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Debunked: Left Oblique Aiming Over Right Shoulders

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  • Debunked: Left Oblique Aiming Over Right Shoulders



    From the 1820's through the 1870's, no compiler of American drill tactics instructed rear-rank troops to aim and fire over the right shoulders of the front-rank men. Yet, that's how we were all taught and have taught others.

    After going through a slew of manuals and other sources from Scott to Upton, I am convinced that left oblique aiming was through the left interval, not over the right shoulders of the front-rank men. There is no good reason why we aim over right shoulders when compilers who specified a side all instructed aiming through the left interval and when no compiler instructed aiming through the right interval or over the right shoulder. Here's a link to the twenty-two page article of which two and a half pages are sources:

    CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE

    I broke the article into bite sized bits for easier consumption. I've included illustrations of the foot movements per the instruction of Hardee, Gilham and Casey. The results surprised me as they are very different than what I thought they would be. They're certainly not what I was taught twenty years ago, nor are they what reenactors are still taught today. I've also broken down the movements for left oblique into individual movements for better understanding. Upton provides a necessary tip which should have been included in the manuals of Hardee and company.
    Last edited by Eric Tipton; 10-12-2019, 10:26 AM. Reason: typo
    Silas Tackitt,
    one of the moderators.

    Click here for a link to forum rules - or don't at your own peril.

  • #2
    Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

    Excellent, as usual. Thank you for this.
    Marc A. Hermann
    Liberty Rifles.
    MOLLUS, New York Commandery.
    Oliver Tilden Camp No 26, SUVCW.


    In honor of Sgt. William H. Forrest, Co. K, 114th PA Vol. Infantry. Pvt. Emanuel Hermann, 45th PA Militia. Lt. George W. Hopkins & Capt. William K. Hopkins, Co. E, 7th PA Reserves. Pvt. Joseph A. Weckerly, 72nd PA Vol. Infantry (WIA June 29, 1862, d. March 23, 1866.) Pvt. Thomas Will, 21st PA Vol. Cavalry (WIA June 18, 1864, d. July 31, 1864.)

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    • #3
      Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

      Hermann, you're my hero. Seriously. It was your "Support for Support Arms" which caused me to question other accepted practices we do without question and wonder if they are legit. Left oblique firing has bugged me for years. I needed to do some digging on my own and reveal what I found regardless of which way it went. Now I know. It went left from the left, not left from the right.
      Silas Tackitt,
      one of the moderators.

      Click here for a link to forum rules - or don't at your own peril.

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      • #4
        Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

        A very good article Silas, and quite convincing!
        Andrew Gale

        21st Arkansas Vol. Inf. Co. H
        Company H, McRae's Arkansas Infantry
        Affiliated Conscripts Mess

        Cpl. George Washington Pennington, 171st Penn. Co. K
        Mustered into service: Aug. 27, 1862
        Captured: Spottsylvania Court House, Virginia, May 12, 1864
        Died: Andersonville Prison, Georgia, Sept. 13, 1864
        sigpic

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        • #5
          Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

          Thanks for the good article,but I am not convinced at all.
          You point out that many manuals uses the left shoulder for tzhe left obleque Aiming.
          But I am not sure, if that means, that the right shoulder wasnt used.
          I mean there are so many Variations in the schools of the soldiers - why this cant be another one?

          First we have the Drawing in the Gilham Manual. So for the Drawer it was absolutle clear in mind, that you have to use the right side. Isnt this an posittive evideance, I think it is.
          Also in your article you uses the realy interessting united states service magazin. But if a soldiers questions about the right side for obleque aiming. I think that means that he doesnt know what to do, because he have seen different variations. I think he have seen soldiers using the right and soldiers using the left side.
          And last but not least we have to look on the feet.
          YOu argued that Hardee, Casey and Gilham only shortened the words of Scott, but if that is true, why they change the position of the feet?
          Scott and Upton let the soldier make a step forward, while the Big three make a step by the side. It wouldnt make sence, if they alluses the same position of the rifle. Why should they change it? I think because they uses the right shoulder for left obleque aiming. If you uses the left one, the easyest way to come intoposition ist to step up with your left foot. If your are steping by the side and front with your right one, this position is much more uncomfortable. ANd this makes only sence, when this position indicates the use of the right shoulder.

