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Message Received: 1865

Message Received: 1865

Circa 1865. "Signalmen of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren's flagship receiving a message from the Georgia shore." Wet plate glass negative. View full size.


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Navy Garb

In the 1950s the Navy introduced a straight leg wool pant with zipper and side pockets like civilian pants. They were a total failure -- I wore Navy 13 button bellbottom trousers until I was commissioned in the late '60s. I'm not sure if the 13 button pant is still used today.


You just need to know the period.

1: The U.S Navy only issued straight fly trousers because of the sudden and immediate need to outfit an expanded Navy during the Civil War.

2: The flags are not semaphore flags. Semaphore did not exist at the time. The Army and Navy had two different signaling systems, and these sailors are using the Army wig-wag system developed by Major A. J. Meyers. The system only used one flag. The flags came in three different sizes and colors for different backgrounds and distances. Because the sailors are using the Army's system, it indicates as the caption says, that they are communicating with army units ashore. The signal officer is the only one who would know the code. The enlisted men would just wig-wag the numerical combinations they were given. Also, they are not actually signaling at the moment, they are posing for a picture.

3: The idea of pressed uniforms with sharp creases is a 20th century thing. Both sides did some serious fighting without spit-shined boots.

John Adolph Bernard Dahlgren

En gammal svensk amiral!

Some more info about this Swedish admiral.

Wrinkled uniforms

Many of the sailors' uniforms of that time were made out of wool, which would never have been pressed. It was an ideal material, since even if it got wet, it would still provide excellent insulation for a person's body.

Navy Blues

I never knew that the Navy uniform had a straight button fly back in those days. I thought the uniform was all thirteen button blues until sometime after the early 1900's. It just shows to go you , I guess.

Long Distance

If they were doing long-distance naval semaphore, which is suggested by the telescope and the size of the flags, they would not be signalling from the deck. The signalmen would have to go aloft in order to be seen from afar, no fun on a ship at sea. Again, because of the size of the flags, it must have taken two men to make the signals, without a spare hand for hanging on. Some geeks.

And the message was ...

No more pinky rings for the head Signal guy.
And maybe you could trim back the mutton chops?

Out to sea

If this doesn't make you want to join the Navy and see the world, I don't know what will.

Old wrinkles

The uniforms in these old photos always look as if they had just been lifted out of a Salvation Army or Goodwill cardboard box. A stark contrast to the meticulously pressed attire of today's military people.


Yes, there were geeks in 1865. This is what they looked like.

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