Drill for Dummies
by John Bowen

All the rules for drill are covered in Casey's "Infantry Tactics," but many do not have a copy or, 
if they do have it, enjoy reading it as much as the IRS code book. That being the case, I have put 
some items together here that will hopefully enable you to 'brush up' prior to a drill or reenactment.

Abbreviations: School of the Soldier, SOS
School of the Company, SOC
School of the Battalion, SOB

First, like most hobbies, we have a boatload of jargon that even some 'old-timers' seem to 
confuse at times. A quick explanation should go a long way in helping you understand the 
terms used in Casey's:

Line of Battle- Everyone knows this one since that is the basic Civil War formation, and is the 
formation we take when we fall in. The file closers will be 2 paces behind the rear rank.
Marching by the flank- when the company has been given "Right (Left) Face", "Forward 
March", you are marching by the flank. The file closers will be on the right side of the formation 
on a march by the right flank. [and on the left if marching by the left flank] It is the easiest way 
of moving troops, especially over roads, etc. It is not the preferred formation however if you are 
in the presence of the enemy because you will be exposed to fire which you cannot return. In 
this case, it would be advisable to be marching in "a Column of Companies."

A Column of Companies- Each Company marching in its own line of battle with each 
successive company lined up behind the one preceding. When you see the term; "a Column of 
Companies, right in front," it means that the far right company of the battalion is the one in front 
of the column. "A Column of Companies, left in front" means the formation started out on the 
left flank so that the last Company is in the lead. Whenever you are in a Column of Companies, 
the 1st Sgt will be the right guide and the 2nd Sgt will be the left guide in the front rank. 
Normally, the guide is always left in a Column of Companies unless you have been given "Guide 
Right." This formation gives the commander the most flexibility in engaging the enemy when an 
action commences. A Column of Companies may be at "full distance," half distance," or "closed 
in mass." "Full distance" is the distance of the company front such that they could be wheeled 
directly into a battalion line of battle. "Half distance" then would be the distance of half the 
company front and "Closed in mass" would mean there are only 6 paces separating one company 
behind the preceding. 

1. How do I know if I should be at the 'Ready' or at 'Shoulder Arms' during firings?
There are no Civil War commands: "Load and come to the Shoulder," or "Load and come to 
the Ready." (You may shoot any officer giving such silly commands!) So how do I know 
what position to take when finished loading?

Think of it this way; you're either actively engaged with the enemy or you are not. If you are 
not actively engaged, i.e., you have just loaded for the first time, or you have been given the 
command "Cease Fire"; you will be at the shoulder. If you are in the presence of the enemy 
and have been firing and are waiting to fire once more (by Wing, by Company, or by Rank); 
you will be at the ready. 

Before you go into battle and while you are still far from the enemy, the captain will ready 
you by giving you the command "Load." The last step in "Load" (as in 'Load in Nine 
Times') is to go to the shoulder. Simple enough and it makes sense, you are not currently in 
the presence of the enemy. So the first time you are given the "Load" command, you will 
come to the shoulder. (If you are loading for the first time in the presence of the enemy, your 
are being commanded by a dull-wit and should give up all hope of surviving the conflict. 
But, you should come to the shoulder anyway because you are a good soldier and follow the 

Now let's say you have been firing at the enemy, whether by File, by Company or by Rank. 
The first rule of thumb is that after firing, you will always reload (so don't bother asking the 
Captain. And anyway, if in doubt, always reload, even if you think the faux battle is over 
and you don't want to waste another cartridge!) 

Any time you are given the command "Cease Fire," you will come to the shoulder after 
loading. [School of the Soldier, #291] (Make sure you are at 'half-cock.') If you have been firing by Company or Rank, after firing, you will always keep your musket pointed at the enemy until given the command "Load," so that is self-explanatory. Since you are actively engaged, when finished loading, you will be at the "Ready," awaiting the next command of "Aim, Fire." The only exception is that if for some strange reason, he doesn't want you loaded (which wouldn't make sense during a battle) he would command "Shoulder Arms," instead of "Load" at which point you would do exactly as ordered and go immediately to the shoulder without reloading. Again, highly unlikely in actual battle, and 
this is more of a 'reenactorism' and isn't addressed in Casey's. (Might be done at the end of a battle reenactment or to give a company salute where you will not need to fire again.) To summarize, while in line of battle, there really are only two times you will be at the shoulder after loading; after the first "Load" command in preparation for the battle, or whenever you are given the command "Cease Fire." (Or the exceptional "Shoulder Arms" after a volley fire.) At all other times, you will be at the "Ready" after you are loaded.

