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Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

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  • Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

    Major Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin Infantry
    Regarding the fighting around the Dunker Church, Sharpsburg, Maryland
    Men and officers of New York and Wisconsin are fused into a common mass, in the frantic struggle to shoot fast. Every body tears cartridges, loads, passes guns, or shoots.
    As reenactors, we struggle to gain proficiency, if not expertise, with drill. However, as the quote from Rufus Dawes shows, there are times when “following the book” falls by the wayside.

    In the case of the Iron Brigade at the Dunker Church, there was a crisis at-hand and fire was being thrown forward frantically. Conversely, I am sure there are probably examples where the more mundane aspects of soldierly routine were abbreviated or omitted once recruits and fresh fish became veterans.

    If you have first person accounts of either situation, please share!

    Thank you!
    John Wickett
    Former Carpetbagger
    Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)

  • #2
    Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

    From “Four Years a Soldier,” David E. Johnson, 7th Virginia Infantry:

    Near by was a small stream, the banks of which were covered with a pretty thick undergrowth; to this we made our way with our muskets at a right shoulder shift and having to pass under the boughs of the bushes, it would in tactics have been necessary to have brought our muskets, first to a "carry," and then the command would have been "trail arms." The Captain, however, concluding this to be wholly unnecessary, gave the command, "slope arms," which the men, though they had never before heard the command, "slope arms," seemed readily to understand and let fall the muzzles of their muskets over their shoulders, inclining them downward, and thus were enabled to pass under the boughs of the trees without let or hindrance.
    Eric Paape
    Because the world needs
    one more aging reenactor

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

      From the Southern Historical Society Papers, Frank Dorsey discussing the death of Jeb Stuart at Yellow Tavern. In Dorsey's article, he provides a passage from trooper N.W. Harris, Co G 1st VA Cavalry. Late in the battle, Stuart ordered Co. K and Co. G in to support the center of his line which straddled the Telegraph Rd (Now Rt 1) He ordered the troopers to dismount to fight on foot. Normally, to dismount, in each rank, the troops starting from the right, count by fours so the 1-3 can dismount and 4 becomes the horse holder. Reins are tide for the three horses and lead line handed to the 4th man. In the drill manual, there are several steps to this action. Apparently, the two companies began this process and Harris states that the last words he heard before Stuart left the position was, "Boys, don't stop to count fours. Shoot them! Shoot them!" Moments later Stuart was shot and helped from his horse by Capt Gus Dorsey from Co. K.
      Rob Bruno
      1st MD Cav
      http://1stmarylandcavalry.com

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

        John, the CS actions at the Carter House, the Cotton Gin, and the osage orange obstructions at Franklin comes to mind. Odycke's counter attack may have had some semblence of order, but that fell apart quickly as the regiments of the brigade rushed to stop the Confederate breakthrough. Eric Jacobson's "For Cause and Country"is a great source with first hand accounts detailing the "mob" formation.
        Herb Coats
        Armory Guards &
        WIG

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

          The reference to dismounting perfectly shows the purpose of drill. Drilling by the book enables the soldier to then execute those movements smoothly and without thought when under duress. In my opinion Drill is a theoretical training exercise. The minutiae is extremely important in training but not so in the field. I too am somewhat of a geek about drill, but I find it strange that some advocate a dogmatic approach to the practical use of a theoretical exercise. I think we tend to forget that we have the opportunity now to almost effortlessly consult as many manuals as we want to answer a question. You have to wonder what the original cast did when Casey's or Hardee's wasn't clear and there was no Copy of Scott's, Ellsworths, Baxters, etc. to consult.

          This is a great discussion topic, thanks for posing the question. I'll be adding a few this evening.
          Scott Sheets
          Joliet, IL

          36th Illinois
          Dirty Shirts

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

            To build on Herb's mention of the Carter House action at Franklin, these are first person mentions in Beaudot's "THE 24th WISCONSIN INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR".

            Colonel Opdycke assessed the situation immediately. “Up and at them, men”

            Gray-eyed McArthur vaulted into his saddle, shouting “Up, Wisconsin!” There was no time to even form lines, and the men of Milwaukee rushed “pell mell to meet the enemy in desperate hand to hand melee.:"

            Another Milwaukee soldier saw McArthur swing into his saddle, draw his sword, and spur his horse; and “that would have been order enough anyway,” the soldier said. “We did hear the cry from a hundred throats, ‘Let us go to the works! Let us go to the works!' We started and aligned somewhat as we rush forward,” he wrote.

            He heard the youthful colonel shout, “Fall in, Twenty-fourth; take arms. Charge.”
            John Duffer
            Independence Mess
            MOOCOWS
            WIG
            "There lies $1000 and a cow."

