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American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman – Drills II: Manual of Arms

Updated on July 21, 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

In addition to the drills to accustom troops to maneuvers in line of battle, the troops also needed to learn how to carry their firearms.

As the muskets of the day were lengthy and a bit cumbersome, and as the linear formations were rather snug, it was paramount for the firearms to be carried and moved properly. In this way, no harm would come to the others in the ranks, and the weapons would be ready to use in combat. These carries also helped to prevent fatigue that is inherent when a large object (8 to 10 lbs / 3.6 to 4.5 kg) is held for a long period of time. The Manual of Arms section of the drill manuals (Hardee’s Manual, Casey’s Manual, Gilham's Manual, etc.) provided the instructions on the various ways to carry the muskets and the steps necessary to bring the muskets to those carry positions. These carries were performed when the men were idle as well as in motion.

The following list of positions of the firearms will give you a fair idea of how the muskets needed to be carried, when so ordered by the commanding officers, and how the troops needed to move them into those positions.

Order Arms

The musket butt rests on the ground on the right hand side with the rammer in front. The right arm is extended, with only a slight bend at the elbow, to grasp and hold the musket near the 2nd band of the barrel.

Hardee's Manual - Order Arms
Hardee's Manual - Order Arms
A photo of a soldier at Order Arms
A photo of a soldier at Order Arms

Shoulder Arms

The thumb and index finger of the right hand grasps the musket by the trigger guard, with the thumb on top of it and the index finger below it. The other fingers curl around the stock so the hammer and lockplate rest against the little finger. The right arm should be slightly bent at the elbow and the musket should rest, upright, against the shoulder, with the rammer to the front.

Hardee's Manual - Shoulder Arms
Hardee's Manual - Shoulder Arms
A Company at Shoulder Arms
A Company at Shoulder Arms

Right Shoulder Shift Arms

The musket should be lifted up so that the right hand grasps the butt end and that the lockplate is inclined upwards. The right arm should be bent outwards so that the firearm tilts at the shoulder to the left and back at an approximate angle of 60 degrees. The lockplate should be in front, just above shoulder-level, and the rammer should be closest to the body.

Hardee's Manual - Right Shoulder Shift Arms
Hardee's Manual - Right Shoulder Shift Arms
A Regiment at Right Shoulder Shift Arms
A Regiment at Right Shoulder Shift Arms

Support Arms

The hammer and lockplate of the musket should be in front and rest on the crook of the left arm as it is bent across the body at 135 degrees. The firearm should be pointed straight up.

Hardee's Manual - Support Arms
Hardee's Manual - Support Arms
A Guard detail at Support Arms
A Guard detail at Support Arms

Present Arms

Both hands should grasp the musket and hold it straight in front of the body, rammer in front. The left arm should be bent at 90 degrees and the hand should grasp the musket between the 2nd and 3rd bands of the barrel. The right hand should grasp the stock just below the hammer and lockplate.

Hardee's Manual - Present Arms
Hardee's Manual - Present Arms
A Squad at Present Arms
A Squad at Present Arms

Secure Arms

The musket should be angled down to the ground, rammer up, and secured under the left arm and grasped near the 3rd band of the barrel. The thumb should hold down the rammer to prevent its detachment.

Hardee's Manual - Secure Arms
Hardee's Manual - Secure Arms

Ground Arms

The musket will be lowered to the ground, lockplate up. The soldier should advance forward his left leg, bend at the waist, and hold his cartridge box in place with his left hand while he lowers the musket to the ground. The opposite procedure will take place, to raise the arms again, at the command "Raise Arms".

Hardee's Manual - Ground Arms
Hardee's Manual - Ground Arms

Charge Bayonets

The tip of the bayonet should be level with the eyes, with the musket pointed ahead. The musket should be grasped by the left hand between the 2nd and 3rd bands of the barrel, and grasped by the right hand on the stock below the lockplate. The feet should be in a "T" formation, with the right heel moved back to a right angle with the left heel.

Hardee's Manual - Charge Bayonets
Hardee's Manual - Charge Bayonets
A painting of the 20th Regiment, Maine Volunteers at Charge Bayonets
A painting of the 20th Regiment, Maine Volunteers at Charge Bayonets

Port Arms

The musket should point up at about 60 degrees, and the hands should grasp the musket as they do in Charge Bayonet.

Gilham's Manual - Port Arms
Gilham's Manual - Port Arms

Trail Arms

The musket should be grasped by the right hand just above the 3rd band of the barrel, and the musket should point up at about 60 degrees, rammer in front.