2. That being said, what do I do if we were given "Cease Fire" and we begin to advance/ 
retreat before I was able to reload?

This instance isn't specifically covered in Casey's School of the Company but something similar is covered in Instruction for Skirmishers. Item # 120 states: " Skirmishers will be habituated to load their pieces whilst marching; but they will be enjoined to halt always an instant, when in the act of charging cartridge, and priming." That may work for a skirmisher, but in a company formation, stopping to charge cartridge and priming would certainly be out of the question. So the answer seems to be; if the company moves before you are finished loading, stop reloading, then finish loading when you have been halted once more. If you think about the process, this makes sense. Could you really use your rammer while marching in formation also?

3. After having my musket inspected and the inspector has passed on to the next soldier, 
should I return my rammer and bayonet?

You will ALWAYS return your rammer when the inspector turns to the next soldier. If it is a Company inspection, you will also return your bayonet. If it is a battalion (or larger formation) inspection, you will wait for the command, "Unfix Bayonet."

4. When firing by the oblique, how do I remember which foot to move?

First, to give you time to think about where you will aim, the commander will always preface the "Aim" command with "By the Left (Right) Oblique." The front rank has it easy; at the command "Aim" they merely turn their shoulders in the direction of the oblique, their feet do not move from the "T" position. It's important for the rear rank men to always remember that their musket has to go over the right shoulder of the man in front of them, just like firing to the front. The foot opposite the direction of the oblique will move over and forward at the command of "Aim." So at the left oblique, the right foot moves to the right and forward (about 8 inches), and at the right oblique, the left foot moves to the right and forward. (That's not a misprint; the left foot moves forward and to the right about 8 inches!)

5. What's the difference between a "Right (Left) Wheel' and a Right (Left) Turn?"

A Wheel is used to change direction to the reverse flank (to the side opposite to the guide). [SOS, # 407] In a wheel you maintain your lateral alignment and elbow 'touch' within your rank. (Additionally, you will always look to the outside of the wheel) (On a fixed pivot wheel, you will 'touch' to the inside/ on a moving wheel; you will 'touch' to the outside, those being the side of the guide) [See SOC # 224 about wheels in a column of companies and changing the guide.] A Turn is used to change direction on the same side as your guide [SOS, # 413 and SOC # 229.] In a turn, you do not maintain your alignment or touch and just get back into formation in the new direction in the most expedient means. (Sorta' like when you do "By Company into Line," at the double quick until in a Company front.)

6. What's the difference in the commands: "Face by the rear rank, Company, About 
Face" and "Company, About Face?" [SOC 3 68-75]

The difference concerns whether or not you are turning about to fire. If the Captain merely wishes you to about face for reasons other than firing, there is no need for either the Captain or file closers to change their positions relative to the company, so he will give you "Company, About Face." If however he wishes to face the company about so that they may fire their muskets, then he and the file closers must 'git out of th' way! In this case, at: "Face by the rear rank", the Captain, 1st Sgt. and all file closers will proceed around the right side of the formation and form up facing the men, (opposite their original positions) at which time the Captain will then order; "Company, About Face." You will now be in a position to fire. Think about a retreat movement, what command would you expect? Since you would want to immediately face about and fire when ready during the retreat, you would not want the file closers on the side of the enemy. So you would hear; "Company, About Face." [During this maneuver, the 1st Sgt will move up to the line of file closers (now in front of the formation) and the Captain will be on the left of the new front rank. [SOC #123]

