Educator's Guide: Social Studies: Messages


The widespread battlefields of the Civil War required a comprehensive communications system. This system had effectively sent messages across miles of territory, between army and navy units and could be difficult to decipher. In order for the army and navy to communicate, Army Signal Corpsmen were placed on naval vessels and Naval Signalmen were assigned to Army units. Messages were ciphered and transmitted. The Navy signal flags were brightly colored to make them easier to read during the smokey, hazy conditions of battle. The Navy had a flag for each letter and would hoist the flags up the mast. Using cipher, a flag could denote a message, i.e. A = escort transports. The USS CAIRO had it's signal mast on the bow of the hurricane deck.


Have the students color and cut out the signal flags Divide the class into groups. Have the groups write a message and send it to the class members. The remaining teams try to decipher the message. Younger students can just spell out their messages older students can create a cipher. A cipher can be as simple as transposing letters, i.e. A = D, B = E etc... Students may wish to make flags out of cloth and send messages across a field.

Classroom Activities:

  • Art
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies


  • 1 - 12


To communicate a message to their classmates, using Navy signal flags.


Flag patterns, crayons or markers, scissors, pencil and paper. Optional: colorful cloth, glue gun.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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