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American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman – Drills IV: Bayonet Drill

Updated on July 26, 2018
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I'm a Sr. Financial Analyst from Long Island, NY and am an American Civil War buff and Living Historian (Company H, 119th NY Volunteers).

Introduction

And now, we will learn the drill for, possibly, the most arduous, and terrifying, of all combat: hand-to-hand. This was Bayonet Drill.

As mentioned in “Life In Camp: Issuances of Clothing and Equipment”, the bayonet is a blade that, when attached to the muzzle of the musket, allows for the firearm to be wielded as a saber or a pike in close-quarters combat. In the absence of a bayonet, even the musket stock can be used as a clubbed weapon. As a result, there was a variety of offensive and defensive movements, for each soldier to learn, in order to wield his weapon effectively and to survive face-to-face, kill-or-be-killed confrontations with his enemy.

Living Historians come to a Middle Guard position in Bayonet Drill
Living Historians come to a Middle Guard position in Bayonet Drill

Deployment for Bayonet Drill

Before Bayonet Drill began, the Company needed to properly deploy for it. A standard Company Line of Battle, and even an Open Order Company Line of Battle, was too confining for these exercises. As you will see, Bayonet Drill required plenty of free, unconfined movement for each man!

Line Of Battle, prior to deployment for Bayonet Drill
Line Of Battle, prior to deployment for Bayonet Drill

Open Ranks

From the Line Of Battle, the first step was to command the Company's Rear Rank to march backwards ten paces.

Rear Rank marches backward ten paces
Rear Rank marches backward ten paces

Take Intervals to the Left

Once the Rear Rank halted, the next step was to further open the Company's order by intervals to the Company's left. Each man needed to be a musket-and-bayonet length from the man on his right AND on his left. Therefore, from the right of the line to the left, each man slowly reached out his musket to his left, and the other men sidled left until they were just beyond it. This process was repeated until each man was at a proper interval from his neighbors.

The troops take musket-and-bayonet intervals to the left
The troops take musket-and-bayonet intervals to the left

Intervals of the Twos

One more interval was needed to safely put each man out of harm's way: the Twos were commanded to advance five paces to the front.

The #2 men step forward five paces
The #2 men step forward five paces

Deployment Complete

All these movements caused a radius of about five paces to surround each man. This was a safe distance from his comrades and the reach of their muskets and bayonets.

Company is now properly deployed for Bayonet Drill
Company is now properly deployed for Bayonet Drill

Initial (Guard) Position

When hand-to-hand combat is likely, the soldier must first assume a stance that enables him to attack or defend in immediate, balanced, and smooth motions.

The Middle Guard – this position is very similar to the Charge Bayonets position. The main differences are:

  • the soldier’s stance: his feet must be about shoulder width apart, his knees must be bent, and his center of balance must be maintained so that he can immediately move in any direction without awkwardness
  • the musket and bayonet position: the point of the bayonet is level with the chin, and the musket’s lockplate is turned slightly upward.

For the drill, the order to assume this stance is “Guard To”.

McClellan's Manual illustration - The Middle Guard position
McClellan's Manual illustration - The Middle Guard position
Casey's Manual illustration - Middle Guard Against Cavalry. Note the musket is held no higher than that shown in McClellan's Manual. Casey most likely modified the musket positions when he wrote his manual roughly eight years later
Casey's Manual illustration - Middle Guard Against Cavalry. Note the musket is held no higher than that shown in McClellan's Manual. Casey most likely modified the musket positions when he wrote his manual roughly eight years later

Revisions to Initial (Guard) Position

There are occasions when the Middle Guard position must be revised, particularly when in extremely close quarters – at arm length or less - with the enemy. The musket and bayonet, nearly six feet / 1.83 m in total length, cannot then be brought to bear at normal extension.

On The Right – Shorten – this is similar to the Middle Guard position, but the musket is now held by the 1st and 3rd bands of the barrel which, thus, “shortens” the length of the weapon.

On The Left – Shorten – identical to “On The Right – Shorten” except that the soldier pivots to his left, on his right foot, and swings his left leg to the rear so that his right shoulder now faces the enemy. His right hand then grasps the musket by the 1st band and his left hand grasps it by the 3rd band.

McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Right, Shorten
McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Right, Shorten
McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Left, Shorten
McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Left, Shorten

Maneuvers

Hand-to hand combat is not a stationary activity, so each soldier needed to learn how to maneuver in order to gain an advantage over his opponent, or at least not to give him any greater advantage.

