A SINGLE, ORIGINAL CIVIL WAR SIGNAL FLARE WITH PERIOD OWNER’S PAPER TAG

$895.00

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: M23737

Presented here, in excellent condition, is a very rare army signal flare cartridge identified to a Union soldier, Joseph A. Arnold of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery battalion during the Civil War. Once part of Arnold’s own collection, this unique Signal Corps item is an original, unmarked and extremely rare, Coston-patent signaling flare cartridge as used in the Federal Army’s pyrotechnic signaling system during the war.

Private Arnold mustered into Company E, Rhode Island 3rd Heavy Artillery on August 21, 1861 and served with E company, (the 10th company) until mustered out on August 31, 1864. The regiment’s service was varied and its several companies saw service over an extended area of the war. It served as infantry, heavy artillery, light artillery and some units which served as coast guards or special service crew on armed transports.

Often called a composition fire, or Coston’s Fire Signals, this cartridge device, when activated by a special flare signal-pistol, exploded and gave off the specific colored lights as were painted on the flare. The Coston signaling flares were called “Coston’s Composition Night Signals”, a.k.a. the Coston’s Telegraphic Night Signal System and were the 1859 invention of Madame Martha Coston of Baltimore. The Coston story is a very interesting one. Martha Coston, a native of Baltimore, MD was the wife of a young naval scientist who died early and left her a widow in 1849 at the age of 21 with four children to support. Mrs. Coston found the idea of a system of signaling flares in her dead husband’s notebooks. He was unable to get his system to work but Martha Coston, seeking a means to support her family, took the drawings and tried to perfect his system. Her challenge was to create flares that were bright and long-lasting enough for ship-to-ship or ship-to-land signaling over great distances. After ten years of working with other scientists, she succeeded in 1859 and was granted a US patent. Mrs. Coston invented and patented a system of red, white and green “Pyrotechnic Night Signals” in cartridge form that worked extremely well. So well that the U.S. Government soon purchased the rights on the pyrotechnic signaling system for $20,000 and during the Civil War, Coston’s flares helped win battles for the Union Army and save lives of countless shipwreck victims for the U.S. Navy.

This single Coston-patent flare cartridge, in excellent condition, is a hollow, cylindrical-shaped, 2¾” long, wooden stemmed device filled with powder composition and sealed with a colored paper wrapping. The flare cartridges exhibit unique color combinations to represent various numerals and letters used in military signaling. Top half of this flare’s body is white while the bottom half is in green paper. The wood stem is stamped with the number “3” indicating that when activated by the flare gun, a flash of white light will be followed by a flash if green light. Small original paper tag has a hand written note in black ink that reads “Signal light / for use in the / night. Burns white and then / green.”

This is a very scarce Civil War “Coston Flare” that would enhance any Civil War collection, especially one with a Signal Corps or communications focus. Comes with a brief bio sheet on the soldier and a cursory history of the artillery regiment.

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