          So I agree totaly that the left shoulder was used in the civil war for left obleque aiming.
          BUt I dont think using the right one is an reenactorism.

          Regards,

          ALexander Brink
          Alexander Brink

          "quite a time in the 29 New York Regt…The Officers called out the men at midnight and were going to drill them. The men fixed their Bayonets and charged on the Officers and drove them out of camp. They were going to drill them because they did not work better on the road the day before."
          (Vogelman: Ignaz Wasserman and the 29th New York Volunteers)

          [url=http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=signatur1aj0pnpz.jpg][img]http://www.abload.de/img/signatur1aj0pnpz.jpg[/img][/url]

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          • #6
            Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

            Without a musket, perform the movements as directed, and from the rear rank, see where you end up looking naturally - over the left shoulder of the front rant man. As that is where you are looking, it is nature=al to have the musket through that interval as well.

            It is hard to "throw back the left shoulder" and end up looking over the right shoulder of the soldier in front of you. If you do nothing else but face to the left oblique you look directly at the head of the front rank man of the file to your left. Moving the right foot 8 inches toward the right heel of the front rank man places you looking over the left shoulder of the soldier in front of you. Yes, it does mean moving the musket behind the head of your front rank man, but it is a natural movement
            Tommy Attaway

            Company of Military Historians, & etc.

            Knox-Corinthian #851, A. F. & A. M. of Texas

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            • #7
              Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

              The question is, why should the men make a step with the right foot.
              You can also fire over the left shoulder without moving a foot (chandler does it)
              But the common manuals all let the men moves theit feet.
              But movving the feet always is a startpoint for problems in the rank and file. SO their must be a reason.
              And it is a simple one.
              Aiming is not only about pointing in the right direction, it is also abou keeping the right distance between your musket and the men in front of you. Thats why the movements are so comlecated. Thats why Scott steps up with his left foot. - To keep the right distance.
              If you make a step like Hardee and Gilham and Casey did it, you has to aim over the right shoulder. Only that way you keeps the ears of your ferontmen between the lower band and the middle band, - the position it always has while aiming. If you uses the left shoulder, the head of the men right in front is in the near of your upper band.
              In all variations of aiming there has to be the same difference!
              That are mistakes you can find in the uncommon manuals (somthing like chandler or Kelton), but not in an Manual of the professional french army.

              Keep practice and you will see, what I mean

              Best Regards,

              Alexander Brink
              Alexander Brink

              "quite a time in the 29 New York Regt…The Officers called out the men at midnight and were going to drill them. The men fixed their Bayonets and charged on the Officers and drove them out of camp. They were going to drill them because they did not work better on the road the day before."
              (Vogelman: Ignaz Wasserman and the 29th New York Volunteers)

              [url=http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=signatur1aj0pnpz.jpg][img]http://www.abload.de/img/signatur1aj0pnpz.jpg[/img][/url]

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              • #8
                Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                I just tried this yesterday at Gettysburg with a pard who doesn't follow the forums. We both took turns in the rear rank and came up with the same conclusions as Mr. Brink. The point about the direction and distance both being important is vital. There's a fuller discussion over on Szabo's and I think that there's a general sense that the paper, while excellent, does not necessarily support its conclusion.
                Michael A. Schaffner

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                • #9
                  Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                  " With the foundation laid by Scott in the 1820 and 1830's, all subsequent manuals
                  which specified an interval all specified that the weapon is aimed through the left interval.
                  The author did not encounter any manuals which specified aiming through the right
                  interval or over the right shoulder for left oblique firings. All were on the left side. The
                  explicit specification ceased with Hardee’s 1855 manual.
                  Compare the full phrase from paragraph 285 in the School of the Soldier of Scott’s
                  1835 tactics :
                  ... and take aim through the intervals to the left of their file-leaders.
                  Left Oblique : Page 11 of 22
                  to the same paragraph of the Schools of the Soldier found in paragraphs 271 of Hardee,
                  192 of Gilham and 280 of Casey :
                  ... and aim to the left....
                  The below phrase shows what was removed from the full phrase and from where :
                  ... and take aim through the intervals to the left of their file-leaders. "



                  I believe there's an error in this part of the article about the "what was removed" speculations: . 1855 HARDEE was a translation of the French 1845 ORDONNANCE DU ROI and had nothing to do with earlier SCOTTS (for that matter the 1835 SCOTTS had nothing to do with earlier U.S. manuals, it was a switch to the French system of 1831). Casey confirms this in the preface of his manual. Hardee does a pretty accurate translation of the French manual which has no mention of the left interval and even in the case of the 1831 ORDONNANCE/1835 SCOTTS they were only refering to the center and rear rank firing to the left of the kneeling front rank while in the three rank formation.
                  John Duffer
                  Independence Mess
                  MOOCOWS
                  WIG
                  "There lies $1000 and a cow."