7. Where is the guide? (Which way did he go, which way did he go??!!)

This probably causes more confusion than any other question. Gaps occur in our lines because some are guiding/ touching left while others are guiding/ touching right! The main reason is that in reenacting we never use proper guides. Why is this; I don't know. One reason may be that to have guides, you necessarily need someone to set the guides. In Civil War drill this responsibility falls on the battalion Adjutant (on the right) and battalion major (on the left). Not to impugn anyone's physical fitness, but I certainly wouldn't want the job of running back and forth setting and aligning guides. Additionally, Casey's mentions the use of "Directing Sgts." in the School of the Battalion. Each company would have a Directing Sgt. [see SOC # 89] that would stand (or march) 6 paces in front of his company Captain and abeam the color line while in a battalion front. He not only sets the guide for his company but also sets the step. Without a 'Directing Sgt.', we lose a lot of direction!!! So 
how about some general rules…During company drill, the Captain will be giving you direction by saying "guide right/ left" when appropriate. In a 'Column of Companies', the guide is always on the left when you are in a 'Column of Companies, right in front', which is how we march most often. The 2nd Sgt. will be on the left flank of the front rank and he is the left guide. (Not to confuse the situation, but if we were in a 'Column of Companies, left in front', then the guide would be on the right!!-something we hardly ever do this in reenacting, but should practice nonetheless.) In a Battalion Line of Battle, the guide is always towards the colors in the center. As an aside, Casey's mentions that the companies should always be adjusted so they are of the same approximate size. This will help guide 
alignment when the companies wheel into a battalion front. When we have companies of greatly different sizes, it's impossible to have the guides all lined up as each company has a different wheeling diameter, so we have to compensate and it makes our job all the harder. Another interesting note described in the SOC # 90: "The man next to the Capt. will take special care not to pass him; to this end, he will keep the line of his shoulders a little in the rear, but in the same direction with those of the Capt." That should apply to the man next to the right/left guide while marching in any column of companies or line of battle.

8. Where is the guide during an oblique march?

School of the Company, # 105 says: "the guide will always be on the side toward which the oblique is made…" That makes sense since it would be hard to guide on the line over and behind the opposite shoulder. When the oblique is finished, the guide will return to where it was prior to the oblique.

9. We're used to marching 'by the right flank'. What happens when we start off 
'marching by the left flank'?

When in a 'Battalion Front', that is, a battalion line of battle, and we are given the command "Left, Face," we are now said to be 'marching by the left flank.' The formation is called 'a Column of Companies, left in front.' As reenactors, we are not accustomed to this way of maneuvering because all the movements will be reversed from what we normally do. We all know that during the 'left face' it's the two's that stand in place and the one's move to double. That's just the start of it. What happens to the guides, file closers and Capt? Well, first off, the left guide [the 2nd Sgt.] will move from his position as a file closer to become the right guide. He will move to the head of the column, on the right front side and the Capt will stand to his right [just the opposite of what it would look like if we did a 'right face.'] So now the 2nd Sgt is up front with the Capt and the 1st Sgt is in the rear of the company and the guide will be to the right [because that's where the 2nd Sgt and Capt are!] [The file closers will be to the left of the formation] If you were given 'Front', you would be back in a normal 
line of battle. If however you were given another 'left face', you would be in a line of battle facing the opposite direction of the original line of battle and you would be inverted! It's as if you were given an 'about face' from the start, so for this to work, the number two's will be the ones undoubling as they moved to the right to form the line. Confusing to us but not to them as they practiced everyday.And while 'marching by the left flank' your other maneuvers will also be reversed. When you get: "By Company into Line," instead of running around to the left, you will run around to the right to form a normal line of battle with the tall guys on the right and short guys on the left. Remember, it should look just like when you originally fell into ranks. Instead of "On the right, by File into Line" you will get "On the left, by File into Line." Again, do the reverse of what we normally do. The 2 columns to the inside of the turn [the 2 left most columns] will mark time and the 2 outside columns will march, undouble, and form a normal line of battle, again it will end up with the tall guys on the right and short guys on the left.

10. I know that when the soldier to my front 'takes a hit,' I should move up and take his 
place. But if the guy beside me 'takes a hit', and there is no rear rank man to take his 
place, should I dress to the side of the guide?

This isn't addressed anywhere in Casey's so we have to use common sense and maybe also apply what we have learned through reading about actual battles. If you were to do this on a battalion scale in actual battle and lost 50% casualties, that would mean your front would contract by 50% and you would lose touch with the adjoining troops on your flanks, leaving you vulnerable to being flanked. So you wouldn't want that to happen since you need to 'defend the same amount of ground.' You may have also read that the soldiers got nervous when they lost the touch of their comrades. So evidently they did not dress left or right to regain their touch when the ranks thinned out. So no, don't move left or right unless your Captain tells you to.

