Trail arms?

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
I was watching Richard Sharpe and they issued a command "trail arms" which was holding your rifle clasped in one hand parallel to the ground at your side. I don't ever remember or seeing or hearing any command like this in the US Civil War. Is there anything like this? And maybe a wider question, just how close was the infantry manual of the USA to the infantry manual of Europe in 1861?
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Its there... its just somewhat different and more a version of order arms. where the muzzle of the musket is a few inches from the shoulder and the stock only a few inches off the ground.

"Trail ARMS.
One time and two motions.
206. The same as the motion of order
arms, No. 154, by seizing the piece briskly with
the left hand a little above the middle band, and
detaching it slightly from the shoulder with the
right hand : loosening the grasp of the right hand,
lowering the piece with the left, reseizing the
piece with the right hand just above the lower
band, the little finger in the rear of the barrel, the
butt about four inches from the ground, the right
hand supported against the hip, dropping the left hand by the
side.
207. (Second motion.) Incline the muzzle slightly to
the front, the butt to the rear and about four inches from the
ground. The right hand supported at the hip, will so hold the
piece that the rear-rank men may not touch with their bayonets
the men in the front-rank."

1629212985483.png

(this is from Caseys,. but the text is the same in the other drill books)

It is used if marching under low hanging branches or similar. And also as an alternative to right shoulder shift arms, when moving quickly. Again if trees is an issue.

The 95th version is used when marching from A to B outside the battlefield.

(the danish manual of arms, have it exactly like the US version... but also one that is similar to the british... expressly for "roadmarching")

US drill.
From 1814 and until WWII the American military looked to France for its main inspiration.
By 1860 there where two drill books in use by the regular army.
One for heavy infantry by Scott. A word for word translation of the French 1835 drill. (and that one was just a slightly updated version of the one used by French infantry during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars)

In 1855 the US army got "Hardee's" It again a word for word translation. This time of the French 1845 drill.
Faster movements, few stops in the evolutions and the orders use fewer words. And suppose to be used by light infantry and riflemen.

This is the core text that is used by pretty much everyone during the war.
Hardee revise his manual of arms, and Casey change a few details but 95% of the movements are the exact same as the French drill.
(A book the French btw no longer used )
And there where a number of other books, but they all plagiarized this translation... (legally, since his 1855 drill book was public domain)

For more on this I can suggest this article:
https://www.academia.edu/5532100/A_..._on_the_U_S_Army_from_1812_to_the_Mexican_War


The core of the tactical system is about moving in column And all movements should be covered by a skirmish screen.
This screen together with artillery should weaken the enemy, so when your column go forward the enemy is too week to stop you, so he get out of the way instead of trying to take the fight. If he do not fall back, you should get into line just outside of effective musket range and then move into range and take the firefight.
But in a perfect attack, you never go into line, until you have taken your objective that you then want to defend.

This should be very similar to what you might have read about how the French defeated the Prussians, Austrians or Russians.
(what often goes wrong against the British is that they for different reason get into effective range... take very effective fire and then try to go into line under fire. One issue being that British skirmishers effective countered the French skirmishers)

But it is not how civil war armies did things.
They generally only learned the basics and moved around in line by the flank. And when attacking the entire attack was done in line... and with few skirmishers. This was a lot simpler to learn and I would argue, less risky.
You could move forward into range and then take the firefight.

But This often resulted in a long firefight instead of the quick results of a column going forward.
(where if successful you quickly get the enemy falling back... or your attack gets stopped and you fall back out of range to reform.. again something that don't take a lot of time)
Also add the fact that most men did not have the skills to take advantage of their rifled weapons. This all combined so many attacks just resulted in heavy casualties for both sides. With no real result.


European drill.
By 1861 a change was happening. A number of armies (including the UK, Prussia and Denmark) had changed to having a heavy skirmish line as the main formation for fighting. And they wanted firepower to be the deciding weapon.
As an example is the danish "kjæde" it have about 2.3 times more men in the firing line pr. distance, compared to a American skirmish line..

The Austrians on the other hand still focused on the bayonet. But its important to remember that their attack columns was to be covered by 1/3 of the regiment skirmishing in front of the attack. Something that worked ok in their few engagements against Danes in 1864. (but not against Prussians with breech loaded rifles in 1866)

(The Danish army did not have the money to do a extensive marksmanship training program like the british, and not ensure the same level of training as the prussians. So plenty of danish units in 1864 did do close ordered counterattacks against the Prussians and got shot to pierces... but generally could fight the Austrians on equal level)




For a book on the rifle musket and how it influenced tactics outside of the US... and how it did not have any real infleunce on tactics during the the civil war I can suggest the book "The Destroying Angel" by Brett Gibbons. He is a serving Us army ordonnance officer who really know his guns and cartridges.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GRG7ZJY/?tag=civilwartalkc-20
Its like 12USD in paperback.


sorry it sort of became very long...
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Its there... its just somewhat different and more a version of order arms. where the muzzle of the musket is a few inches from the shoulder and the stock only a few inches off the ground.

