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  1. #1
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    On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank
    by Paul Calloway

    My little story:

    It had been a long weekend, plagued by rain early it seemed as if the 1995 reenactment at Nashville, TN might be wash out. But the sun had broke early on Saturday and the wind had wicked up most of the mud and sludge. It had been so thick it had literally pulled our boots from our feet. It was now Sunday and we were blessed with a warm October afternoon, the sky high in the sky and the men's spirits equally lofty.

    The battle commenced with vigor as the hundreds of mounted troopers stormed the enemy position. I was situated in the second platoon and in the front rank of a union infantry company. I was fresh as the driven snow having only reenacted a few months but nonetheless noticed right away my file partner was having trouble controlling his piece.

    As he would load, his piece was constantly butting into my elbows and back. When he would fire he was consistently capping my ear and leaving me feeling a bit in harms way. I noticed his loading technique was to hold his rifle with his left arm at almost arm's length and parallel with his body. He would then try to prime his piece with his other arm. He had the habit of moving the gun toward the cap rather than vice versa.

    About a half hour into the fight I was preparing to take my customary hit. Those of you who know me probably know of my penchant for not surviving battles. My rear rank file partner was loading his piece in his customary way and was in the process of priming. With his piece at almost arm's length and seemingly completely out of control, he cracked my head with the barrel of his rifle as he manuevered it toward his cap.

    Stunned I started to turn to say something to him when he shouted, "Over!" I quickly jerked my head back around to the front not wanting to get capped again and was met with a muzzle flash. He hadn't "stepped forward"* with his right foot and had fired his piece with the muzzle only an inch or two from my face.

    My next recollection was being helped to my feet by a few friends. Had I had my head on straight I might have taken the occasion to pop him in the jaw for acting like such a yahoo. I had quite a burn on my face and for a couple weeks it looked as though my right cheek and temple had been sunburned. Furthermore my eyes burned from the sulfer of gun-powder... and that old familiar saying popped into my head, "... it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye."






    A Few Thoughts on Making this Hobby More Authentic and More Safe for us all:


    Prime

    174. (First Motion.) With the left hand raise the piece till the hand is as high as the eye, grasp the small of the stock with the right hand; half face to the right; place, at the same time, the right foot behind and at right angles with the left; the hollow of the right foot against the left heel. Slip the left hand down to the lower band, the thumb along the stock, the left elbow against the body; bring the piece to the right side, the butt below the right fore-arm - the small of the stock against the body and two inches below the right breast, the barrel upwards, the muzzle on a level with the eye.

    -Infantry Tactics for the Instruction, Exercise, and Manuevers of the Soldier, a Company, Line of Skirmishers, Battalion, Brigade or Corps D'Armee by Brig. -Gen. Silas Casey. Vol. I

    The common reenactor practice of holding your piece in front of you without supporting it against your side is wrong. It's wrong because the books plainly indicate to do otherwise. Those books were written with safety and order in mind - we are to be trained soldiers not a mob (unless it's Wilson's Creek.) I suggest we all take extra care to prime our pieces more carefully and as prescribed above.

    Old veterans of reenacting - take care that you allow yourself to be taught and not take offense if it be necessary to reeducate you in the principals of loading and firing. You may very well have been doing this for fifteen years, but if you're doing it wrong, you're still wrong. Please don't take offense when folks try to tell you how to do it right. Our goal should be to be more like the real civil war soldier and not to be more like civil war reenactors.

    Firing from the Rear-Rank:

    All men should be well drilled accordingly in the principals of firing. Fire-closers should pay careful attention to the alignment and methods of the men while they fire and load. "The most important duty of sergeant is that of file-closer," August Kautz from Customs of Service "...it is his duty to see the men pay attention to their duty, preserve order, march properly, and keep closed."

    Aim

    182. When recruits are formed in two ranks to execute the firings, the front rank men will raise a little less the right elbow, in order to facilitate the aim of the rear rank men.

    183. The rear rank men, in aiming, will each carry the right foot about eight inches to the right, and towards the left heel of the man next on the right, inclining the upper part of the body forward.

    Aim (rear rank while firing at the LEFT-oblique)

    279. At the cautionary command, left oblique, the two ranks will throw back the left shoulder, and look steadily at the object to be hit.

