by 1st Lt Gene Harmon
While this in no way replaces what can and will be attained by practical drill, my hope is this will make the commands and movements somewhat more familiar to you. One major suggestion is to get pennies out and move them around on a tabletop to help envision the movements.
First, let me go over a few of the basics.
Once deployed on the skirmish line, you may carry or hold your rifle in whatever manner is most comfortable to you.
Use the terrain to your advantage. Even open ground provides swales and small rises that can be used to your benefit.
Kneel, or lay down when necessary to make yourself the smallest possible target.
While moving, keep a low profile and when given halt, immediately take cover without being told to do so.
DO NOT STAND and make yourself a target ! This holds true for the sergeants and officers also !
The skirmish line does not have to be a parade ground precision straight line. Intervals should be kept ( especially within the groups of four ). However if an outcrop of rocks, a fence line, or some other feature provides cover for several soldiers, USE IT. Recover intervals as best you can after moving beyond that.
You will not be hearing an extensive set of commands echoing down the skirmish line. There are two commands for firing – “Commence Firing” and “Cease Fire” – that’s it !!
Once you hear the first, you continue firing until you hear the second – regardless of movement commands.
At 500 yards or less, adjust your sights on the lowest markings. Anything beyond 500 yards, flip the sights up and adjust. USE THE SIGHTS.
Once on the skirmish line, there is a tendency to load and fire as fast as you can. However, the file partners are to work together. Neither of them should be completely unloaded. Each should wait until their file partner is loaded before discharging their rifle.
Get the men used to loading and firing in kneeling and prone positions.
NO soldier should be firing while standing unless cover is sufficient to allow them to do so.
The commands to deploy and move a skirmish company can sound a little daunting until you go through them a few times. I hope this will help.
Let me start with deploying the entire company. It can be deployed on the right, left, or center files. For example, to deploy on the left files the command would be:
Company – as skirmishers, on the left file – take intervals, MARCH
On MARCH, everyone goes to right-shoulder shift and advances at the double-quick. The left files go straight ahead. Each consecutive group of four will angle off to the right. The idea is to get about 20-25 paces between each group of four. At the command HALT, deploy onto the line as follows.
The front rank 2 stands fast.
The front rank 1 turns and goes 10 paces to his right.
The rear rank 1 steps up and goes five paces to the right of the front rank 2.
The rear rank 2 steps up and goes five paces to the left of the front rank 2.
Once deployed, each group of four should be atleast 10-15 paces apart.
Sergeants should be 10 paces to the rear of the skirmish line.
Lieutenants should be 25-30 paces to the rear of the skirmish line.
Captains ( ie, company commanders ) should historically be 80 paces to the rear of the skirmish line. HOWEVER, due to constraints of most re-enactment fields and lack of bugles on the skirmish line, company commanders need to remain in the 30-35 pace area to the rear of the skirmish line. If there is only one or two officers, they should be within the 25-30 pace range unless there is a reserve.
The pennies helped didn’t they ? The same movements can be executed to deploy on the right or center files as well.
If a reserve is possible, it should remain about 150 paces behind the deployed skirmish line. The reserve follows the progress of the skirmish line in all movements. It should remain low ( kneeling or lying down ) to keep out of sight of enemy as much as possible.
The next deployment will be to deploy the company in platoons, keeping one in reserve.
The command will be as follows:
First platoon – as skirmishers, on the left file – take intervals, MARCH
At the command as skirmishers, the 2nd Sgt will command:
Second platoon backward – MARCH.
At this, second platoon will take three steps to the rear to unmask 1st Platoon and give them room to deploy.
1st Platoon may then carry out deployment as above.
Again, 2nd Platoon can be deployed in the same manner.
The company and platoons can also be deployed by the flanks.
For example, to deploy by the right flank:
Company – as skirmishers, by the right flank – take intervals, MARCH
On MARCH, all but the far left files will right face without doubling and quickly extend the line to the right. Once they are clear of the first files, the first files will take their intervals.
When the second group of files reaches 25 paces from the first, their front rank 1 will call halt, they will front and take skirmish intervals. When the next group of four reaches 25 paces from where the last ones halted, they will do likewise as will each successive comrades of four.
This same movement can be executed at platoon level to deploy the platoon. If so, remember that upon hearing #Platoon – as skirmishers, the sergeant with the platoon being held in reserve commands #Platoon backward – MARCH.
With regard to moving the skirmish line, the commands given will be ONLY one of the following:
Forward – MARCH
In retreat – MARCH
By the right flank – MARCH
By the left flank – MARCH
And possibly a right or left wheel
Again, the skirmish line is NOT parade ground precision – it does not need to be a straight, dressed up line. While intervals need to be kept as much as possible ( between each man in his group of four and between each group of four ), terrain tends to interfere. However, strict adherence to parade ground drill on a battlefield severely inhibits the fighting performance of any unit especially those in skirmish lines.
While moving forward, if given the command to “Commence Fire”, each front rank man will stop, kneel and fire. After he fires, he will rise and reload while walking. The rear rank man will continue about 12 paces, stop, kneel and wait for the front rank man to say he is almost loaded. Once front rank man passes knelt rear rank, he continues 12 paces, stops, kneels, etc. This continues with each man passing the other for 12 paces and then stopping – kneeling each time. The file partners MUST talk to each other. They continue advancing until given HALT. On halt, the entire skirmish line comes back online as well as terrain and cover allows. If not told to “Cease Fire”, they continue firing in this manner.
If given “In Retreat – MARCH”, the entire skirmish line about faces and steps off toward the rear. If given “Commence Fire” at this point, the front rank man will turn about, kneel and fire, and then load while walking toward the rear. The rear rank man will continue 12 paces after the front rank man stops, at which time he will turn about, kneel, face the enemy and wait until the front rank man is almost loaded to fire. The two then alternate as if going forward. Once again, upon HALT, the skirmishers come back online as allowed by terrain, face the enemy, and continue to fire until told “Cease Fire”.
If commanded, “By the right flank – MARCH”, the entire skirmish line faces to the right and advances in single file line keeping the intervals. If given “Commence Fire”, the front rank men will take a step out of the line to the left ( and facing the left ), kneel, fire, and then step back into line behind his file partner, the rear rank man. Once he lets his file partner he is loaded, the rear rank man will then step out of line, kneel and fire and return into line behind the front rank man. They will continue this rotation until given HALT. Upon halt, everyone returns to their original position in the skirmish line. If not told to “Cease Fire”, the file partners will continue rotating their fire.
If commanded, “By the left flank – MARCH”, the entire skirmish line faces to the left and advances in single file line keeping the intervals. If given “Commence Fire”, the rear rank men will take a step out of the line to the right ( and facing the right ), kneel, fire, and then step back into line behind his file partner, the front rank man. Once he lets his file partner know he is loaded, the front rank man will step out of line, kneel and fire and return into line behind the front rank. They will continue this rotation until given HALT. Upon halt, everyone returns to their original position in the skirmish line. If not told to “Cease Fire”, the file partners will continue rotating their fire.
At the command “Cease Fire”, those who are not loaded will automatically do so.
I think this covers enough of the basic things we will go over and execute on the field.
This will soon be updated with Extending Intervals, Rallying and Assembling commands.
Hope this helps make some of the skirmish drill more clear.
See ya’ll on the field soon !