"Trail ARMS.
One time and two motions.
206. The same as the motion of order
arms, No. 154, by seizing the piece briskly with
the left hand a little above the middle band, and
detaching it slightly from the shoulder with the
right hand : loosening the grasp of the right hand,
lowering the piece with the left, reseizing the
piece with the right hand just above the lower
band, the little finger in the rear of the barrel, the
butt about four inches from the ground, the right
hand supported against the hip, dropping the left hand by the
side.
207. (Second motion.) Incline the muzzle slightly to
the front, the butt to the rear and about four inches from the
ground. The right hand supported at the hip, will so hold the
piece that the rear-rank men may not touch with their bayonets
the men in the front-rank."

View attachment 411160
(this is from Caseys,. but the text is the same in the other drill books)

It is used if marching under low hanging branches or similar. And also as an alternative to right shoulder shift arms, when moving quickly. Again if trees is an issue.

The 95th version is used when marching from A to B outside the battlefield.

(the danish manual of arms, have it exactly like the US version... but also one that is similar to the british... expressly for "roadmarching")

US drill.
From 1814 and until WWII the American military looked to France for its main inspiration.
By 1860 there where two drill books in use by the regular army.
One for heavy infantry by Scott. A word for word translation of the French 1835 drill. (and that one was just a slightly updated version of the one used by French infantry during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars)

In 1855 the US army got "Hardee's" It again a word for word translation. This time of the French 1845 drill.
Faster movements, few stops in the evolutions and the orders use fewer words. And suppose to be used by light infantry and riflemen.

This is the core text that is used by pretty much everyone during the war.
Hardee revise his manual of arms, and Casey change a few details but 95% of the movements are the exact same as the French drill.
(A book the French btw no longer used )
And there where a number of other books, but they all plagiarized this translation... (legally, since his 1855 drill book was public domain)

For more on this I can suggest this article:
https://www.academia.edu/5532100/A_..._on_the_U_S_Army_from_1812_to_the_Mexican_War


The core of the tactical system is about moving in column And all movements should be covered by a skirmish screen.
This screen together with artillery should weaken the enemy, so when your column go forward the enemy is too week to stop you, so he get out of the way instead of trying to take the fight. If he do not fall back, you should get into line just outside of effective musket range and then move into range and take the firefight.
But in a perfect attack, you never go into line, until you have taken your objective that you then want to defend.

This should be very similar to what you might have read about how the French defeated the Prussians, Austrians or Russians.
(what often goes wrong against the British is that they for different reason get into effective range... take very effective fire and then try to go into line under fire. One issue being that British skirmishers effective countered the French skirmishers)

But it is not how civil war armies did things.
They generally only learned the basics and moved around in line by the flank. And when attacking the entire attack was done in line... and with few skirmishers. This was a lot simpler to learn and I would argue, less risky.
You could move forward into range and then take the firefight.

But This often resulted in a long firefight instead of the quick results of a column going forward.
(where if successful you quickly get the enemy falling back... or your attack gets stopped and you fall back out of range to reform.. again something that don't take a lot of time)
Also add the fact that most men did not have the skills to take advantage of their rifled weapons. This all combined so many attacks just resulted in heavy casualties for both sides. With no real result.


European drill.
By 1861 a change was happening. A number of armies (including the UK, Prussia and Denmark) had changed to having a heavy skirmish line as the main formation for fighting. And they wanted firepower to be the deciding weapon.
As an example is the danish "kjæde" it have about 2.3 times more men in the firing line pr. distance, compared to a American skirmish line..

The Austrians on the other hand still focused on the bayonet. But its important to remember that their attack columns was to be covered by 1/3 of the regiment skirmishing in front of the attack. Something that worked ok in their few engagements against Danes in 1864. (but not against Prussians with breech loaded rifles in 1866)

(The Danish army did not have the money to do a extensive marksmanship training program like the british, and not ensure the same level of training as the prussians. So plenty of danish units in 1864 did do close ordered counterattacks against the Prussians and got shot to pierces... but generally could fight the Austrians on equal level)




For a book on the rifle musket and how it influenced tactics outside of the US... and how it did not have any real infleunce on tactics during the the civil war I can suggest the book "The Destroying Angel" by Brett Gibbons. He is a serving Us army ordonnance officer who really know his guns and cartridges.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GRG7ZJY/?tag=civilwartalkc-20
Its like 12USD in paperback.


