also be used for filling the foot and flying torches

Fusee ~ an intensely brilliant light effected by a chemical combustion (see: flare)


Galton’s Art of Travel ~ Scott.  p. 561.

General Service Code ~

General Service Homographic Code ~ a code of ten elements furnished for the reason that it readily permits the application of signals to the signal-books already compiled for use of the naval forces; as, for instance, the Naval Signal Code and the Code of Boat Signals

Grove Battery ~

Gutta Percha ~ A type of rubber obtained from the gutta percha tree, native of Malaysia.


Half-section ~ a further division of a signal section which is a sub division of a signal party

Halyard Signals ~ (Myer ’64 p. 35)

Hawley's Cipher ~ (Brown p.  118)

Heliostat ~ A hand-held mirror contrivance devised by a Mr. Galton (Scott, p.559 par. 5)

Homographic Code ~

Honor Flag ~ also referred to as Honor’s Flag (see: Signal Battle Flag)


Inner Disk ~

Insulation ~ The insulating layer was invariably made from commercial gutta, a mixture of the gum gutta-percha (which was shipped in from the Far East), resin and water. Good-quality gutta was tough, water resistant and durable.

Insulator ~ Any material (e.g., glass) which does not allow an electrical charge to flow through it.



Key ~

Key Phrase ~

Key Word  ~ Brown p. 118

Kit Bag ~

Kit Case ~

Kite ~


Lance ~

Lance Pole ~

Lance Post ~

Lance Posts ~

Lance Socket ~

Lantern ~

Light Ball ~ a projectile of an oval shape formed of sacks of canvas filled with a combustible composition, which emits a bright flame and used to light up one’s own works  (Scott p. 388)

Light Lines ~

Light Wagon ~ official term given to all other wagons not fitting the description of a heavy government contract wagon

Lineman’s Key ~

Line of Communication ~ a series or chain of stations so linked as to connect two or more distant positions within a theatre of operation.  Various modes of communication methods, i.e. wire telegraph, courier, flag/torch, etc., may be linked to-gether to form the line

Long Range Signalling ~

Long Range Signal System ~


Magneto ~

Magneto Telegraph ~

Magneto Electric Telegraph ~

Manifold Writer ~

Marine Glass ~

Marine Signals, ~ (Brown p. 205.)

Maritime Signals, ~ (Brown p. 205.)

Marker Ball ~ (see: Ball Signal)

Metal Wire Reel ~

Metcalf's Cipher ~ (Brown p. 118 & 119 ‘With Captain Norton’s Improvement’)

Military Command ~

Military Communications ~

Military Communication Techniques ~

Military Field Communications ~

Military Pyrotechnics ~

Military Telegraph ~

Military Telecommunications ~

Military Signals ~ Military signals may be considered extensions of a commander's voice. A transient signal system was invented in the United States prior to 1861. Flag & torch signals are transmitted by means of waving to the right and left according to a combination of waves thus forming a prearranged alphabet designation. Various color & sound signals are also used

Military Signal Systems ~

Military Field Signals ~ those signalling systems most employed while an army is operating on campaign and otherwise said to be operating in the field

Military Reconnaissance ~

Miltary Rocket ~ term commonly used to indicate a rocket that carries artillery explosives, also called a ‘war’ rocket

Morse Code ~ Code originally invented prior to 1844 by Alfred Vail and used by he and Samuel Morse to transmit letters as short electrical signals (dots) and long electrical signals (dashes) and soon thereafter called the "American" Morse Code. International, or Continental Code, as it was called in the mid-nineteenth century, was adopted at a conference on Berlin, Germany during 1851, for use in Europe and England. Continental Code was also used during the 1858 Trans-Atlantic cable.

Mounted Reconnaissance ~

Mounted Service ~

Myer Code ~

Myer’s Manual ~ "A Manual of Signals: For The Use Of Signal Officers In The Field.”  By Col. Albert J. Myer, Signal Officer of the Army.  Washington, D.C. 1864


Naval Signaling ~

Naval Signals  Brown p. 205.