    278. At the command aim, the front rank will take aim to the left without deranging the feet; each man in the rear rank will advance the right foot about eight inches toward the right heel of the man next on the right of his file leader, and aim to the left, inclining the upper part of the body forward, and bending a little the right knee.

    AN EXCEPTION - When to advance the left foot.

    In firing, on nearly every occasion, the rear rank man will advance the right foot. The ONLY instance where a rear rank man will advance the left foot is in firing at the RIGHT-oblique. This is indicated in paragraph 278 of Casey's. "At the command aim, each front-rank man will aim to the right without deranging the feet; each rear-rank man will advance the left foot about eight inches toward the right heel of the man next on the right of his file leader, and aim to the right, inclining the upper part of the body forward, and bending a little the left knee."

    Furthermore -

    277. At the cautionary command, right oblique, the two ranks will throw back the right shoulder, and look steadily at the object to be hit.





    *"Stepping Forward" to fire in the rear rank is what I had been taught in 1995. As the manuals clearly indicate above, there is no stepping forward at all. One should step to the right.


    Conclusion:
    If File-closers do their job in maintaining order and insuring the soldiers do their duties, our ranks as Civil War Reenactors will appear much more regimented and military. They can accomplish this by insuring the men execute the principals of loading and firing precisely as prescribed in the manuals. It is believed that this regimentation was instituted for a precise set of reasons. Whether they be for safety, military decorum or some other set of reasons we should heed them carefully not and not disregard them as inconvenient. Let's not be so patronizing to suggest we know better than the old veterans.
    Last edited by paulcalloway; 12-27-2007 at 11:12 AM.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  2. #2
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    Apr 2007
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    I had it happen to me before. I was 16 abnd short and was on the front line and I managed to get up and cuss the guy out, and I had a bad right ear for the rest of the weekend, Now I try my best to be infront of people I know and trust, my dad is pretty much deaf and I want to try to take of my ears the best I can.
    Shelby Hull
    3rd LA/ 48thOVI
    24thLA
    Independent Rifles

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  3. #3
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Where do we get the idea that you step FORWARD with the right foot?

    Paul? "He hadn't stepped forward with his right foot and had fired his piece with the muzzle only an inch or two from my face. "

    The manuals have you slide your foot over to your file partners heel. The language is 'advance', but the diagrams and actual practice are to the side. Not Forward.

    Our file closers admonish our rear ranks to step forward as well (Rear Rank Step Up, Rear Rank Step up with your right foot)....they're trying to get the bands lined up on the front ranks EAR/head correctly.

    But it is NOT in the manual.

    We don't safely/realistically/accurately know how to fire like they did.....multiple ranks, bunches of men, naturally pushing forward to fire and then drift back to load, LIE DOWN/crouch/seek cover WITHOUT ORDERS, fire and reload continuously whilst on the move, fire in looser/more open formations when the rear rank isn't 13" from the front rank's knapsack/skillet, and march in battle line with a LIGHT TOUCH of the elbows.

    This rear rank yahoo needed some edumacation in loading in 9 times for sure....not securing the stock under his right armpit while capping for example.....and he also needs some good old gun safety lessons (the gun is always loaded, never point the muzzle at anything you wouldn't want to kill....).
    Last edited by RJSamp; 12-23-2007 at 11:05 PM. Reason: schpellink
    RJ Samp
    (Mr. Robert James Samp, Junior)
    Bugle, Bugle, Bugle

  4. #4
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    RJ -
    As I said in the article, the manual dictates that you:

    183. The rear rank men, in aiming, will each carry the right foot about eight inches to the right, and towards the left heel of the man next on the right, inclining the upper part of the body forward.
    But in 1995, I was new in the ranks and hearing everyone say "step forward" in the rear rank to shoot. The article discusses that and makes the conclusion that one shouldn't step forward but carry the right foot eight inches to the right.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  5. #5
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    I have to chime in as this topic is becoming a crusade for me.

    RJ, you do not secure the stock under any armpit. That is also a reenactorism and a safety issue.

    If done correctly by the books the stock runs more along the forearm. This provides more support of the weapon. You can let go with either hand and still control the weapon.

    Below is a link to a short article that I have written. The main goal of the article is to get people to actually read what the manuals state.


    http://sallyportmess.itgo.com/readyrecover.html

  6. #6
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Hmm good post! Paul I hope you were not in one of the AofP companies at Nashville/Franklin when your rear rank incident occuried! Went spent a great deal of time on drilling companies in the proper positon of the soldier in the rear rank.

