Signals are of two kinds,- transient and permanent. The former include those indicated by motion or by sound; the latter, those which are held in view for any considerable length of time.
The principle underlying Maj. Myer’s system, as well as all other known systems, was that of having a certain number of arbitrary, simple signs or symbols, easily distinguished the one from the other, being made to appear separately or in combination. When a meaning is attached to those signs, single or combined, they become signals.
The number of different kinds if signs used in combination is called the number of elements of that signal. Thus the system of signals used by Maj. Myer in his experiments in New Mexico, and which was more generally used through the [Civil War] than any other, was termed the four element code. The combination signal 11 has one element; 1423 has for elements; 234, three elements; 1114, two elements, and so on. A code of signals is a series or set of signals in which each sign or combination has a definite meaning.
The principles upon which all signals are based are fixed and unchangeable. The applications of these principles can be limited only by the limitations of human skill and human ingenuity. Signalling is conveyance of ideas by means of symbols, or conversing at a distance. Talking is the conveyance of ideas by means of vocal sounds made singly or in combination; through the written or printed page ideas are conveyed by means of symbols called letters, either single or combined; telegraphing is conveying ideas by means of symbols, dots and dashes, variously combined; signaling as practiced by the Signal Corps is, for the most part, a method of conveying ideas by motions of a flag or torch, or by some corresponding or equivalent means.
The four-element code was towards the close of the war, to some extent, superseded by the two-element or one-eight code. The two codes are essentially idendical, though apparently quite unlike. In the four element code the numbers particularly describe each motion [of the flag]. In the two-element code only the motions from the vertical position are indicated, the returns to the vertical [ready] being undesignated.
Four Element Motions:
All motions in a combination must be made without a pause. The movements cannot be made to rapidly, if there is a distinct pause, however brief, between the combinations, the message may not be readily understood.
- "1" is one motion down to the left, returning to the vertical;
- "2" is one motion down to the right, returning to the vertical;
- "1423" is four motions - as follows:
- First Motion "1" flag down to the ground on the left and imdeiately return to the first position (flag held up-right) and then proceed directly...
- Second Motion "4" flag down to the ground on the left side, hold for a second and then swung horizontally to the right side (out in front of the body), hold for a second and then return to the first position and then immediately begin ...
- Third Motion "2" flag down to the ground on the right side and return the flag back up to the vertical first position and then immediately begin...
- Forth Motion "3" flag down to the ground on the right side, held for a second and then swung horizontally to the left side (out in front of the body), pause for a second and then return to the vertical first postion to await the order to commence the next combination.
- "5" is made in the same manor as a "3" in the Two-element system. Lowering the flag directly to the ground in front, and instantly bringing it again to the first position
- "Error" is given in the same manor as the Two-element system. Holding the flag vertically overhead until a matching response is given.
- "Signature" or "Address" is made by the combination of "44"
Those who have become accustomed to the four element code become attached to it and prefer it to the seemingly more simpler two element (which is the standard code used for comunications for living historians).
The four element code is much more fluent in style and grace. And is an excellent system to use for living history demonstrations or for living history battle tacticals.