Navy Signal ~

Needle telegraph ~ A device that required two or more lines to form a complete circuit.

Night Signaling ~

Night Signals ~

Night Code ~

Naval Code ~

Night Signaling System ~ a misnomer.  Torches, rockets, composition lights and  similar kinds of  pyrotechnic devices are used at night to convey various kinds of codes


Observation Station ~

One-Eight Code ~ the figures “1” and “8” are sometimes used instead of the figures “1” and “2” to symbolize the elements “one” and “two”, because the figure “8” is up-right in most positions of the cipher disk  (Brown p. 100)

Optical Telegraph ~ term usually associated with the fixed bladed signal system. (see: semaphore)

Ordering Signals ~ each signal or combination is ordered by calling off briskly, as an order, the number for the signal (Myer ’64 p.)

Outpost ~ one of a series of semi- fixed stations or locations in advance of the main body of troops and somewhat fortified or selected so as to present some natural advantage for the concealment of vedettes or pickets standing guard as the outer ring of sentinels

Outer Disk ~ bottom or lower plate in a two disk cipher on the outer edge of which are placed numerals or letters equally spaced so as to correspond to numbers or letters placed likewise on an inner or top disk.  Disks made of card stock are used in the Federal service and contained numerals and letters while Confederate disks are known to have been made of brass having letters of the alphabet on the outer edges of both disks


Pannier ~ lidded wicker of canvas framed baskets mounted upon either side of a pack saddle and used to carry signal supplies and pyrotechnics

Parachute Rockets ~

Party ~ a group of two or more individuals traveling to-gether and given to co-operating in a common effort

Pause-Signal ~ when a flag or torch stops in the vertical position, it indicates that a signal is completed; or this is the pause-signal.  Thus, a pause is made at the end of each letter-signal.  There is no voice command for pausing  (Myer ’64 p. 30)

Potomac Line, The ~ chain of stations established early in the war from Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry to the fortifications of Washington running somewhat parallel to the Potomac River

Permanent Organization ~ an Act providing for a distinct [& separate Federal army signal] organization  (Brown p.83. par. 4.)

Permanent Signals ~ signals are considered to be of a permanent nature when the signs are long in view; as when flags are kept hoisted in order to be read; or emblems are written on paper; or a signal is made by placing a thing or object in a fixed position

Pliers ~ made of iron and carried in the signal haversack for adjusting or re-positioning cotton wicking in preparation for trimming same within a foot or flying torch light

Pocket Compass ~ a hand-held magnetic compass usually of brass or German silver with or without a cover lid used to establish a bearing on distant map points, i.e. to note the direction of a given object or land mass in relation to the reader’s position

Pocket Key ~

Polybius Code ~

Pre-concerted Code ~ (Myer ’64 p. 20)

Prismatic Compass ~


Quick Match ~ made of cotton yarn such as is used in candle-wicking, which, after preparation described in the Ordnance Manual, is dredged with meal powder.  One yard burns in the open air thirteen seconds and faster when enclosed in tubes, and more so in proportion as the tubes are smaller.  It is used to prime signal rockets, mortars & is included within the cartridges of Coston composition lights


Rebel Signal Corps ~ derisive term applied to indicate something to do with the Confederate Signal Corps

Receiving Signals ~ the physical or mechanical means of obtaining thought also referred to as” taking down signals”

Receipt  ~ a voucher or written acknowledgment, which should always be drawn up when official papers or materials are received or delivered.  The time of receipt should also be obtained

Recording Signals ~ (Myer ’64 p. 75)

Reconnoitre ~ war-like operations for the purpose of procuring information of the position and strength of an enemy

Red Flag ~ used at sea where a mixture of sail and woodwork against a sky and water background was prevalent.  Used during long shadow hours in snow or for special times when pre-arranged.  No six-foot red flags were made part of US Army regulation or signal service kits  (see: Myer ’64 p. 58)

Register ~

Relay ~ Used to detect the weak current in telegraph cables (10-20mA). The relay translates the signal on the telegraph line into an equivalent signal in a local circuit. My be used in lieu of a sounder or in conjunction with one. Relays have a double set of binding posts (electrical connectors) instead of the set of two found on sounders.