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

              Sam Watkins 1st Tenn account of the Charge of the 1st Tenn at Bath/Berkeley Springs (W) VA January 4, 1862

              "An attack was ordered, our regiment marched upon top of a mountain overlooking the movements of both armies in the valley below. About 4 o'clock one grand charge and rush was made, and the Yankees were routed and skedaddled.

              By some circumstance or other, Lieutenant J. Lee Bullock came in command of the First Tennessee Regiment. But Lee was not a graduate of West Point, you see.

              The Federals had left some spiked batteries on the hill side, as we were informed by an old citizen, and Lee, anxious to capture a battery, gave the new and peculiar command of, "Soldiers, you are ordered to go forward and capture a battery; just piroute up that hill; piroute, march. Forward, men; piroute carefully." The boys "pirouted" as best they could. It may have been a new command, and not laid down in Hardee's or Scott's tactics; but Lee was speaking plain English, and we understood his meaning perfectly, and even at this late day I have no doubt that every soldier who heard the command thought it a legal and technical term used by military graduates to go forward and capture a battery."
              Last edited by ContinentalMorganGuard; 01-19-2015, 11:16 AM. Reason: formatting
              Robert Ambrose

              Park Ranger
              Fort Frederick State Park, Maryland
              5th Virginia Infantry Co. K

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                From Larry Daniels "Battle of Stones River" pg 81:

                "The battle rolled west, toward Colonel Wallace's 15th Ohio, which faced west and south. The Buckeyes tumbled over each other to get in line - "we could distinctly hear the rebels cheering," said Samuel S. Pettit. Sergeant Alexis Cope heard Colonel Gibson shout out: "Fall in 49th and 15th Ohio! Hook up them battery horses!" Wallace understood that he had to swing his regiment right in order to face the enemy, but what ensued was a series of nonsensical commands- a "rear in front," though a cottonfield, a "changefront" by countermarching, the "Forward," only to ultimately order the men to "Lie Down!"-all under fire."

                Will MacDonald

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                • #9
                  Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                  Great quotes, everyone! Thank you!!

                  Does anyone have any documentation of more mundane activities? Such as...
                  ... Drill
                  ... Calling roll
                  ... Guard mounting
                  ... etc.

                  Thank you!
                  John Wickett
                  Former Carpetbagger
                  Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                    Here’s a quote about a drill maneuver that never reached the battlefield. It’s from John Johnston, Co. K, 6th Tennessee Infantry (The Danes). He later served in the 7th and 14th Tennessee Calvary.

                    Our first drill master was Col. John W. Love, the beloved old Presbyterian elder and an old militia Colonel who had been a soldier in the Mexican War. He put us through a few evolutions in the school yard under the old time army tactics – that were followed, I suppose, during the Revolutionary War. I remember one movement was that we were marched by platoons – and as each platoon would reach a certain point – supposed to be the front of the battle – it would fire then wheel to the right, retire to the rear, reload and advance again to the front, which movement all the platoons followed. This would have seemed worse than ludicrous a few months afterwards but we thought it all right then.
                    Shortly thereafter, they got a new drillmaster who taught them Hardees.

                    From: The Civil War Reminiscences of John Johnston, 1861-1865, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 1 (March, 1954), p 76
                    Eric Paape
                    Because the world needs
                    one more aging reenactor

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                      Here is a rather comical post war story written by Samuel Hawkins of Co. E. 2nd Mississippi about his experiences learning drill as an infantry soldier. I found this while researching my impression for 1st Manassas.

                      Our company numbered one hundred and eight. None of us, including officers, had any military training. The captain was a splendid man and well posted in civil matters, though ignorant as to military tactics. He was irritable by nature and vain. He would not appear on the drill ground in citizen's dress, but went about in search of a military suit and found one, although the like of it could be found nowhere else in America. The coat of unknown cut was bedecked with many large buttons and extra long epaulets, while the trousers were on the Zouave order. The hat was about two feet tall, with an additional height of ten or twelve inches of red, white, black, green, and blue feathers. The oldest citizen could not tell to what tribe or nation it had originally belonged. He also wore a sword, with a copy of Scott's "Military Tactics" protruding from his pocket.