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                  • #10
                    Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                    I brought this up with our captain and 1st SG a few weeks ago.

                    First I got the expected reply. "It is over the right shoulder in the manuals", "We always done it over the right", "when we went to the US to reenact they did it over the right"...

                    I mentioned a few of the core points from the PDF... And we agreed to try out doing it over the left shoulder.

                    So at our drill yesterday I explained the core points from the PDF to the men and we did Left Oblique both as we have don in the past (over right shoulder) and tried it as Col Tackitt suggest at the end of the PDF... and everyone agreed that this way was a lot easier. (we had two completely new guys and they both got is right away... where getting it to work over the right shoulder have always bin rather problematic.)

                    So Iam convinced you are right... and my mates that haven't read the "academic arguments" agree that is simply work better this way.
                    Thomas Aagaard

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                    • #11
                      Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                      My group had a drill last weekend, and we went over the differences firing through the right verses the left interval. We all came to the same conclusion. It's much easier through the left interval and makes more sense.

                      Key is how far that right foot must move diagonally toward the front rank man on the right. A movement of eight inches diagonal from the original location isn't very far and makes the lean around the right side of the front rank man a very awkward proposition. With blanks, balance is dicey around the right side. With rounds, the rear rank men are going to tossed off balance with every firing. To get around the right side comfortably, that right foot needs to move much farther than the eight inches specified in all the manuals.

                      After further review of even earlier manuals than I used for my article, I believe the foot placing as shown in my illustrations is a little off. Problem wasn't where I put the feet, but the direction to which the toes are pointed. There is no indiction from the text of any of the manuals consulted whether the feet remain in the direction they were in before movement. For example, on the right oblique, the left foot moves. No text says which way the toes should point, so I applied the rule of moving the left foot diagonally eight inches and keeping the foot pointed to the front. This is an awkward way to aim, but many things are awkward in the manuals until practiced many times over. I kept the direction the same. Then I consulted the 1820 U.S. Tactics and changed my opinion about foot placement.

                      The text in the older tactics does not say to point the toes in any particular direction ; however, a plate devoted to the oblique firings has the left foot pointed forty-five degrees to the right. (Click on the attachment at the bottom of this post to review the plate.) This means that the left foot is pointed in the direction of the aim, just as is performed for direct firings. In applying the rules from the CW era manuals and pointing the left foot in the direction to which the aim is made, I found that the stance was comfortable, balanced and safe. Accordingly, I followed the illustration from the older tactics. Had the text in the older tactics been substantially different than the 1830's manuals or those which follow the Hardee method, I would not have adopted the older method. As best as possible, I went into this article with the idea of setting aside how I was taught and letting the manuals determine what is correct or most correct.

                      When firing to the left oblique, a mere following of the illustrations in the plate isn't as easy. The text in the old and new manuals does not state whether the toes point to the direct or the oblique. The only difference is that the LEFT foot moves in the old method for left obliques. In the CW texts, the right foot moves. The illustration from 1820 has the toes pointed into the direction of the aim. That's one awkward way of firing which was dumped by Hardee, but reinstituted by Upton in his post war text.

                      The question then becomes which way should the toes on the right point for left obliques in the CW texts. Before movement, the feet are in a "T" with the right foot perpendicular to the front and the left foot pointing to the direct front. There being no indication that the direction of the toes change after moving the right foot, I assumed that once the foot was moved to the new location it would remain pointed to the perpendicular. Like the right oblique firing, I no longer believe this is correct.

