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Know Your Guides: Marching by the Flank and in a Column of Companies, By Silas Tackitt

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  • Know Your Guides: Marching by the Flank and in a Column of Companies, By Silas Tackitt

    Know Your Guides: Marching by the Flank and in a Column of Companies
    By Mark (Silas) Tackitt
    Originally Published Here
    (Photo Above By Jeff Hayes at the Silent Machines Event)

    The difference between an armed mob and solid soldiers is knowledge of drill. The mob lacks it. Soldiers exude it.

    Reenactors are weekend warriors. One weekend a month, they don the clothing and bear the arms of the 1860's. Some reenactors know their drill; far more do not. The author has noticed several reoccurring problems during basic battalion drill for movements from a line to a flank, to a column, and back to a line.

    Soldiers drilled under many different drill manuals depending upon side of the conflict, theater of operations or state from which the unit was formed. The primary source for these articles is Hardee's Revised manual of 1862. Although a Confederate manual, the principles contained in his manual are generally the same for all the other manuals. For ease of writing and clarity, the writer has chosen to focus upon facings to the right or upon formations "right in front" because reenactors rarely drill "left in front."

    1. The flank

    What's so hard about flank marching? Plenty. The common occurrence is that reenactors forget their number, don't know which number moves, forget their place in the doubled line, or forget to maintain their interval. Anarchy quickly ensues, and officers make well intentioned but meaningless commands like "form-up."

    A. Forming the flank

    Commands for a squad are not the same as for a company or a battalion, but reenactors usually face by the squad rules instead of the company rules. The common problem is the soldier's rush to double into position before completion of the other necessary movements. In part, the rush derives from commands in the School of the Soldier which state:

    1. Squad, right-FACE. 2. Forward. 3. MARCH.

    At the last part of the first command, the rank will face to the right; the even numbered men, after facing to the right, will step quickly to the right side of the odd numbered men, the latter standing fast, so that when the movement is executed, the men will be formed into files of two men abreast.

    School of the Company, 352.

    In a squad, the four soldiers face right in two ranks then the front and rear rank twos double. In a company, the movements are similar, but not the same:

    1. Company, right-FACE. 2. Forward. 3. MARCH.

    At the first command, the company will face to the right [ ]; the front rank will double as is prescribed in the school of the soldier No. 352; the rear rank will, at the same time, side step to the right one pace, and double in the same manner; go that when the movement is completed, the files will be formed of four men aligned, and elbow to elbow. The intervals will be preserved.

    School of the Company, 136. The deleted portion concerns locations for the first sergeant and captain.

    Like the squad movement, the entire company faces right into two ranks. However, an extra step is added for the company formation. The even numbered, front rank soldiers step obliquely to the right. At the same time the "front rank twos" are moving obliquely, the entire line of rear rank soldiers will "side step to the right one pace." This creates a space for the "front rank twos." Next, the "rear rank twos" oblique to the right in the same manner as the "front rank twos" moved.

    As written, the even numbered soldiers oblique at different times. The front rank two's move first. Then the rear rank twos move. As performed by reenactors, the obliques occur simultaneously. When someone forgets his number or forgets where to move, confusion reigns. One of the files will invariably have three soldiers while another may have five.

    My tip is to encourage the soldiers to slow down when facing right. The men at the middle and end of the company should wait their turn and not be in a hurry. Let the first four men at the front of the company double, then the next four, and then the next. When performed with a little less speed, the men learn to double without having to count by twos. In the long run, this is faster because there are fewer errors. When some wise guy in the middle moves out of turn, his action throws off the soldiers to the rear if the wise guy miscounted or moved to the wrong position.

    Another tip is don't be afraid to double on the march. If the battalion marches before one or more of the companies have doubled, the undoubled companies should temporarily march in two ranks. Once moving, the first four soldiers should double and then the next and the next as suggested in the marching command, "in four ranks, double files."

    Consider a company or battalion during battle which receives an order to face right. Several men have become casualties and are no longer in line. A solder who had been a one may now be a two. A commander would not possess the luxury of time to call his company to attention then have it count by twos before facing right. The soldiers would face right in two ranks, fill the spaces vacated by the casualties, then double in a domino effect from the front to the rear.

    B. Although nature abhors a vacuum, resist the urge to fill that space

    Once the company has successfully doubled, the odd numbered soldiers have a tendency to fill the space vacated by the even numbered soldiers. Sometimes this occurs immediately. Usually it occurs after the company has commenced marching. Don't fill that space! All the manuals instruct the men to "maintain the interval." This gives the even numbered men a place to go when the captain halts the men and has them face front to their original position of a battle line on the left. When the soldiers fill that space, it causes the men at the end of the company or in the subsequent companies to shift left until the battle line is reformed. The bogus reenactor command when this occurs is, "give-LEFT."