    Over the years I have spent HOURS & HOURS trying to teach companies basic rear rank foot position & firing. God knows I dread hearing "left oblique...AIM", the mess that usually results from bad weapon control mixed with little or no understanding of the proper foot position makes you want to pull your hair out. Man its not rocket science but trust me fellows I've seen the same mis-understanding, or outright mis-interpretation of the manuals for 30 years.

    Keep up the good fight. Mr. Stamp brings up a good point regarding file closers, they should be some of the best drilled members of a company and should keep a weather eye out for the smooth running of the company, and the safety of the comany on the firing line. I always stress "do not rush!, do not hurry! if you cannot fire safely, DO NOT FIRE AT ALL". I 've seen a front rank man turn around and punch the fellow covering him due to a firing incident, makes me think twice about what I'm doing in the rear rank. Officers, make sure to size your company correctly too, the 5'10 rear rank guy will thank you for not putting him behind the 6'2 beanpole, unless you plan on issuing him a footstool.

    Edward "left oblique, uhh, change front forward"...Parrott
    Edward Anthony Parrott
    "Humbug"

  7. #7
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Mr. Parrott,

    Can't agree more with all that you've said, especially the "joke" at the close. I've seen "oblique" described in various manuals as distances between 30 and 45 degrees. I wish I could put my hand on the references here but I'm away from my manuals.

    When I'm teaching "School of the Soldier" or working on firings in company formations, I instruct the men to aim for oblique firings at no more than a 30 degree angle from the direct aim. I've found that the danger increases the greater the angle men try to aim at.

    I actually tell them that if the target is at a greater angle than that, the officers should be maneuvering the company (battalion, whatever) to engage the enemy.

    Happy Holidays!

    Will
    Will Eichler

    Member, Company of Military Historians
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  8. #8
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Will:

    Glad you got the joke! Funny that we find companies trying to act like whole battalions at smaller events, you know pretending there are large troop formations on either side of them, advancing and exposing flanks etc.. Suddenly when there are enemy troops off to the sides of them, where the imaginary troops just were, they suddenly forget this and try to pull of a 90 degree angle oblique aim!

    Its just funny to me that I started to crack the books 30 years ago to make a concerted effort to learn the drill, many people much smarter than me have written articles, whole books, treatise, held schools etc.. on this stuff and it STILL gets done wrong. The simplest stuff like the school of the soldier and school of the company seem like they MUST be rocket science or how else can you explain the seeming lack of understanding of the basic concepts layed out in them that you will see at lots of events.


    Edward "the angry guy running on the outside of the wheel" Parrott
    Edward Anthony Parrott
    "Humbug"

  9. #9
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    Unhappy Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Hallo!

    "Its just funny to me that I started to crack the books 30 years ago to make a concerted effort to learn the drill, many people much smarter than me have written articles, whole books, treatise, held schools etc.. on this stuff and it STILL gets done wrong. The simplest stuff like the school of the soldier and school of the company seem like they MUST be rocket science or how else can you explain the seeming lack of understanding of the basic concepts layed out in them that you will see at lots of events."

    While it may be a better topic for its own occassionally discussed thread...

    IMHO, tis the evolved Nature of the Beast.
    Meaning, the rise of the Right of the Alphabet Model with its smaller events, disconnected messes, and regional collections of individuals comng together (and part) to form companies and battalions for events only- has hurt their/our/my ability to be "drilled, practiced, and drilled" as trained, experienced, and well practiced individuals as well as company/battalion/brigade level members.
    For me personally, I last studied, practiced, and performed as a 40 man company captain in a 1200 man brigade in 1988. (At a time when our officers and NCO's studied and practiced five hours hours a month, twelve months a year. And at a time when our company received instruction, practiced, and drilled another three hours a month, twelve months a year. Not counting drill sessions at each event).

    Curt
    We create our own experience Mess
    In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

    -Hard and sharp as flint...secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
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  10. #10
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    Re: On Priming, and Firing from the Rear Rank: by Paul Calloway

    Curt:

    I agree with all you have said, I like your motto in this post's signature as well. We truly do create our own experiance. Thanks for posting the "officers three" on the other forum too!

    Edward " I like the pictures in the manual but can't read 19th century english" Parrott
    Edward Anthony Parrott
    "Humbug"

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