On Priming, and Firing from the Rear RankMy little story:
by Paul Calloway
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:
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."
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."
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.