                      Since the manuals from 1855 Hardee through 1865 Pace all specify the right foot moves for left oblique firings, the right foot either remains perpendicular to the line of battle or at an oblique. Keeping the right foot perpendicular to the front is an awkward stance. The easier method has the the right foot pointed to the right oblique. This means the foot is perpendicular to the direction of the aim, just as is performed in direct firings. Although the manuals don't say one way or the other, the easier and safer method seems to be placing the foot perpendicular to the aim. If the left foot for right obliques is pointed to the line of direction and does not remain in its earlier direction, it seems plausable that the right foot for left obliques can also be placed in a direction other than its original position.

                      I know this is all controversial stuff, and some will refuse to fire through the left interval. Considering there was some confusion during the war - after all, a question was posed to the CW help desk - I expect there will be continued refusal to fire through the left interval. Said confusion would allow for some tolerance about firing on one side or the other. This means that firing through the right interval can be considered correct, but firing through the left interval is more correct.

                      Over the last few months, I created a new booklet of the manual of arms for the rifle musket per Casey's 1863 manual. We put it to the test last weekend. It passes muster. I created some new illustrations of the foot movements for the oblique firings using cut, pasted and manipulated feet from Baxter's manual. I intend to publish this booklet online in the next few days and provide an announcement of same on the forum. It's got some good stuff in it and will be a valuable asset in the pocket of any reenactor portraying a Federal soldier in the ranks or in the line.

                      Click image for larger version

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                      Silas Tackitt,
                      one of the moderators.

                      Click here for a link to forum rules - or don't at your own peril.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                        "Support for Support Arms" was a landmark article (thanks Marc), and this is another. It never really made any practical sense to do what we always did, especially when nothing told us to do it that way. Somebody had to have the guts to back up with research what many wondered about...thanks Silas.

                        My favorite answer to the innocently asked "why did they do that" (over the right shoulder for left oblique) question was the perfunctory "well, it was only 30 degrees."

                        Funny how the manuals, being developed over many years, usually refined each movement to the most practical and safe way to do something. Almost all of the modern reenatorisms make things harder, less precise and/or less safe. I believe leaning over the right shoulder of your file partner to fire to the LEFT is one such example.

                        Just as trying to balance the rifled musket in the crook of the left arm never made any sense either...:wink_smil

                        Now Silas, if you can just convince some of the folks just south of you that going to full cock on "aim" rather than "ready" might not be the safe or smart thing to do, it will be a very good year.
                        Soli Deo Gloria
                        Doug Cooper

                        "The past is never dead. It's not even past." William Faulkner

                        Please support the CWT at www.civilwar.org

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                        • #13
                          Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                          Actually cocking the piece at Ready is correct as it is the third motion. The issue is some can't understand that they keep their finger out of the triggerguard until the weapon is done moving and in place at Aim.

                          Ready
                          One time and three motions.
                          ...
                          180. (Third motion.) Cock, and seize the piece at the small of the stock without deranging the position of the butt.
                          Respectfully,

                          Jeremy Bevard
                          Moderator
                          Civil War Digital Digest
                          Sally Port Mess

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                          • #14
                            Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                            Originally posted by Silas View Post
                            Over the last few months, I created a new booklet of the manual of arms for the rifle musket per Casey's 1863 manual. We put it to the test last weekend. It passes muster. I created some new illustrations of the foot movements for the oblique firings using cut, pasted and manipulated feet from Baxter's manual. I intend to publish this booklet online in the next few days and provide an announcement of same on the forum. It's got some good stuff in it and will be a valuable asset in the pocket of any reenactor portraying a Federal soldier in the ranks or in the line.
                            Looking forward to it. Have already printed some of the other Booklets you made. I really like them.
                            Thomas Aagaard

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                            • #15
                              Re: Debunked : left oblique aiming over right shoulders

                              There's been discussion on some fb groups about left oblique. Thought this would be a good place to drop the four most important illustrations from my booklets about how the feet are placed for firing. All paragraph numbering here derives from Hardee's Revised. The text from Gilham and Casey is virtually, if not actually, identical to Hardee's Revised.

                              First illustration is AIM - meaning direct aim - showing distances marked for the feet.

                              Click image for larger version

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                              AIM.
                              One time and one motion.

                              [Hardee Revised SoS] 174. Raise the piece with both hands, and support the butt against the right shoulder ; the left elbow down, the right as high as the shoulder ; incline the head upon the butt, so that the right eye may perceive quickly the notch of the hausse, the front sight, and the object aimed at ; the left eye closed, the right thumb extended along the stock, the fore-finger on the trigger.