Living Historians of Company A, 38th PA Volunteers at bayonet practice
Living Historians of Company A, 38th PA Volunteers at bayonet practice

Forward / Backward / Stationary

Advance – the soldier takes one step forward with his front foot and brings the rear foot up so that his Guard position is maintained. This maneuver is to shorten the distance between the soldier and his enemy.

Retreat – the opposite of Advance. The soldier takes one step back with his rear foot and follows with his front foot so that his Guard position is maintained.

Leap to the Rear – the soldier jumps back so that he lands immediately in his Guard position. This maneuver is to avoid an attack by the enemy that cannot be blocked in time.

Passade – the soldier steps forward with his rear foot, as if in a sideways walk, then assumes his Guard position when he brings forward his front foot. This movement is to quickly shorten the distance to the enemy.

Appel – the soldier, quickly and loudly, stomps his front foot on the ground in order to distract the enemy, and maintains his Guard position.

McClellan's Manual illustration - Advance and Retreat (shown without muskets)
McClellan's Manual illustration - Advance and Retreat (shown without muskets)
McClellan's Manual illustration - Leap To The Rear (shown without muskets)
McClellan's Manual illustration - Leap To The Rear (shown without muskets)
McClellan's Manual illustration - Development and Passade (shown without muskets)
McClellan's Manual illustration - Development and Passade (shown without muskets)

The Turns (Volts)

Right Volt – the soldier pivots 90 degrees to his right, on his front foot, and maintains the Guard position.

Left Volt – the soldier pivots 90 degrees to his left, on his front foot, and maintains the Guard position.

Right Rear Volt – the soldier pivots 180 degrees to his right, on his front foot, and maintains the Guard position.

Left Rear Volt - the soldier pivots 180 degrees to his left, on his front foot, and maintains the Guard position.

McClellan's Manual illustration - The Volts
McClellan's Manual illustration - The Volts

Bayonet Attacks

To disable or kill the enemy is paramount, and the bayonet is the primary weapon in hand-to-hand combat for this endeavor. Each soldier, therefore, needed to learn the various bayonet attacks necessary to subdue his opponent.

Thrust – the soldier pushes his musket straight out in front of him so that his arms nearly straighten. He must maintain his balance, so his legs must not move from the Guard position.

Lunge – the soldier pushes his musket forward, to strike the enemy, until his arms are nearly straight and both his hands are nearly even with each other on the stock. His feet must not move from the Guard position, though he will lean slightly forward.

Lunge-Out – the soldier pushes his musket, with his rear hand, as far forward as possible to strike the enemy, then immediately pulls it back to catch it in his front hand before it falls to the ground. His legs must not move from the Guard position.

If the enemy is too far away to be struck by the Thrust or Lunge, he can incorporate the Development (described below) or the Passade (as described in the Maneuvers section) into his attack in order to close the distance to his opponent.

Development - the soldier steps and leans forward with his front foot, and pushes his musket as far forward as possible, with his current grasp, to strike the enemy. All the while, the soldier must maintain his balance to get back to the Guard position quickly.

McClellan's Manual illustration - Thrust and Lunge
McClellan's Manual illustration - Thrust and Lunge
McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Left, Shorten, Thrust and On The Right, Shorten, Thrust
McClellan's Manual illustration - On The Left, Shorten, Thrust and On The Right, Shorten, Thrust
Living Historians at Bayonet Drill - On The Left, Shorten, Thrust
Living Historians at Bayonet Drill - On The Left, Shorten, Thrust
McClellan's Manual illustration - Lunge Out and Lunge with Development
McClellan's Manual illustration - Lunge Out and Lunge with Development
McClellan's Manual illustration - Thrust with Passade
McClellan's Manual illustration - Thrust with Passade

Musket Stock Attacks

In lieu of a bayonet, the stock of the musket can be used as a clubbed weapon, so each soldier needed to learn these alternative attack methods.

Stocks To The Right – Strike – the soldier lifts up his musket to shoulder height and turns it so the butt faces 90 degrees to his right. He then pushes the musket forward until his arms nearly straighten. His legs must not move from the Guard position.

Stocks To The Rear – Strike - the soldier lifts up his musket to shoulder height. He then pushes the musket to the rear until his arms nearly straighten. His legs must not move from the Guard position.

Lower The Stocks – Strike – the soldier tilts up his musket until it is vertical, and the butt faces to the ground. He then swings the butt up and forward to strike the enemy so that the butt now faces forward and the bayonet faces to the rear. His legs must not move from the Guard position.

