Saturday, January 28, 2006

Signal Corps

Entertaining events were few and far between in US Army frontier posts prior to the Civil War. (Ulysses S. Grant – future General and US President – was so bored, he began drinking. Finally, he resigned his commission and returned to civilian life.)

An Army doctor, Albert James Myer*, was more...motivated. While serving as a medical officer in Texas in 1856, he dreamt up the idea of a separate, trained professional military signal service. He proposed that the Army use his visual communications system called “wigwag.” When the Army adopted his system June 21, 1860, the Signal Corps was born. Myer was the first and only Signal officer. (He was Chief of Signals when Grant commanded all the Union armies.)

After covering the “Semaphore Guys” extensively last October (see Archives here, October 25-27), I’m swinging back for a bit more history.

The Signal Center at Fort Gordon, GA, is the home of the US Army Signal Corp. That’s one of its insignia above. As an insignia, “crossed flags” have been used by the Signal Corps since 1864. They were prescribed for wear on the uniform coat by enlisted men of the Signal Corps. A burning torch (signaling at night) was added to the insignia in 1884 and the present design adopted on July 1 that same year.

It should hardly be a surprise that the flags and torch represent signaling or communication. In terms of heraldry: two signal flags crossed, dexter (right) flag white with red center, sinister flag (left), red with white center, staffs of gold, with a flaming torch of gold color upright at center of crossed flags.

The colors of the Branch? Orange trimmings and facings were approved for the Signal Service in 1872. White piping was added in 1902, to conform to the custom which prevailed of having piping of a different color for all except the line branches.

Just how far has Army Signals come since Doc Myer’s day? Read the USASC site. In addition to modern battlefield communications, the Fort Gordon “Regiment” (Regimental Division, Office Chief of Signals) is responsible for the Signal Corps’s marketing initiatives – complete with brochure. This is your signal to have a great weekend.

*USASC uses "Myer." Jean Edward Smith, author of one of the best Grant biographies, uses "Meyer."

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