                              175. 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.

                              176. 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.

                              FIRE.
                              One time and one motion.

                              177. Press the fore-finger against the trigger, fire, without lowering or turning the head, and remain in this position.

                              Second illustration is AIM - direct - showing four comrades in battle.

                              Click image for larger version

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                              FIRINGS.

                              [Hardee Revised SoS] 259. The firings are direct or oblique, and will be executed as follows :

                              The Direct Fire.

                              260. The instructor will give the following commands:

                              1. Fire by squad. 2. Squad. 3. READY. 4. AIM. 5. Fire. 6. LOAD.

                              261. These several commands will be executed as has been prescribed, SoS 156-77. At the third command, the men will come to the position of ready as heretofore explained, SoS 171-73. At the fourth, they will aim according to the rank in which each may find himself placed, the rear rank men inclining forward a little the upper part of the body, in order that their pieces may reach as much beyond the front rank as possible.

                              262. At the sixth command, they will load their pieces, and return immediately to the position of ready, SoS 171.

                              263. The instructor will recommence the firing by the commands :

                              1. Squad. 2. AIM. 3. FIRE. 4. LOAD.

                              264. When the instructor wishes the firing to cease, he will command :

                              Cease—FIRING.

                              265. At this command, the men will cease firing, but will load their pieces if unloaded, and afterwards bring them to a shoulder.

                              Third illustration is RIGHT OBLIQUE - AIM.

                              Click image for larger version

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                              Oblique Firings.

                              [Hardee Revised SoS] 266. The oblique firings will be executed to the right and left, and by the same commands as the direct fire, with this single difference—the command, aim, will always be preceded by the caution, right or left oblique.

                              Position of the Two Ranks in the Oblique Fire to the Right.

                              267. At the command, ready, the two ranks will execute what has been prescribed for the direct fire, SoS 260-262.

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

                              269. 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 towards 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.

                              Fourth illustration is LEFT OBLIQUE - AIM.

                              Click image for larger version

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                              Position of the Two Ranks in the Oblique Fire to the Left.

                              [Hardee Revised SoS] 270. At the cautionary command, left oblique, the two ranks will throw back the left shoulder and look steadily at the object to be hit.

                              271. 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 TOWARDS 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.

                              272. In both cases, at the command, load, the men of each rank will come to the position of load as prescribed in the direct fire ; the rear rank men bringing back the foot which is to the right and front by the side of the other. Each man will continue to load as if isolated.

                              These are my own remarks on the obliques which I have included in my booklets on the manuals of arms for the past several years :

                              Remarks on the Oblique Firings.

                              [Tackitt] For Direct Firings, the left foot points toward the direction of the aim—forward—while the right foot rests perpendicular to the direction of the aim.

                              For Right Oblique, the left foot pivots to the right oblique toward the direction of the aim, and left heel advanced in the direction of the aim as many as eight inches; the right foot remains in place.

                              For Left Oblique, the left foot remains in place ; from the right foot’s position behind and at right angles with the left foot, advance the right heel eight inches to the hollow of the left foot then pivot the right foot until it rests perpendicular to the direction of the aim.

                              After the cautionary command, left oblique, two things occur : (1) both ranks throw back the left shoulder and look steadily at the object to be hit ; and (2) rear rank men will, at the same time, raise their pieces to a vertical position as described by Upton, 1875, SoS 289. Commanders should wait for both movements to be completed before ordering the command of aim.

                              At the command, aim, five things occur : (1) the front rank will take aim to the left without deranging the feet ; (2) each man in the rear will advance the right foot about eight inches toward the right heel of the man next on the right of his file leader ; (3) “aim through the interval to the left of his file leader” ; (4) inclining the upper body forward and (5) bending a little the right knee.
                              The manuals encourage safety. An important component in firing is balance. Try live firing left oblique through the right interval moving your right foot only as far stated in all the manuals. Your balance will be off, and you may land on your keister which will really slow down your rate of fire. Keeping your balance means a better aimed shot as well as quicker return to the first position of load.

                              AND GO!!!
                              Silas Tackitt,
                              one of the moderators.

                              Click here for a link to forum rules - or don't at your own peril.

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