11. What's the command to go from the route step to a cadenced step?

All to often we hear the command "To the Step." This is a misuse of that command. "To the Step" is used when the commander sees that some or all of the troops are not in the proper step and draws their attention to regain their step by 'glancing towards the directing Sgt' to retake the step. If you are at the route step and the commander wishes you to return to a cadenced step he will command: "Quick Step, March, or "Double Quick," etc. upon his desire. [SOC 3 93]


The following are the commands you will be expected to know. They are written exactly 
like you will hear them:

School of the Soldier {SOS}

--Attention Company
--In each rank, count twos [at this time, the Capt. will divide the formation into platoons & 
sections making sure the 1st platoon is always composed of an even number of files] [SOS #6]
--Right (Left) Dress/ Front
--In Place Rest [always keep one OR the other heel on the alignment, SOC # 38]
--Parade Rest
--(1) Co., (2) Right [Left] Face
--(1) Co., (2) About Face
--(1) Co., (2) Face By the Rear Rank, (3) About Face
--(1) Co. (2) Forward, (3) Guide right [left](optional prep. command), (4) March
---Common Time: 90 steps per minute (not used as it is a training cadence only)
---Quick Time: the normal cadence/ 110 steps per minute
---Double Quick Step: 165 steps per minute (can be increased to 185) 
---The Run: (cadence not specified)
--(1) Double Quick, (2) March
--(1) Quick Time, (2) March
--(1) Co., (2) Halt
--(1) Co. Backward, (2) Guide Right [Left], (3) March
--(1) Right [Left] Oblique, (2) March
--(1) Co. Right About, (2) March
--(1) Co. Right About, (2) Halt
--(1) Co. Right [Left] Face, (2) Forward, (3) March [Marching by the Flank]
--(1) Co. (2) Halt, (3) Front
--(1) By File Right [Left], (2) March
--(1) Co. by the Right [Left] Flank, (3) March
--(1) Co. by the Right [Left] Flank, (2) Halt
--(1) By Co. [or by Squad, etc.] right [Left] Wheel, (2) March [Given from halt]
--(1) Right [Left] Wheel, (2) March [Given while marching]
--(1) Right [Left] Turn, (2) March

--The Manual of Arms: (In Order) (Should be accomplished in Open Ranks)
--Present Arms---Shoulder Arms
--Order Arms
--Ground Arms
--Raise Arms---Shoulder Arms
--Support Arms---Shoulder Arms
--Fix Bayonet---Shoulder Arms
--Charge Bayonet---Shoulder Arms
--Trail Arms---Shoulder Arms
--Unfix Bayonet---Shoulder Arms
--Secure Arms---Shoulder Arms
--Load in Nine Times
1. Load
2. Handle Cartridge
3. Tear Cartridge
4. Charge Cartridge
5. Draw Rammer
6. Ram Cartridge
7. Return Rammer
8. Prime
9. Shoulder Arms
Other Arms positions:
--Right Shoulder Shift Arms
--Arms Port
--Carry Arms
--Stack Arms/ (Break Ranks, March)/ Take Arms
--Inspection Arms
--Spring Rammers

--Firings (Ready, Aim, Fire – Load/ or Recover)
[At the first command, i.e. "Fire by Company", the Capt. & 1st Sgt. will take their
positions 4 paces behind the line of file closers, SOC #49]
---Oblique firings
---By File (the most commonly used during the Civil War) [SOC # 55-57]
(1) Fire by File. (2) Company. (3) Ready. (4) Commence firing.
---By Rank [Rear Rank first] [SOC # 58-67]
(1) Fire by rank. (2) Company. (3) Ready. (4) Rear rank-Aim. (5) Fire. (6) Load. 
When the Capt. sees one or two pieces in the rear rank at the ready, he will 
command: (1) Front rank. (2) Aim. (3) Fire. (4) Load
---By Company: (1) Fire by Company. (2) Commence firing. [SOC # 48-54]
---Lying down
---Addition items:
-Recover Arms
-Elevate (Reenactorism)
--Cease Fire [at which time the Capt. and 1st Sgt will resume their positions in line.]
--Fix Bayonet
--Charge Bayonet
--Guard against Infantry, Guard
--Guard against Cavalry, Guard
--Unfix Bayonet

To Open Ranks: [SOC # 8 to 17]
--(1) Attention, (2) Co., (3) Shoulder-Arms, (4) To the Rear Open Order, [at which time the 
covering Sgt (1st Sgt) and left guide (2nd Sgt) will take 4 paces to the rear from the front 
rank](5) March, (6) Front [at which time the 2nd Sgt will post to the line of file closers]
[Note: if in battalion formation, after Shoulder Arms, a preparatory command of:
--1. Prepare to Open Ranks, will be given to position the Adjutant and Major]

