Know Your Guides Part 2:
By chaos into line
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.
1) Hardee, William J., RIFLE AND INFANTRY TACTICS, REVISED AND IMPROVED (1862)
2) Dal Bello, Dominic, PARADE, INSPECTION AND BASIC EVOLUTIONS OF THE INFANTRY BATTALION (4th Ed., 1998).
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