    The "front rank ones" have an easy job on the facing: they merely turn right. Just because everyone else has to move two or three steps does not mean the "front rank ones" must also move. If you are a "front rank one," dig that left heel into the ground and pivot right. Your job is nearly done. Next, judge the distance between you and the "front rank one" immediately in front. At the command, "march," maintain that distance between you and him.

    The same rules for facing right from a halt apply to facing right while marching:

    363. The instructor will also cause the squad to face by the right or left flank in marching, and for this purpose will command:

    1. Squad by the right (or left) flank. 2. MARCH.

    364. At the second command, which will be given a little before either foot comes to the ground, the recruits will turn the body, plant the foot that is raised in the new direction, and step off with the other foot without altering the cadence of the step; the men will double or undouble rapidly.

    School of the Soldier, 363 - 64.

    C. Marching by the flank or know your guide

    When marching by the right flank, the guide is left. Why is the guide left when at the right and not right at the right? Because wherever the captain goes, the first sergeant follows. The soldier immediately following the first sergeant - the first corporal - has an important job. He must follow the first sergeant. Where the first corporal goes, the other "front rank ones" in line behind him follow. If the first corporal drifts left, the company drifts left. If the first corporal drifts right, the company drifts right. The captain and first sergeant usually do not notice the company drifting away because they are faced to the front. If the company drifts, fault rests with the first corporal, not the captain or sergeant.

    Each man in the doubled files relies upon the man on his left to set the pace. If the first corporal drifts outside the path created by the first sergeant, the other three soldiers on the corporal's right will also drift. If any of the doubled soldiers on the corporal's right steps too quickly or too slowly, that soldier needs to correct his step to conform to the corporal. Should the right soldiers drift right, they need to return to their place in line with the corporal. These same rules apply to the soldiers in the next set of doubled files and the next and the next. When faced by the right flank, the "front rank ones" guide the pace of the men on their right.

    If a soldier wonders where the guide is located on the march, all he need do is look for the captain. If the captain is on the left side of the company, the guide is left. If he is on the right, the guide is right.

    In summary, when marching by the right flank, the soldiers take the step from the soldiers on their immediate left. The left most soldier, the "front rank one," maintains the interval between his file and the files to his front and rear. The left most soldier of a file must also follow the path of the left most soldier in the files to the front. Similarly, these "front rank ones" follow the first sergeant who follows his guide, the captain.

    NEXT: When a solitary company marches in a battle line, the captain marches at the center of his company. Question: If he marches in the center, where is the guide? And why?

    Know Your Guides Part 2: By Chaos Into Line
    By Mark (Silas) Tackitt

    NOTE: this is the second in a series of articles related to common battalion drill.

    1. Chaos on a company level.

    When an individual company marches by the right flank, a battle line to the front can be quickly formed by the command, "By company, into line - MARCH." Chaos is sure to ensue if the men are not prepared for the command before they faced right. Before commencing a march by the flank, a wise commander will instruct each front rank to remember who stands to his right when in a battle line. Each rear rank man should remember who stands immediately in his front. During the chaos which is "by company into line" the job is simplified if each front rank man looks for his predecessor to the right and each rear rank man looks for his partner in the front rank. Now for the commands.

    When the company marches by the right flank, the captain will order the company into line by commanding,

    "1. By company, into line. 2. MARCH."

    At the command march, the first sergeant will continue to march straight forward. School of the Company, 154. He does not veer right or left. The men will "advance the right shoulder" - which means turn to the left oblique - and move at the double quick "by the shortest route" to the new line. School of the Company, 154. While advancing to the new line, the men shall undouble files and "come on the line one after the other." School of the Company, 154. Here's a drawing from Gilham's manual of how the company should move:

    As the front rank men successively arrive in line with the first sergeant, "they will take from him the step, and then turn their eyes to the front." School of the Company, 155. This means the first corporal left obliques to the first sergeant, takes the direction, speed and cadence from the first sergeant. Accordingly, the first sergeant should continue to walk forward with a confident step. If he slows, a bow is created in the line. The obliquing process is repeated by the individual soldiers until the battle line has been created to the front. While marching toward the line, each soldier looks for the man who had been on his immediate right. Once found, the soldier arrives on the line one after the other, and takes the direction, speed and cadence from the men to the right. The rear rank men join the new line by looking for their front rank partner.

    As the men arrive on the line, the guide is technically right because each man looks to the right and takes the direction, speed and cadence from those to the right:

    [A]s soon as, the company is formed, [the captain] will command, "guide left," place himself two paces before the centre, face to the front, and take the step of the company.

    School of the Company, 157.