When marching BY THE FLANK:
(As a single Company)
When marching by the flank, there are 3 usual ways you can expect to be formed into a line of battle: 
To form a line of battle to the right of your line of march: [SOC # 150-154]
--(1) On the Right, by file into line, (2) March 
To form a line of battle to the front of your line of march: [SOC # 155-164]
--(1) By Co., into line, (2) March
To form a line of battle to the left of your line of march:
--(1) By the Left Flank, (2) March
When in a company line of battle, the Capt will be positioned 2 paces to the front and centered on the front rank. The 1st Sgt will be the right guide and the 2nd Sgt will be the left guide. [SOC # 160-164]

(in a Column of Companies)

When marching in a Column of Companies, right in front, the commands would be:
To form a Battalion Line of Battle to the right of your line of march the Colonel will 
command: [SOB # 414-432]
--(1) Column at full distance, on the right into line of battle, (at which time the battalion guides would be posted)
--(2) On the right, into line, (3) Battalion guide right, [because the guide had been 
As each company comes up to its guide, (in secession) the Captain will command:
--(1) Right turn into line, [because you're turning to the side of the guide](2) March3 paces from the line the Captain will command:
--(1) First [Second, etc.] Co., (2) Halt, (3) Right Dress/ Front, (4) Support Arms 
[If the Colonel wants the line formed quickly to the right, he can invert the battalion into line immediately by commanding: [SOB # 407-411]
--(1) By inversion, right into line, wheel, (2) Battalion, guide right, (3) March
(Each company would simultaneously right wheel into line & thus be inverted; the first company on the far left, etc.)

To form a Battalion Line of Battle to the front of your line of march: [SOB #440-452]
--(1) Forward into line, (2) By Company left half wheel, (3) March
The first company will continue forward to the line, all others will wheel left.
At the completion of the half wheel, the colonel will give:
--(1) Forward, March, (2) Guide right

As each company comes up to the left guide of the company preceding it, the Captain 
will command:
--(1) Right turn into line, March, (2) Co Halt, (3) Right Dress/ Front, (4) Support 

To form a Battalion Line of Battle to the left of your line of march: [SOB # 390-398]
--(1) Battalion, Left into Line, wheel, (2) March
at 3 paces from the line, the Captain will command:
--(1) Co., Halt
--(2) Right Dress/ Front/ Support Arms

If the colonel wishes you to form the battalion line of battle to the left but continue 
marching, the command would be: [SOB # 404-406]
--(1) By Companies left wheel, (2) March.
As you approach the line, he will command:
--(3) Forward, (4) March (5) Guide center.

[All of these same formations can be accomplished if the Battalion was marching by the left Flank, 
only the directions and guides would be reversed.]

When marching by the flank and you need to Undouble Files:
--(1) In two ranks, undouble files, (2) March
[2's drop behind 1's]
To return to 4 ranks, the command would be:
--(1) In four ranks, double files, (2) March

To Change direction of the battalion front [either at the halt or on the march]: [SOB # 745-753]
--First, the Battalion Commander would reposition the first company to face the new 
direction, then command:
--(1) Change front forward on the first company, (2) By Company, right/ half
wheel, (3) March,
When the half wheel is complete for 2nd and subsequent companies:
--(1) Forward, (2) March, (3) Guide right,
When on the new line:
--(1) Second [third, etc.] company, (2) Halt

[Changing direction can be accomplished on the last, or any other company, by using the same 


If in a Batt'l line of battle, and you wish to break to the rear to form a column of companies 
marching to the right flank: [SOB # 87-94]
--(1) By the right of companies to the rear into column, (2) Battalion, right face, (3) March
[After right face, the first 2 ranks will break to the rear]
After the last rank passes the captain, he will command:
--(1) 1st [2nd, etc.] Company, (2) Halt, (3) Front, (4) Left Dress
If you wish to break to the rear but NOT form a column of companies and continue marching
to the rear, you would simply omit 'into column', so it would go like this: [SOB # 110-116]
--(1) By the right of companies to the rear, (2) Battalion, right face, (3) March, (4) Guide 

If in Batt'l line of battle, and you need to clear obstacles to the front (i.e. cannon line, trees, etc.) and 
then reform your line of battle on the other side of the obstacles: [SOB # 105-109]
--(1) By the right of companies to the front, (2) Battalion, right face, (3) March, (4) Guide 
[After right face, the first 2 ranks would break to the front]
Once past the obstacles, you would hear:
--(1) By companies into line, (2) March, (3) Guide center


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