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Posted By: Walter F. Mathers on: 05/23/2002 00:00:25 CDT
Subject: The Art of Aerial Telegraphy

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The answer to your question "to keep the 4 ft. flag from fouling on the pole" is basically accomplished by creating tight little figure-eights when a flag reaches nearly to the ground and is then brought toward the upright position with the entire flag following the pole as a train of cars would follow its locomotive around an extremely tight radius of track. The fellow who can make that flag snap as it reaches the upward turn of the figure-eight (in other words when the flag reaches the bottom of the arch just a few inches above the ground and begins to ascend to the ready or first position) speaks volumes to me. When a flagman can make the flag closely follow the pole in that tight little arch, and do so when the pole makes it turn but a few inches above the ground on either side, this gentleman has gained my respect for knowing his job well.

The entire process seems quite simply in the right artisan's hands. And it also takes on a definite air of military precision in the process. But make no mistake, the art of aerial telegraphy is learned by much practice and constant review. Especial attention must be constantly paid to the direction and speed of even the slightest winds, else a flag-man may incur instant tangling though he may be executing his small loopings well.

In my opinion, obtaining superiour proficiency of this art, prior to reaching the re-enacting field, accomplishes nothing short of showing the highest regard for the historical figues a flagman was supposedly helping. Through a flag-man's hands would have pass'd the import of vital information (we're talking re-enacting here ~ but should we put our minds into the play-acting of living history, we will know that I am speaking of simulating timeliness which would oft times represent the difference between life and death situations).

I will give credit to the person who can find any war-time documentation showing that the term 'wig-wag' was used during the War years. Author JW Brown, is quite particular in omitting it from his 916 pages of signal history text. Myer has not included it as a term in his War-time manual. I don't believe it is to be found in AJM's 1868 manual as well. The question then begs an answer as to whether we, as living historians, can find alternative ways of describing flag and torch communication techniques to the wanting Twenty-first century audiences.


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