    In theory, the guide never changed. Before the movement, the guide was left. The first sergeant was guided by the captain, and the men were guided by the first sergeant. During the movement, the only person in the company who did not alter his step was the first sergeant who maintained the direction, speed and cadence for the company. Once the chaos has ceased, the captain orders the guide returned to the left.

    "At the command guide left, the second sergeant will promptly place himself in the front rank, on the left, to serve as guide, and the [first] sergeant who is on the opposite flank will remain there. School Company, 158. The second sergeant is a file closer who had not been in a "column of fours." While marching by the right flank, he had been on the right of the company and outside the lines created by the ranks of doubled soldiers. Once the company has settled into the new direction, the company needed a bookend. The captain's command places the second sergeant on the left of the line and in the front rank. The captain makes him the left guide for the company.

    Thus, in a column by company, right [ ] in front, the [ ] second sergeant of each company will always to placed on the [left] of the front rank; [he] will be denominated [ ] left guide, and the one [ ] charged with the direction for the company.

    School of the Company, 160.

    A. So what's with the muskets at right shoulder shift?

    The commands in the School of the Company do not explicitly require the men to move the musket to right shoulder shift while forming the company into line. The rule is in the School of the Soldier which states that when advancing at the double quick, the men "will always carry their pieces on the right shoulder or at a trail" unless the captain orders arms carried at trial. School of the Soldier, 349, 350. The captain must order "trail-ARMS" before receiving the command "by company into line." See, School of the Soldier, 350. If the alternate method is not given, "the men will shift their pieces to the right shoulder" before advancing at the double quick. In either case, "the men will bring their pieces to the position of shoulder arms" when reaching the new line. See, School of the Soldier, 350.

    Accordingly, the men must have their muskets in the correct position if they are advancing at the double quick. They may advance at trail arms if given the order before advancing at the double quick. If not order is given, the men must execute right shoulder shift while advancing at the double quick.

    2. A column of chaos

    When a battalion moves from the flank to a column of companies, the chaos of the companies is magnified exponentially by the number of companies involved in the maneuver. The biggest problem stems from knowing who guides the company and the battalion.

    The movements for the battalion are done by each company in the same manner as indicated in the school of the company. The first sergeants continue to walk forward, the men undouble, and each company forms its own line. A series of companies in line is known as a column of companies. In theory, a column is easy to create, but in practice, it much harder.

    Inexperienced first sergeants drift or close the interval between the companies. The sergeants have the easiest job. Before the battalion command of "by companies into line" occurs, the sergeants were all walking in the same line at a certain distance from each other. After the command occurs, they should still be in the same line at the same distance from each other. The only difference is that a company of soldiers which separated them has moved from a vertical line in front to a horizontal line at the left.

    A. Where is the guide?

    As the companies form individual battle lines, the guide is technically right as it remains with the first sergeants. After all of the companies have formed their lines, the battalion commander yells, "guide left." The second sergeants of the individual companies form a vertical line upon the second sergeant of the largest company. The largest company is the one which extends farthest to the left. The second sergeants at the rear of the column have it easy as they can just look to the front to see which company is farthest to the left. The second sergeants at the front must look to the rear for the left most company.

    Once again, the practice tip is patience. The individual soldiers guide right and form upon their first sergeants. After the individual companies have settled, the second sergeants should go to the left of their respective companies and gauge the approximate location of where the left of the battalion should be. Because the battalion commander has not ordered the guide shifted to the left, the guide is still on the right. Once the companies have settled and once the second sergeants have formed a line on the left of the battalion (from front to rear of the column), the commander should then return the guide to the left by commanding such.

    B. Tailgating ahead!

    The first sergeants must walk with alacrity and have confidence in their step during the maneuver. If a sergeant slows, the company bows. Further, the next sergeant in line may be stepping with confidence. This causes the two companies to loose their interval because one is marching slowly while the other is not. Add three or four more companies to the equation and a pile-up at the edge of a battlefield is bound to occur.

    C. Commanders are the cause of more problems!

    Commands are not a script to be said quickly. A battalion commander should not voice an entire command in one breath. Especially the lengthy, complicated commands. He should speak clearly and pause between important parts of the command. This insures the captains understand the command and can translate it into usable information for the men. Vocalizing the third or fourth part of a command before the men have performed the first two, will guarantee confusion.

    For example, telling the battalion to guide left while the men are still undoubling will cause the column to shift dramatically and unnecessarily to the left. Keeping the guide on the first sergeants is like tethering them to a certain speed and location in the line. Prematurely changing the guide from the first to the second sergeants cuts the cord which keeps the column moving at same speed on the same line.

    Battalion commanders must possess patience and give the men time to perform their tasks.



    Last edited by Eric Tipton; 01-23-2021, 05:33 PM.
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