Repeater ~ an intermediate station of communication visible from two other locations (usually elevated) and established on account of distance or physical obstacles

Repeating Signals ~

Rocket, Signal ~ (see Myer and Ord Manual)

Rocket, War ~ a projectile, the head of which is either solid shot, shell or spherical-case shot, the whole of which is set in motion by a force within itself  (Scott p. 535)

Rolled Seams ~ copper signal canteens & service cans were made using rolled seams hard soldered’ (Brown p. 115)

Roman Candle ~

Roundabout ~ popular short jacket used in Federal enlisted service.  Name is derived on account that the waist hem does not taper to a front and rear point as with a cavalry ‘shell’ but cut round-about  (Mathers)

Route Cipher ~


Scale Glass ~ used for estimating distances it contains an engraved scale lens which can be placed within or removed from the glass barrel at the option of the observer (see: telegraph telescope) Myer ’64 Manual p. 127 par. 6 -  add ‘68 manual drawings and patient sketch

Scout ~ foot or horseman sent in advance, or on the flanks to give an account of the force and movement of an enemy

Screw Cap ~ a threaded metal stopper found on fuel canteens and torches, which may be chained to the main body of the container and having inside its lid a leather washer to help minimize leakage

Secret Code ~

Secret Service ~

Secret Service Agent ~

Secret Service Operations ~

Section ~

Semaphore ~ Greek word sema sign, signal - an apparatus for signalling (as by the position of one or more movable arms). An apparatus for conveying information by means of visual signals, as with high poles or towers with pivoting blades or paddles, etc. Usually referred to as the telegraph prior to the introduction of the electric telegraph it is read when the blade or paddle is in a fixed position therefore it is a device for transmitting a code of permanent signals.

Semaphore Flag ~ a signal flag, two of which are used in a semaphoring manner, one in each hand

Semaphore Signaling ~ the making of long distance communication by fixed or permanent means of signaling using optical telegraphy

Semaphore System ~ a method of conveying (information) signals by or as if by semaphore

Semaphore Of Polybius ~

Semephore Telegraph ~ (see: Chappe)

Sending Signals ~ the physical or mechanical means of transmitting thought also referred to as “putting up” a message

Service Can ~ a strong copper can capable of containing five gallons of burning-fluid, with rolled seams hard-soldered. It supports a nozzle fitted with a  screw-cap to prevent leakage or spillage

Service Kit ~ a second generation kitbag containing fewer flags than the regulation kit and having a somewhat differently constructed carrying bag

Shears ~ used for trimming the torch wicking and made of iron

Signals ~ various methods & systems used to direct troop movements, transmit observations and to co-ordinate information between separate elements on land, at sea and to convey balloon observation sightings from distant points using flags, telegraph or pre-concerted symbols hung from the basket. The term signaling or signaling also applies to systems of military communication

Signal Arm Patch ~ an embroidered crossed-flag emblem on square dark blue background material and worn on one or sometimes both sleeves of a uniform coat by Federal enlisted signal corpsmens.  Such patches are known to have existed as early as Winter 1861-62 and may date as early as October of 1861.  No such corresponding sleeve insignia is known to have been used within the enlisted ranks of the Confederate signal corps.  See: Signal Insignia Enlisted

Signal Apparatus ~

Signal Ball ~

Signal Battle Flag ~ a special recognition flag created by substituting a star within the signal flag center in place of the  square.  The star was to be inscribed within the uppermost point with the name of the engagement or battle in which an officer of the United States Army Signal Corps distinguished himself.  Some stars bore more than one engagement. Flags were originally issued in silk but later substituted with cotton material, the silk flags being recalled to Washington for storage until war’s end.  See: “Signal Honor Flag”

Signal Bomb ~

Signal Bureau ~

Signal Canteen ~ made of copper, with one seam and  soldered, capable of containing up to one half-gallon of turpentine or other burning-fluid.  US Army signal canteens are equipped with thin conical spouts topped with threaded screw caps fitted with leather washers and usually attached to the canteen body by a small brass chain

