Know Your Guides:

Marching by the flank
in a column of companies
Mark (Silas) Tackitt

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?

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