American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman - Life On Campaign IX
With combat soon to be at hand, the Battalion must deploy into Line Of Battle so that it may fight with good effect. To do so, each Company needed to be in its proper place as a Battalion's Line Of Battle is, in essence, a collection of its Companies' Lines Of Battle.
The Companies Of The Battalion
According to army regulations and tactics, a Regiment’s Companies were properly ordered, in Regimental line of battle, via the order of seniority of the Company commanders. However, the order itself was not simple. The first two senior commanders were in charge of the Companies on either end of the line, while the 3rd senior commander was in charge of the center-right Company. The remaining order of seniority was a bit convoluted. The illustration below should help clear up this matter:
Battalion Line Of Battle - Order Of The Companies
Company Designations, Commanders, and Duties
The letter designations of the Companies in the Regiment were not aligned with the Company commanders’ seniority, or with their places in the line. It is because of this fact that the Companies were referred to, by the Regimental commander, as 1st Company, 2nd Company, 3rd Company, etc, from the right of the line to the left. Whether the right-most Company was Company A or K or anything in between, it did not matter. To the Regimental commander, it was simply the 1st Company. As long as the Companies were in the proper places via their commanders’ seniorities, it didn’t matter what were the letter designations.
When casualties and promotions occurred to Company commanders, the orders of seniority necessarily changed as well. Thus, conceivably, a Company that began the war in one section of the line could have found itself in other sections of the line after each change in order of seniority of its Commander(s).
The Companies on the far ends of the line were called the Flank Companies, and they deployed in Skirmish formation in front of the Regiment. This was a very critical and important operation, so it made perfect sense to assign this duty to the two most senior Company commanders.
The third most senior commander was in charge of the right-center Company. The Company was nicknamed the “Color Company” because the “Color Guard”, which bore the Regimental “Colors”, was attached to it. To protect the “Colors” was of great importance to the entire Regiment, as I will now explain.
The Color Company and Color Guard
The Colors were usually two flags. One was the National flag (the flag of the United States). The other was the flag specific to that Regiment, which was often made or commissioned by the Regiment’s families or town leaders back home. This second standard generally reflected the state from which the unit came, so the state seals were often the crests. Other times, crests that reflected the unit’s unique characteristics were used (ie. a Celtic Harp was the crest for the flags of a few Irish Regiments).
Great personal effort and money was expended to make the Regimental flags, which gave them the attachment of much sentimentality. The love of country, along with each Regiment’s pride and honor, was reflected in the National flags. Therefore, to carry and guard the Colors was paramount to each Regiment and, as such, each Regiment had a Color Guard. The Color Guard was composed of one sergeant and eight corporals, and all were chosen by the regimental commander for their demonstrated steadiness and coolness during their service.
The Color Guard formed into three ranks, and was posted on the left of its Company. In halted line of battle, the Color Guard’s first two ranks were aligned with the Company’s two ranks. The Color Guard's third rank was even with the Company's line of "File Closers", which will be discussed shortly
The Color Guard’s first rank consisted of two corporals, who carried the flags, and the sergeant that stood between them. This rank was thus called the “Color Rank”. The second and third Color Guard ranks had three corporals each.
When it marched by the flank, the Color Guard’s first two ranks faced and doubled the same way as did the rest of the Regiment. The third rank simply faced in the direction of the line of march and did not double.
A Regiment, deployed in a line of battle, used the Color Guard on which to properly align itself. When the Regiment advanced, the Color Rank marched six paces in front of it. The other two Color Guard ranks marched in line with the rest of the Regiment. If the Regiment retreated in line of battle, the reverse order of the advance was followed.
If the Regiment prepared to fire, the Color Rank switched positions with the Color Guard’s second rank. In all of these maneuvers, the Color Guard remained at shoulder arms unless the colors were directly threatened.
Company File Closers
The rank of File Closers for each Company consisted of the remaining officers and NCO’s that were not in the main two ranks or posted as Guides. They kept control of the Platoons and Sections within the Company and prevented the departure of men from the ranks without authorization. Those with shouldered firearms also exchanged their weapons with troops whose muskets had fouled and would no longer fire. They then tried to enable the muskets to fire again if possible.
During maneuvers in line of battle, two Guides (sergeants) were posted, six paces in front, to mark the left and right flanks of the Regiment. These Guides, as the very name implies, helped to accurately guide the Regiment toward its targeted position and to prevent entanglement with other units or natural obstructions.
The aim of all commanders, Company, Regimental, and higher, was not to leave any significant gaps in the line. Therefore, as the battalions deployed, they were positioned in very close proximity with other units wherever possible. Thus, an army-wide, unbroken line from flank to flank was created – or so it was hoped! The terrain helped to determine the success of the army in this endeavor as ground undulations, heavy timber, bodies of water, etc. often prevented unit deployment, which created sizeable gaps in the line. Skirmish lines, normally established in front of the main line, were also positioned to maintain contact between units if gaps developed. They also needed to prevent enemy detection of these gaps, lest the army become susceptible to an enemy breakthrough and destruction in detail.
The next article in this series is called American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman - Life On Campaign X.