Signal Cap Badge ~

Signal Cartridge ~ a cardboard tube, prepared in the form of a pistol cartridge and burned from a holder.  The signal, while burning, shows a color, or colors, which corresponds to an established number or represents a given directive of a pre-concerted code

Signal Cartridge Box ~ a leather container with closure flap, carry loops for affixing to a waist belt and a wood block liner with holes to accommodate the carrying of signal cartridges

Signal Cipher ~

Signal Code ~

Signal Corps ~

Signal Corps Insignia ~

Signal Corps Pay, Rates of ~

Signal Corps Rank ~

Signal Corps Uniform ~

Signal Cypher ~

Signal Detachment ~

Signal Disk ~

Signal Flag ~

Signal Haversack ~

Signal Honor Flag ~ modern term associated with a “Signal Battle Flag”  issued to Federal signal officers, who, in the opinion of the Chief Signal Officer of the army, and upon submission of documentation substantiating such service denoted an act of valor either under battle conditions.  It could also be awarded for meritorious service

Signal Insignia Enlisted ~

Signal Insignia Officer ~

Signal Kit ~ canvas signal-case, containing the signal staff, flags, torch-case, torches, and wormer. These are transported all compactly rolled together and bound by straps Kit Description

Signal Kite ~ an aerial device tethered to the ground but held aloft by wind currents and is used to attract attention of a signal station which is to be looked for operating up-wind from the vicinity of the kite.  Kites are also sent aloft as pre-arranged signal when such pre-concerted signals are sought, indicated, acted upon or conveyed

Signal Lamp ~

Signal Lantern ~

Signal Lantern Kite ~ a large kite used during hours of darkness in order to display a lantern aloft that would indicate that a station was in operation or that a pre-concerted signal was being conveyed or that it should serve as a faux signal in view of an enemy

Signal Light ~ ~ any light or combination of lights used either in motion or at rest that would allow for the transmission of intelligence

Signal Manual, Federal ~ “A Manual of Signals: For The Use Of Signal Officers In The Field.”  By Col. Albert J. Myer, Signal Officer of the Army.  Washington, D.C. 1864. (See bibliography this site)

Signal Manual, Confederate ~ “A Confidential Circular of Instruction for the Initiation of Officers and Men in This Branch” E.P. Alexander, Richmond, Va. As related by Edmond H. Cummings

Signal Message ~

Signal Message Book ~

Signal Mortar ~

Signal Officer ~ By Act approved June, 1860, there was added to the staff of the [United  States] army “one signal officer with the rank, pay and allowances of a major of cavalry, who shall have charge, under the direction of the Secretary of War, of signal duty, and all books and papers, and apparatus, connected therewith.”

Signal Officer ~

Signal Operator ~

Signal Pannier~

Signal Parachute Rockets ~

Signal Party ~

Signal Pistol ~

Signal Practice ~

Signal Reconnaissance ~

Signal Rocket ~

Signal Sergeant ~

Signal Service ~

Signal Sleeve Patch ~

Signal Staff ~ for Federal signal service a staff of hickory, made in four joints or sections, each 4 ft. long, and tapering as a whole from l 1/4 in. at the butt to 1/2 inch at the upper tip.  Ash was, on occasion, supplied in lieu of hickory. Fresh sapplings of roughly the same corresponding dimensions were oft times substituted for the more portable jointed staffs when conditions permitted parties to remain at semi-fix’d positions to alleviate continued wear on the ferrules.

Signal Station ~

Signal Stores ~

Signal System ~

Signal Telegraph ~

Signal Torch ~ an open flame illumination designed or adopted for and employed in the transmission of aerial signal code systems

Signal Tower ~ an elevated position used to gain a necessary height for conducting visual communications.  Tower stations are oft times built as raised platforms of three or four wood post construction (sometimes involving still rooted trees) and attain a height near or in access of one hundred feet

Signal Wand ~

Signaller ~

Signalling ~ the act of transmitting information by means other than the unaided human voice. Signals can be visual, audible, or electrical and can be made by a variety of means, including torches, fusees, smokes, flags, lamps, pyrotechnics, drums, guns, or electric telegraph.