As with Bayonet Attacks, the Development and the Passade can be incorporated into Musket Stock Attacks.

McClellan's Manual illustration - Stock to the Right, Stock to the Rear
McClellan's Manual illustration - Stock to the Right, Stock to the Rear
McClellan's Manual illustration - Lower The Stock, Strike
McClellan's Manual illustration - Lower The Stock, Strike
McClellan's Manual illustration - Stock To The Right or Rear, Strike, and Development
McClellan's Manual illustration - Stock To The Right or Rear, Strike, and Development

Four Frontal Quadrants of Attack

There are four imaginary “quadrants” to his front where each soldier should aim his attacks. As Bayonet Drill was based on the French military model, the quadrants are referred-to in French. The lower right is called “Prime” (First). The lower left is called “Seconde” (Second). The upper left is called “Tierce” (Third). The upper right is called “Quarte” (Fourth).

Thrust / Strike In Prime – the soldier strikes to his lower right.

Thrust / Strike In Seconde – the soldier strikes to his lower left.

Thrust / Strike In Tierce – the soldier strikes to his upper left.

Thrust / Strike In Quarte – the soldier strikes to his upper right.

As one faces forward, these are the four quadrants (clockwise)
As one faces forward, these are the four quadrants (clockwise)

The Parries

It is as necessary to defend as it is to attack when in hand-to-hand combat, so each soldier needed to learn the various defensive motions. The same four imaginary quadrants (described above), plus two others, are where the enemy will strike and, thus, where the soldier should also aim his “parries”. A “parry” is a deflection to an enemy attack.

Parry In Prime – the soldier tilts his musket down and sweeps it to the right to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant.

Parry In Seconde – the soldier tilts his musket down and sweeps it to the left to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant.

Parry In Tierce – the soldier tilts his musket up and sweeps it to the left to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant.

Parry In Quarte – the soldier tilts his musket up and sweeps it to the right to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant.

Parry In High Tierce – the soldier tilts and lifts his musket up and to the left to deflect an enemy mounted attack in that quadrant.

Parry In High Quarte – the soldier tilts and lifts his musket up and to the right to deflect an enemy mounted attack in that quadrant.

In sudden enemy attacks from the left side, the soldier may need to give ground in order to effectively deflect the blows. The soldier may, thus, incorporate a Retreat into his parries. This Retreat is different from that described in the Maneuvers section. Instead of a step back with the rear foot, the soldier will pivot to the left on his rear foot, swing back his front leg and, as he makes his pivot, deflect the blows.

Parry In Seconde in Retreat – the soldier tilts his musket down and sweeps it to the left to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant. At the same time, he pivots on his right foot and swings his left leg to the rear (180 degree turn to the left) so that his right shoulder faces the enemy.

Parry In Tierce in Retreat – the soldier tilts his musket up and sweeps it to the left to deflect an enemy attack in that quadrant. At the same time, he pivots on his right foot and swings his left leg to the rear (180 degree turn to the left) so that his right shoulder faces the enemy.

We can assume that, for enemy attacks from the right side, Right Volts prior to Parries were considered sufficient.

Quadrants for Defense - note the High Tierce and High Quarte quadrants, which are for use when confronted by Cavalry
Quadrants for Defense - note the High Tierce and High Quarte quadrants, which are for use when confronted by Cavalry
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Prime
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Prime
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Seconde
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Seconde
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Tierce
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Tierce
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Quarte
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Quarte
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In High Tierce, Parry in High Quarte
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In High Tierce, Parry in High Quarte
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Seconde In Retreat
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry In Seconde In Retreat
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry in Tierce In Retreat
McClellan's Manual illustration - Parry in Tierce In Retreat

Afterword

While the Bayonet Drills were carried out under the verbal commands of the officers, in actual combat no such commands were possible. Each soldier needed to rely upon his memory of these exercises in order to know what to do when hand-to-hand combat arose. Fortunately, such close quarters combat was somewhat rare during the war. However, when it did occur, the combat was of a savagery that cannot fully be described in words.

The next article in this realm is called: American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman - Drills V: Skirmisher Drill.

Mort Kunstler's painting "With A Rebel Yell"
Mort Kunstler's painting "With A Rebel Yell"

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    • garytameling profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary Tameling 

      4 years ago from Islip, NY

      You are entirely too kind, lions44. Thank you so much. I hope my future work also interests you!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      This level of detail is extraordinary. Great stuff. You put a lot of work into this piece. Thanks. Voted up.

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