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  1. Leah's Choice

    Leah's Choice Cadet

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    Would someone explain pickets to me please? I understand the reason for posting pickets around the army camps, but don't know much about the structure of a picket line. I recently read that picket lines are made up of three...I guess they could be called "tiers." Sentries, picket supports and was referred to as "grand reserves." I don't entirely understand those terms, and the differences (if any) in the duties of each...I guess I'll have to refer to them as "classifications." Just what does picket support mean, how do these men differ from sentries, and where do the grand reserves come into the equation?

    Generally speaking, how far apart are sentries placed? Do they surround the entire camp? I would suppose that the number of soldiers needed as pickets would depend on the size of the camp and whether all four sides were vulnerable to attack, but is there any sort of general number of soldiers who would be on picket duty at any given time?
     

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  3. PlowKing

    PlowKing Corporal

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    I've wondered about those same questions!

    do we still have defined "pickets" in our military? If not, when did this position die out? Spanish-American war?
     
  4. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Brigadier General Moderator

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    Picket: Soldiers posted on guard ahead of a main force. Pickets included about 40 or 50 men each. Several pickets would form a rough line in front of the main army's camp. In case of enemy attack, the pickets usually would have time to warn the rest of the force.

    http://www.usregulars.com/library.htm

    Kautz' Customs of Service for Non Commissioned Officers and Soldiers (1864)


    THE

    CUSTOMS OF SERVICE

    FOR

    NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND

    SOLDIERS

    AS

    DERIVED FROM LAW AND REGULATIONS

    AND

    PRACTISED IN THE ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES

    BEING

    A HAND-BOOK FOR THE RANK AND FILES OF THE ARMY,

    SHOWING WHAT ARE THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES,

    HOW TO OBTAIN THE FORMER AND PERFORM

    THE LATTER, AND THEREBY ENABLING

    THEM TO SEEK PROMOTION AND

    DISTINCTION IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY
    BY

    AUGUST V. KAUTZ

    CAPT. SIXTH U.S. CAVALRY, BRIG.-GEN. U.S. VOLUNTEERS



    PHILADELPHIA

    J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.

    1864

    DUTIES IN THE FIELD.
    [excerpt]
    120. In the field there are, in addition to campguards and police-guards, advanced guards, outposts, pickets, and reconnoissances. On these guards the soldier's duty has not so much detail about it: much of the ceremony of camp-guard is omitted and modified to suit the circumstances; every thing is made subservient to the all-important end, -- watching the enemy. His presence of mind, judgment, and courage on these duties are put to the greatest test.

    121. ADVANCED GUARDS are guards thrown out the front in the direction in which the enemy is expected, to guard against attack or surprise. They may be composed of details united from the brigades, forming a " division-guard," and covering the front of the division, uniting with the guards of the divisions on the right and left; or "brigade-guards," composed of details from the different regiments of the brigade, and covering its front in the same manner.

    122. The senior colonel or other officer of a "division-guard" is the "general officer of the day;" of a brigade-guard," a field officer or senior captain usually detailed as "field officer of the day." These guards are usually thrown some distance in the advance, sometimes several miles, and always enough to give the troops time to form and prepare for battle before the enemy can come upon them. If the guards are thrown out too far to be relieved daily, they go on for several days at a time.

    123. OUTPOSTS are isolated advanced guards of greater or less strength. When composed of small detachments, they are called " picket-guards."

    124. RECONOISSANCES are made by troops against the enemy for the purpose of finding out his position and strength. The term generally implies a strong party. When the force is small, it is more generally called "reconnoitring" or "scouting "

    125. The special duty of the soldier in advanced guards, outposts, pickets, and reconnoissances, is that of "picket," "skirmisher," and "flanker."

    126. PICKET. This term is used differently, and has different meanings in various works. It is used in our army to designate the advanced sentinels of an "advanced guard." Courage and common sense are the principal requisites for a picket.

    127. The instructions which he receives are generally plain and easily understood: the only difficulty is to remember them at the critical moment. Pickets are either infantry or cavalry, or both together. The term " vedette" is frequently applied to cavalry pickets. The general rules for picket should be well understood by every soldier.