Signallist ~

Slow Match  ~ made of hemp, flax or cotton rope with three strands lightly twisted.  Cotton rope well twisted forms a good match without any preparation, and burns 4 ½ inches an hour

S.O.E. ~ Stands for "Shells Go Over the Enemy of Battery".

Sounder ~ A device for interpreting the signals coming off the telegraph cable without requiring the use of a paper generating register. Every time a Morse key or transmitter is depressed, the circuit becomes electrified and the armature, poised atop the wound electric coils, will be drawn down sharply toward the now energized electro-magnetic coils sitting vertically on-board a sounder. Meanwhile, at the other end of the line, another sounder is also responding identically causing a corresponding downward 'clack.' sound at the distant station (or series of them). When the key is let go or released by the lack of magnetic pull, a tension spring pulls the armature back up in its tuning fork case, causing a higher toned ‘click.’

Southern Signal Corps ~

Spencer Code ~ ((Myer ’64 p. 52)

Spencer Repeating Carbine ~

Splice ~ To join two cables by interweaving the strands.

Spy Key ~

Staff ~

Station of Communication ~

Station of Observation ~

Strategic Cipher ~

Strategic Communications ~

Submarine Cable ~ submarine cable (under water use) consisted of copper conductors insulated with India rubber and varnish. Jute Yarn which acts as a cushion between the cable-core, the inner sheathing of iron cables, provides mechanical insulation.

Swain Code ~

Systematized Signals ~ signals formed under rules

System of Signals ~ all of those signals which can be devised based upon the changes, combinations, arrangements and repetitions which can be made with any given number of sorts of elementary signals


Table of Reference ~ (see: Myer ’64  p. 16)

Tactical Cipher ~

Tactical Communications ~

Tactics ~ the art of drawing up and moving troops systematically

Telecommunications ~ refers to long-distance communication (the Greek tele means "far off"). Such communication is, in some instances, carried out with the aid of the transient systems of communication like aerial and wire telegraphs. In earlier times, smoke signals, drums, fixed light beacons, and various forms of signals, such as permanent signal systems of semaphores, were used for the same purpose. The information that is transmitted can be in the form of voice, symbols, pictures, text, or a combination of these. The physical equipment of a telecommunication system includes a transmitter or originator, one or more receivers, and a channel or means of communication, i.e. air, water, flags, rockets, electric telegraph wire, submarine cable, or some combination of these. The process of communicating over a long distance.

Telegraph ~ a device or contraption, which enables a detailed message to be sent instantaneously between two locations.

Telegraph Battery Wagon ~

Telegraph Blank Form ~

Telegraph Blank Forms ~

Telegraph Circuit ~

Telegraph Company ~

Telegraph Construction ~

Telegraph Construction Corps ~

Telegraph Corps ~

Telegraph Instrument ~

Telegraph Instruments ~

Telegraph Key ~ a correspondent used in transmitting messages in a code of signals over electric wires. Metallic lines are erected from one point to another and an electric current is either allowed to flow through the circuit or interrupted by a switch called a telegraph key closure lever. The anvil or the key is held away from the contact point by a spring. Depressing the key onto the contact point reconnects the circuit.

Telegraph Operator ~

Telegraph Pole ~

Telegraph Poles ~

Telegraph Register ~

Telegraph Relay ~

Telegraph Service ~

Telegraph Sounder ~

Telegraph Telescope ~ an expensive high power’d glass usually of one or more pulls also called sections and sometimes fitted with a special removable tube insert equipped with an engraved lens scale and an adjustment knob enabling the viewer to…  The special tube supports a lens incised with a scale and is used to determine…

Telegraph Telescope Tripod ~ a base platform for a spy glass incorporating three non-telescoping wooden legs sometimes used with telegraph scale telescopes because the slightest tremor are known to interfere with the accuracy of estimating distances

Telegraph Wagon ~

Telegraph Wire Reels ~

Telegrapher ~

Telegraphic Dispatch ~ a written message that has been sent by telegraph.

