Monday, January 01, 2007
DEPLOY THE SKIRMISHERS
Skirmish lines often served as the eyes and ears of regiments or brigades on the march. Skirmishers were sent forward or along the flanks of moving bodies of troops to determine the whereabouts of the enemy or to draw the enemy out.
Napoleon had relied extensively on skirmishers and thus, Civil War infantry manuals included skirmishing tactics and commands. Officers and troops were drilled for skirmisher duty. For officers, these drills included how to deploy skirmishers, how they should advance, proper skirmish firing, rallying the skirmishers, and deploying a battalion as skirmishers.
Companies were often deployed as skirmishers in front of a regiment or at a flank. A typical order for the deployment of a platoon: "First platoon—as skirmishers, on the left file, take intervals—march! The men thus summoned would march forward, separate into lines and then break into groups of four. The distance between the groups depended upon the terrain and the circumstances, but was not suppose to exceed forty paces. If the skirmishers were to be deployed on the flank the command would be: "Second platoon—as skirmishers, on the right flank, take intervals—march!"
Once out as skirmishers, the commands used were standard military commands. "Forward, march!" "Halt!" In retreat, march! This last command was often "Retreat, double quick, march!" Skirmishers frequently unexpectedly came in contact with enemy forces and quick action was necessary. In these circumstances, one did not wait for an order to fire! At such times, the normal order of commands often broke down, and it was every man for himself.
If a unit had access to a cavalry unit, it would not be unusual to utilize the cavalry regiment as skirmishers.
If a battalion were already in battle lines, platoons could be deployed forward as a fighting force or called back into line as needed after serving one of the functions most vital to a Civil War army: "feeling" the enemy, thus avoiding surprise, and protecting the main body of troops.
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