    128. "The duties of the pickets are to keep a 'vigilant watch over the country in front, and over the movements of the enemy, if in sight, to prevent all unauthorized persons from passing in or out of the lines, and to arrest all suspicious individuals. In case of an attack, they will act as a line of skirmishers, and hold their ground to the last moment. If forced to retire, they will slowly close their intervals and fall back upon their supports." (General Order No. 69, Head-Quarters Army of Potomac, 1862). The following Regulations are important:*

    "620. The sentinels and vedettes are placed on points from which they can see f-u-r-t-hest, taking care not to break, their connection with each other or with their posts. They are concealed from the enemy as much is possible by walls, or trees, or elevated ground. It is generally even of more advantage not to be seen than to see far. They should not be placed near covers, where the enemy may capture them.

    “621. A sentinel should always be ready to fire; vedettes carry their pistols or carbines in their hands. A sentinel must be sure of the presence of an enemy before he fires.; once satisfied of that, he must fire, though all defence on his part be useless, as the safety of the post may depend on it. Sentinels fire on all persons deserting to the enemy.

    "622. If the post must be where a sentinel on it cannot communicate with the guard, a corporal and three men are detached for it, or the sentinels are doubled, that one may communicate with the guard. During the day the communication may be made by signals, such as raising a cap or handkerchief. At night sentinels are placed on low ground, the better to see objects against the sky.

    “624. On the approach of any one at night, the sentinel orders - `Halt!' If the order is not obeyed after once repeated, he fires. If obeyed, he calls - ' Who goes there ?' If answered - 'Rounds' or 'Patrol,' be says - ‘Stand: Advance one with the countersign!’ If more than one advance at the same time, or the person who advances fails to give the countersign or signal agreed on, the sentinel fires, and falls back on his guard. The sentinel over the arms, as soon as his hail is answered, turns out the guard, and the corporal goes to reconnoitre. When it is desirable to hide the position of the sentinel from the enemy, the hail is replaced by signals; the sentinel gives the signal, and those approaching the counter-signal.

    "639. Bearers of flags are not permitted to pass the outer chain of sentinels; their faces are turned from the post or army; if necessary, their eyes are bandaged; a non-commissioned officer stays with them to prevent indiscretion of the sentinels.

    “640. The commandant of the grand guard receipts for dispatches, and sends them to the field officer of the day or general of brigade, and dismisses the bearer; but if he has discovered what ought to be concealed from the enemy, he is detained as long as necessary.

    “641. Deserters are disarmed at the advanced posts, and sent to the commander of the grand guard, who gets from them all the information he can concerning his post. If many come at night, they are received cautiously, a few at a time. They are sent in the morning to the field officer of the day, or to the nearest post or camp, to be conducted to the general of the brigade. All suspected persons are searched by the commanders of the posts."

    129. Pickets should look out particularly for deserters; and parties representing themselves as such should be required to lay down their arms before they approach. A flag of truce should also be received with caution: it is usually a white flag, borne by an officer and accompanied by an escort. The flag is sometimes, particularly in the night, preceded by a trumpeter blowing the parley.

    130. The escort is halted at a distance, and no one is permitted to advance except the bearer of the flag. If the bearer has only a letter to deliver, it is taken and receipted for, and the bearer and his escort turned back to their own lines. If it is necessary to take the bearer to the commanding officer, his eyes are bandaged, and he is escorted thither.

    131. Great precaution must be exercised with re*gard to parties passing out, to see that they are authorized to go and that they are not deserters. Soldiers frequently, from idle curiosity, or a spirit of adventure, or a desire for plunder, may take advantage of a friend or messmate being on post, and seek the indulgence of passing beyond the lines. Sentinels and soldiers should know that this is exceedingly irregular, and may be fraught with terrible consequences. No personal considerations should influence a soldier to so serious a neglect of his duty.

    132. All sentinels of advanced guards should receive the countersign before sunset, and, whether this is neglected or not, they should commence challenging immediately after.

    Compliments are dispensed with on picket-duty.


    133. The practice of pickets firing upon those of the enemy is barbarous; and retaliation is scarcely a sufficient excuse for doing it. Pickets should not fire unless an advance is intended, or in the cases heretofore indicated.

    134. Firing on pickets has a tendency to produce false alarms, or its habitual practice may create indifference, and thus an actual attack pass unobserved until a decided advantage is gained by the enemy.

    135. The habit of pickets communicating with those of the enemy is irregular, and should not be indulged in, unless sometimes by the officers for some specific object.

    136. SKIRMISHERS are soldiers thrown forward and deployed at intervals of from ten to twenty paces, according to the point they are to cover; if a column on the march, or a line of battle advancing to attack, to conceal the movements or to give timely notice of the enemy. They may be either infantry or cavalry.