Telegraphic Signal ~

Telegraphist ~

Telegraphy ~ comes from Greek. Tele meaning distant and graphein to write.

Telescope ~

Test Key ~ see: lineman’s key

Three Element Code ~ (Myer ’64 p. 40)

Topography ~ the study of natural features of positions with a view of determining lines of communication or, in the case of stations of observation, as in developing maps to turn them to account in the possible first disposition of battle, and its various succeeding phases

Torch ~ almost always a portable device to which is affixed a handle or carrying pole that it might be used to conduct light and flame.  (See: Signal Torch)

Torch Bearer ~ (Myer ’64 p. 32)

Torch Case ~ for the regulation kit the case was made from a piece of rubber cloth about three feet long by two feet six inches broad fitted on one side with two pouches, into which the torches were inserted and then rolled around so as to envelop the torches in two or three folds of the rubber cloth

Torches ~ either designed by manufacture or improvised from available materials.  In cases of emergency, torches may be constructed of pitch-pine knots, old rope, canvas, rags or other material, saturated with tar or any combustible fluid (Brown p 98)

Torch Extinguisher ~

Torch Signaling ~

Torch Wicking ~

Transient Signals ~ signals are said to be of a transient nature when they disappear as soon as they have been completed.  See: permanent signals

Transmitting Signals ~

Transposition Cipher ~ a post-war term used to describe Route Cipher.  Also referred to in modern terms as the Route Transposition Cipher

Tripod ~ a three-legged stand used to hold steady a telescope while making observations.  Most tripod holders were fitted with knobs or wing-nuts for height adjustment of optics

Turpentine  ~ Brown p.116, numerous burning-fluids were experimented with but turpentine was found to be best suited for use in signal torch light operations

Turpentine Canteen ~

Two Element Code ~

Two Foot Flag ~ two foot square signal flag employed in exceptional cases only, i. e when compelled to lie down or to seek shelter while the signals must, at the same time, be made (see: action-flag)

Two-Hand Semaphore ~


Union Cipher Disk ~

Union Code ~

Union Signal Corps ~

United States Army Signal Corps ~

United States Army Signal Service ~

US Army Signal Corps ~

US Army Signals ~

US Military Telegraph ~

United States Military Telegraph ~

US Signal Corps ~

United States Telegraph ~ name of commercial telegraph company created during the early 1860’s

USMT ~ abbreviation for the war-time service known as the United States Military Telegraph

USMTC ~ generally a post-war designation applied by those wishing to refer to the United States Military Telegraph as a corps of operators.  An inappropriate usage


Vanity Flag ~ derisive term used to denote a signal flag which has a star in its center instead of a square.  See: signal battle flag

Vest Key ~

Vest Pocket Key ~

Vigenere ~

Vigenere Cipher ~ see: Vigenere Cipher Page

Vigenere Square ~ see: Vigenere Square Tool Page | View/Download the Vigenere Square (pdf file)


War Department Cipher~

War Rockets ~


Wedge Strips ~

White Flag ~ used more than any other colour of signal flag

Wicking ~ torches are trimmed by fitting into the open end a wick of cotton wicking six inches long. This must fit closely to prevent fluid seepage. The body of the torch is then filled with turpentine through the screw cap covered fill hole.  (see: screw cap)

Wig Wag ~

Wig Wag Flags ~

Wind Matches ~

Wind Shade ~ sometimes used upon the flying light or torch during windy conditions and consisting of fine strips of copper attached to a round disk fashioned with its own socket tube and adjusted upon the torch the same way as the flame-shade

Wire Cart ~

Wire Insulation ~ a coating of vulcanized rubber or gutta-percha surrounding a strand of telegraph wire to inhibit escapement of current while a telegraph line is in service.   Wire insulation allows the laying of telegraph wire upon the ground or even below the surface of water as in submarine cable

Wire Insulator ~ a telegraph wire suspended on poles or lances is attached to insulators to prevent the escape of the current to the earth at the points of support.  Glass, porcelain, rubber and glass shod iron insulators are used.  The broken necks of bottles can also be pressed into service for temporary lines when needs must