Gilham's Manual - Trail Arms
Gilham's Manual - Trail Arms
A painting of the 114th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers at Trail Arms
A painting of the 114th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers at Trail Arms

Stack Arms

Drill sessions were quite strenuous and, for that reason, periods of rest were needed by the troops.

When lengthy periods of rest were given, the men were ordered to stack their arms in a tripod formation. They could then take their ease during this allotted break in routine.

This procedure required the four men of each Comrades-In-Battle (the pair of One files and Two files, as explained in the article "The Linear Maneuvers").

The front rank #2 man will place the butt of his musket near, and to the outside of, his left foot, the barrel towards the body. The front rank #1 man will give his firearm to the #2 man, who will place the musket butt out in front of his right foot, the barrel to the front; he will cross the bayonets of the two muskets (the musket of the #1 man will be on the inside); the rear rank #2 man will insert his musket and bayonet underneath the two blades but between the two locking bands and place the butt on the ground between the feet of the front rank #1 man. The stack is now formed, and the rear rank #1 man will then lean his musket on the stack to complete it.

Photo of stacked arms, three in each stack.
Photo of stacked arms, three in each stack.

Take Arms

This, again, requires the four men of each Comrades-In-Arms.

The rear rank #1 man will withdraw his piece from the stack. The front rank #2 man will grab his own musket with his left hand and that of the front rank #1 man with his right hand, both above the 3rd band. The rear rank #2 man will grab his musket with his right hand below the 3rd band; these two men will raise up the stack to loosen the interlocked bayonets. The rear rank #2 man will withdraw his musket, while the front rank #2 man will give the front rank #1 man his musket. The four men will then assume the position of Order Arms.

Rest Positions

If a period of rest was not to be lengthy, the men were ordered to assume a Rest Position, which was meant to keep the men on their feet and ready to go back to work within a moment.

The first step, prior to the Rest order, was to bring the firearms to a specified position. Order Arms, Ground Arms, Support Arms, and, of course, Stack Arms were all allowable firearm carries prior to a Rest command.

If the drill instructor wanted to keep the men in formation and ready for immediate resumption of the drill, he ordered them to Rest while In-Place. This “In-Place” description required that each man maintain at least one foot in his proper alignment, so they were not permitted to wander about. They could converse freely, however, unless the instructor ordered silence. Arms could be carried at will.

If alignment was not deemed necessary, the instructor simply ordered “Rest”. The men were then free to move about as well as to converse, and their weapons could be carried at will.

If the men were in a parade, such as the morning or evening battalion parade, then a Parade Rest was ordered. This Rest required silence and immobility.

This following table provides the description of each type of Rest position and the Commands used to impart them.

Photo of US Marines at one prescribed Parade Rest position.
Photo of US Marines at one prescribed Parade Rest position.
Photo of Volunteers at a second prescribed Parade Rest position.
Photo of Volunteers at a second prescribed Parade Rest position.
Command
Rest
In-Place, Rest
Parade, Rest
Stack Arms
Men are permitted to converse freely and do not need to remain in alignment
Men must keep at least one foot in the alignment, but are able to converse freely
Men must maintain their alignment and silence
Order Arms (1)
Men are permitted to converse freely and do not need to remain in alignment. They may carry their arms at will.
Men must keep at least one foot in the alignment, but are able to converse freely. They may carry their arms at will.
The heel of the butt of the firearm is turned slightly so the barrel is to the left. The muzzle is placed by the center of the body. The left hand and right hand grasp near the upper band. The right foot is brought 6 in. / 15.24 cm. to the rear. Alignment and silence must be maintained.
Order Arms (2)
As above
As above
Each man brings back his firearm so that it leans between his right arm and chest. He then folds his hands in front of the firearm. He places his right heel just behind his left heel and at an angle of no more than 60 degrees. He must maintain his alignment and silence
Ground Arms
Men are permitted to converse freely and do not need to remain in alignment
Men must keep at least one foot in the alignment, but are able to converse freely
Men must maintain their alignment and silence
Support Arms
Each man’s right hand grasps the stock immediately below the left elbow. He is permitted to converse freely and does not need to remain in alignment
Each man’s right hand grasps the stock immediately below the left elbow. He must keep at least one foot in his alignment, but is able to converse freely
Each man’s right hand grasps the stock immediately below the left elbow. He must maintain his alignment and silence

Afterword

Nearly all of these firearm carries were able to be performed during linear maneuvers, so troops learned the carries while they marched as well as when they stood still. Though the carries may seem simple, they became complicated when the element of movement and pace was added to the mix. More than a few troops completely dropped their weapons when they tried to obey the many carry and maneuver commands before they grew accustomed to them!

The next article in this series is called American Civil War Life: Union Infantryman - Drills III: Positions To Fire

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