                      On the following morning the company met at the place selected for our encampment. After organizing messes with from six to eight each and arranging our sleeping quarters, the captain ordered the company to assemble at the drill ground. On reaching the gate we passed through one by one, and were arranged against a plank fence in single file. This was done in order to get as straight a line as possible. After all had been lined up, the captain, arrayed as before described, took his position in front near its center and said: "Men, I will now proceed to instruct you in the first lessons of warfare." As he spoke he drew from his pocket Scott's "Tactics," which he opened and began to read aloud, telling the position of a soldier, how he should stand, etc. Then he began to read to us how we should move, and added: "Now, men, as I have fully explained to you the position of a soldier, I shall proceed to instruct you how you should march. When I give the command, 'Forward, march!' you must step off on your left foot, holding your bodies erect with your eyes cast slightly to the right. By so doing it will enable you to keep a straight line. Now, remember to step off on your left foot at the command, 'Forward, march !'"

                      There was about an equal division in left and right feet with us. "Hold on," said the captain; "that will never do. Go back to the fence again and we will try that over. Now remember, men, to step off on the left foot at the command, 'Forward, march !'"
                      The second time there was little if any improvement on the first. "Back against the fence, men!" said the captain. "Don't you know your left foot? Now be careful this time to step off on your left foot. Forward, march!"

                      It could be plainly seen from the captain's countenance that the third attempt was but little improvement on the second and that his temper was rising.
                      "Back against the fence, men! Now, I want you to understand me this time that when I say step off on your left foot I mean it and you must do so. When I say, 'Forward march!' step off on your left foot. Now, don't forget this time to step off on the right foot. Forward, march!"

                      Three-fourths of the company poked out their right feet "Hold on, you d-- fools!" yelled the captain. "I meant the left foot was the right foot."
                      After several more efforts, we eventually moved off in fair order, the captain walking backwards with book and sword in hand, repeating as he went, "Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot; eyes to the right; left foot, right foot," and so on. After marching several yards, we on the left having kept our eyes entirely too much to the right had the captain about surrounded, when he backed against a small stump and fell over it flat on his back, his tall hat rolling several feet away, while his book and sword went in the opposite direction. This incident, of course, brought forth a yell from the entire company save the captain, who was in no mood for such a mishap, and he was not long in giving vent to his feelings. Thus ended our first attempt at drill.

                      On returning to our quarters the yelling had not subsided altogether, nor had the captain cooled to normal. He spoke seriously of resigning, though he was persuaded not to do so. He was excusable for his display of temper; for if there ever was an extreme test to try a man's patience; it is in drilling raw recruits.
                      Tyler Underwood
                      Moderator
                      Pawleys Island #409 AFM
                      Governor Guards, WIG

                      Click here for the AC rules.

                      The search function located in the upper right corner of the screen is your friend.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                        The captain should have employed the 7th Virginia method. At the risk of introducing something that has become a total reenactorism…

                        It was a difficult matter to teach some men military tactics and to keep step. One man in particular of our company never did learn it; and the boys used to say the only way he would ever learn would be to tie a bunch of straw to one foot and a bunch of hay to the other, and instead of the usual command of right! left! to call out hay foot! straw foot! It was on one of our company drills that it is said and told that our good hearted Captain injected into the manual of tactics a new command in the manual of arms, which, while expressive of the proper command, seems not to have occurred to the author of the manual.
                        From “Four Years a Soldier,” David E. Johnson, 7th Virginia Infantry
                        Eric Paape
                        Because the world needs
                        one more aging reenactor

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                          Here is an account from the assault on Missionary Ridge where drill and discipline go right out the window.

                          "Little regard to formation was observed. Each battalion assumed a triangular shape, the colors at the apex. A color-bearer dashes ahead of the line and falls. A comrade grasps the flag. ... He, too, falls. Then another picks it up ... waves it defiantly, and as if bearing a charmed life, he advances steadily towards the top."

                          Smith, p. 280; McDonough, pp. 199–200; Cozzens, p. 308; Woodworth, Six Armies, p. 201. The last flag-bearer mentioned in the quotation, an eighteen-year-old lieutenant, was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action. He was Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and would later become the father of Douglas MacArthur.

                          Catton, American Heritage, p. 439.
                          Tyler Underwood
                          Moderator
                          Pawleys Island #409 AFM
                          Governor Guards, WIG

                          Click here for the AC rules.

                          The search function located in the upper right corner of the screen is your friend.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                            John, you mentioned some of the more mundane activities. Here’s good account of the daily routine for the 14th Connecticut Infantry. Timeframe is late ’62, post-Antietam, pre-Fredericksburg:

                            Here it may be well to state the routine of the regiment's life. At five thirty in the morning the men were aroused by the roll of the drums. They would beat only four or five minutes and the man who was not in the ranks when they ceased, dressed, and ready for roll-call, was reported to headquarters for punishment. Calling the roll took only about five minutes when they were dismissed to get their own breakfasts as best they might. The main difficulty was the long distance and steep road over which they had to go for water and wood. At 7.30 the bugle sounded "Surgeon's Call" when all the invalids went down to have an interview with the M.D. The doctor felt the pulse of his patient and looked at his tongue and punched him in the ribs, and if he thought him not so sick as he represented himself to be swore at him and bade him be off. If, however, he thought him really unwell, he gave him a nauseous pill before dismissing him. This pill came to be known among the men as "No. 9" At 8 o'clock a. m. was guard mounting. Some thirty men were chosen from the various companies to act as sentries for the ensuing twenty-four hours. They were marched out, paraded, clothing and equipment inspected, and marched off to their posts to the sound of music. At 8.30 the regiment was drilled either by company or battalion, usually for about two hours. From about 11 o'clock until 3 the men did not have much to do except to get dinner. From 3 until 5.30 they were drilled again and wound up the duties of the day by dress-parade. At 8 in the evening was roll-call and at 9 the bugle was sounded to extinguish lights.

                            The retreat call at sundown was really enjoyed and oftentimes the fine band of the regiment would extend it into an evening concert. The almost universal time killer in camp was cards. Various games were played, but poker was king. A game of the latter could be found in almost every company street, officers as well as men taking a "twist at the tiger."
                            And in case anyone doubts the benefit of drill…
                            Lieutenant-Colonel Perkins had perhaps by instinct and some training a larger share of military spirit than the average of the commissioned officers who left the state in 1862. Originally entering the service as a captain in the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers, he became one of the most efficient officers in that organization when connected with the First Connecticut Artillery. Upon the organization of the Fourteenth, Governor Buckingham promoted him to the majority thereof and speedily thereafter to be Lieutenant-Colonel. In this capacity he left the state and (Colonel Morris having been assigned to a brigade) it was mainly due to his persistent zeal in drilling the men and instructing the offices, that when the green regiment was hurled into the battle of Antietam, within three weeks of muster in, that it there won for itself such honorable record.
                            History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, by Charles D. Page.
                            Eric Paape
                            Because the world needs
                            one more aging reenactor

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Drill Bits: When the book goes out the window…

                              John Worsham of the 21st Virginia Infantry, Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, records in his memoir titled “One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry” that: “At the commencement of the war, we were usually given the route step soon after starting on a march. On passing a village or town we were called to attention and marched through with military precision. Yet toward the close of the war we generally kept the route step throughout the march, for all had learned that the men got along so much better and could march much farther by being allowed to take their natural step and to carry their guns as they chose.” (p. 97)
                              Another part of Worsham’s account of life in the Confederate Army that probably does not fall into the definition of what John Wickett is seeking for this thread, but is nonetheless very interesting is his account of mail service to the soldiers in the field. According to Worsham:
                              “In my brigade we had a man who as the mail carrier, and the government furnished a horse for this purpose. Letters written by the soldiers were delivered at regimental headquarters. Our carrier would come for them (and also take all that were handed him by the soldiers), and then he would start for the nearest post office at some depot or village. There he delivered the mail. If he found there any mail directed to the men of his command, he bought it to us at once. If there were none, he would go to the next place, and to the next, until he found it, after which he brought it to us. His arrival was a great event in camp. Because he had no regular hour for returning, some of the men were always on the lookout for him both day and night, and heralded his coming. On his arrival, men from each company gathered at regimental headquarters, got their company’s mail, took it to the company’s quarters and looked it over, and called out the names of the men to whom it was addressed. It made no difference the hour – whether it was day or 1 or 2 o’clock at night. When a man’s name was called for a letter, unless on duty he was generally on hand to get it in person.
                              “It was interesting to watch those fellows as they gathered for their mail. Those who received letters went off with radiant countenances. If it was night, each built a fire for light and, sitting down on the ground, read his letter over and over. Those unfortunates who got none went off looking as if they had not a friend on earth!
                              “In the beginning of the war, postage was not required to be prepaid on a letter from soldiers in the field. The postage was collected on the delivery of the mail. In directing a letter to soldiers, it was necessary to write name, company, regiment, brigade, division, and command. This was the rule in Jackson’s command, and I suppose in the army generally. There was no post office or location mentioned, because we moved about so much our post office was continually changing. Notwithstanding this roundabout way for letters to travel, I never heard of one being lost either going to or from the army.
                              “Sometimes, for two or three weeks regularly, we would receive mail daily. Then it would be several days, sometimes a week, before another came. But the letters always turned up. If the carrier overtook us while we were on a march, the mail was distributed and collected. I have seen it delivered in this way just before a battle.”

                              I hope this report helps AC subscribers understand and appreciate one of soldier life’s more mundane but greatly enjoyed activities.

                              Tom Williams, AAG
                              4th Virginia Infantry
                              Indianapolis
                              Tom Williams

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