Wire Reel, Metal ~

Wire Spool ~

Wood Cipher Reel ~

Wood Wire Reel ~

Wooden Cipher Reels ~

Wooden Wedge Strips ~

Wooden Wire Reel ~

Wormer ~ A screw-ended rod is placed in a torch-case to be used when the cotton wicking may, by accident, be drawn so far into the tube of the torch that it cannot be seized by the pliers



Yankee Signal Corps ~ a derisive term to denote the Union or Federal Signal Corps



A Regulation Set of Signal Equipments, when packed complete, is comprised in three pieces:

  1. The Kit - or canvas signal-case, containing the signal staff, flags, torch-case, torches, and wormer. These all compactly rolled together and bound by straps.
  2. The Canteen - made of copper, with one seam, and- soldered - capable of containing one half-gallon of turpentine or other burning-fluid.
  3. The Haversack - in which are packed wicking, matches, shears and pliers for trimming torch, a small funnel for filling the torch, and the two flame-shades, etc.

(*) The Kit Case, Canteen, and Haversack are fitted with shoulder-slings or straps, by which they may be easily carried.

(*) The Service Can - is a strong copper can, with rolled seams hard-soldered. The nozzle is fitted with a screw-cap, to prevent leakage. It is capable of containing five gallons of burning-fluid.

The Kit Case contains:

  • lst The signal-staff - a staff of hickory, made in four joints or pieces, each 4 ft. long, and tapering as a whole from l 1/4 in. at the butt to 1/2 inch at the upper tip.

    The joints are ferruled at the ends with brass, and fitted to be jointed together as some fishing-rods are jointed. The third joint is guarded with brass for six inches at its upper extremity, to protect it from the flames of the torch, which is always attached to this joint.

    The tip or fourth joint is that to which the flag is attached for day-signals. When in use. two or more joints of staff are fitted together.

  • 2nd The Signal Flags - made of muslin, linen, or some other very light and close fabric.
    The flags are seven in number.

    1. The six-foot white - six feet square, white, having its centre a block or square of red, two feet square.
    2. The six-foot black - six feet square, black, having at its centre a block or square of white, two feet square.
    3. The four-foot white - four feet square, white, having at its centre a block, red, sixteen inches square.
    4. The four-foot black - four feet square, black, having at centre a block, white, sixteen inches square.
    5. The four-foot red - four feet square, red, having at centre a block, white, sixteen inches square.
    6. The two-foot white-two feet square, white, having at centre a block of red, eight inches square.
    7. The two-foot red - two feet square, red, having at its centre a block of white, eight inches square.

    All of these flags are fitted with tapes or ties, by which to secure them to the staff. This is found the most simple and the best mode of attaching. Two tapes, six inches long and sewn together at the hoist-edge of the flag, make a tie. The ties are positioned one foot apart.

  • 3rd Torch Case and Torches.

    The Torch Case is a piece of rubber cloth about three feet long by two feet six inches broad, fitted on one side with pouches, in which the torches are inserted.

    At the opposite edge are ties. The torches are packed by being placed in the pouches, with the case then- rolled around them so as to envelop them in two or three folds of cloth. The ties retain the package in this form.

    The Flying Torch - is a copper cylinder, eighteen inches long and one and one-half inch in diameter; it is closed at one end, with the exception of a nozzle. through which it can be filled, and which closes with a screw-cap; it is open at the wick end, and on its sides, at this end, are four fenestra or openings, one inch long, half an inch broad, which open into the wick, so providing that however the flame may be driven by the wind, it will find a portion of the wick exposed.

    The Foot Torch - is a copper cylinder, eighteen inches long and two inches in diameter. It is similar in its structure to the flying torch.

    The flying torch attaches to the staff "third-joint" by clamp-rings and screws.

    The Funnel, Pliers, and Shears are used for filling and trimming the torch.

    View Signal Kit

This final push for the creation of this Cyber-Glossary
is attributed to the encouragement of:

Mr. Charles Lee of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.