    137. On the march, the column usually proceeds on the road, preceded by an advanced guard proportioned to the strength of the column, - usually about one-tenth of the whole force. From this the skirmishers are taken, one‑third being retained for a reserve; the remainder are deployed as skirmishers on the right and left of the road, and from one hundred and fifty to three hundred yards in advance of the reserve, which itself is about four hundred yards in advance of the head of the column.

    138. A non-commissioned officer, with two or three men, march on the road, and the skirmishers, on the right and left of the road, regulate their march on them. In this manner the march is conducted under the direction of the commanding officer of the advance, who has his instructions from the commander of the column.

    139. The skirmishers should endeavor not to advance beyond or fall in rear of the line, should keep their proper intervals, and be guided by the centre of the line.

    140. Skirmishers should use their eyes and ears. They are the feelers with which the army searches its way into the enemy's country; and every suspicious or important circumstance should be reported at once to their immediate superiors. No one should be allowed to escape from their approach who might give information to the enemy; and all suspicious characters should be arrested and sent to the rear.

    141. When skirmishers precede a line of battle preliminary to an attack, they advance and engage the enemy, unless otherwise instructed; and when the line arrives within range of the enemy, they are usually recalled, and form in the rear of the command to which they belong.

    142. FLANKERS are skirmishers placed on the flanks of an advancing column, three or four hundred yards distant, extending from the extremities of the line of skirmishers to the rear of the column, and parallel to it. They march in file, with intervals of ten to twenty paces.

    143. Their duty is to guard against an attack from the flank, and to give notice of the approach of an enemy in that direction. Their duties are entirely similar to those of skirmishers; and when forced to retire, they fall back fighting and form on their reserves or supports that are marching inside of them in the direction of the column.
     
  5. Leah's Choice

    Leah's Choice Cadet

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    Thank you much, M.E. I copied and pasted your post to study later.
     
  6. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Brigadier General Moderator

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    Basic Civil War infantry structure

    In Campfire Chat posted by Glorybound

    Will be also a very good reference to refer to.

    The link in which I posted the duties of a picket, etc., has many manuals that can be searched as to answer a lot of questions. :smile:

    Hope these are of assistance.

    Respectfully submitted for consideration,

    M. E. Wolf
     
  7. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Pickets, Ms. Leah, were there to watch out for anyone sneaking up in you. They might be.

    Skirmishers were another kind of animal. They were there to poke the other guys and make them do something.

    We tend to mix them up. They were both out there. On the edges. So it tends to get confusing. Which was a picket and which was a skirmisher.

    Both stood out in the hinterlands, but their roles were different. Pickets were looking for those who might want to pick a fight. Skirmishers were out there to pick a fight. It can be that simple.

    ole

    So we tend to get them mixed up. They were all out there on the edge.
     
  8. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Think of them as a tripwire to give alarm when the enemy tried to pull a fast one on the camp. Give the rest of the camp time to get ready for them. Could be very dangerous duty, often opposing picketts were only yards apart. There are numerous accounts of opposing picketts making informal truces. Sometimes rather remarkable. At Chattanooga one batch of CS picketts attended church in Chattanooga as guests of their opposite picketts. They often traded news and goods back and forth. But there were also those who held real malice for their opposite number. Some skirmishes between picketts evolved into full scale firefights numbering hundreds of participants.
     
  9. Leah's Choice

    Leah's Choice Cadet

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    I opened the link and bookmarked the page. It looks like some good information...I'll get back to it soon. L.
     
  10. Leah's Choice

    Leah's Choice Cadet

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    And the "grand reserves" were for....? Back up for the skirmishers or pickets? Or both?
     
  11. Leah's Choice

    Leah's Choice Cadet

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    That's amazing. I mean the part about attending church together. I've read of the opposing sides (could have been the pickets) traded things like coffee for tobacco, but I hadn't heard about going to church together. I wonder how that works out, attending church, and a day later maybe shooting at a man you'd prayed with?
     
  12. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    Thanks for this. I see this word all the time in cavalry reports and letters, and never could figure out why these guys weren't being called pickets when that was obviously what they were doing.
     
  13. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    I wonder if the term "picket fence" came before or after the word's military usage. Was the fence named so because it resembled soldiers standing sentry in a line, or were the soldiers called pickets because they resembled the fence? Chicken or egg?
     
  14. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Chilling in its own way; these men sometimes buried each other as well. It was this kind of thing though that made the US possible after the war. Men who had shared the mud and blood of war had a common understanding of what the other had suffered.

     

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