sorry it sort of became very long...
Fantastic information, fantastic read. thank you
 

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
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Location
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I was watching Richard Sharpe and they issued a command "trail arms" which was holding your rifle clasped in one hand parallel to the ground at your side. I don't ever remember or seeing or hearing any command like this in the US Civil War. Is there anything like this? And maybe a wider question, just how close was the infantry manual of the USA to the infantry manual of Europe in 1861?
As a reenactor and occasional company commander, we certainly knew and used trail arms as a fairly common method.
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
During the American Revolution the British army employed trail-arms. For example, from Townshend's 1772 rules for light infantry, it was recorded:

“The Light Infantry Companies are always to be drawn up two Deep with a space of Two Feet between the Files.
Marching in a Wood upon any Service of a secret nature, they are to be taught to lower their arms in two motions and carry them in a diagonal position [trail arms], with their hands on the swell of the firelock; and they are to shoulder in three motions."

British Simes' 1780 treatise referred to it as trail-arms, etc., and he notes the mode was valuable for service in North America, and copied from the indians...

1629242970396.png


Since most of North America was woods, it is evident the mode was widely practiced. Indeed, Lord Howe provided instructions for all infantry to act with two-foot intervals between files, and at open order 5 feet, and extended order, 10 or more feet...

British light infantry training at Warley Camp, 1777:
1629241036043.png


From Della Gatta's painting of the Battle of Germantown, 1777:

1629241001042.png
1629241130348.png


The American troops followed suit. For example, the Maryland Continentals at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, 1781, made an attack at trail arms. One of their number recorded...

1629242518822.png



Duane's American US Handbook for Riflemen (1812) refers to this mode of carriage a "horizontal or sloped trail" of the arms;

1629241832913.png

The "advance-arms" was what by the Civil War was the standard "shoulder-arms" with the weapon in the right hand, the fingers around the trigger guard, etc. From this position it was simple to move to "trail arms" for rapid movement, etc.
1629242060168.png

The common infantry "shoulder-arms" in the 18th and to the mid-19th Century was this one... From Von Steuben, and from Scott's 1835 tactics...
1629244555796.png


Scott's US infantry tactics of 1825-1835 had a whole light infantry/rifle manual appended, with a separate manual of arms from that of infantry. It gives the old "advance-arms" as "Light infantry shoulder arms."
It mentions for light infantry or riflemen that, "Whenever the company or battalion is to be put in motion in double quick time, or when double quick time is to be assumed on the march, the previous order to trail arms will be understood, and arms trailed accordingly."

Here's a New England light infantry company of uniformed volunteer militia at "light infantry" shoulder arms...
1629239101820.png


And another, at the trail...
1629239127711.png


At San Jacinto, in 1836, it is stated by a couple of accounts the Texan troops attacked the Mexican camp with trailed arms.

Scott's 1835 US infantry tactics (adopted April, 1835 by US troops) deleted the separate manual of arms for light infantry/riflemen; substituting a single manual of arms. The old light infantry shoulder-arms was retained only as "sergeants' shoulder-arms"; where sergeants in line of battle (acting as file closers, etc.) carried their arms in this manner. Trail arms is given in the tactics too. The drill simply instructed light infantry/riflemen to carry their arms as they saw fit (taking care to avoid accidents) when in extended (rather than close) order.

General Grant, in his memoirs, mentions in some desperate action in Mexico in the 1840s, he led a squad to the attack after ordering them to trail their arms...

As noted Hardees/Casey's tactics as used in the 1860s adopted the old light infantry shoulder-arms as standard for all foot troops; and included trail arms too.
1629246042884.png


Pickett's division made their charge at Gettysburg at trail arms...
1629327555940.png



A veteran of the 121st Ohio recalled at Resaca their outfit attacking with trailed arms...
1629239349680.png

1629239404004.png


The regimental history of Opdyke's Tigers (125th Ohio) notes at Franklin Hood's army charged down on the federal lines at the double quick, and with arms trailed...

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL.
 
Last edited:

grognard

Private
Joined
Oct 12, 2018
Scott's 1835 US infantry tactics (adopted April, 1835 by US troops) deleted the separate manual of arms for light infantry/riflemen; substituting a single manual of arms. The old light infantry shoulder-arms was retained only as "sergeants' shoulder-arms"; where sergeants in line of battle (acting as file closers, etc.) carried their arms in this manner.

Don't forget William Gilham's ca. 1860 "Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States", and the 1861 US Infantry Tactics. Each book includes a "Manual of Arms for the Musket", with "Shoulder Arms" per 1835 Scott - and a "Manual of Arms for the Rifle", with "Shoulder Arms" as per Hardee's Tactics (the "light infantry shoulder").
 
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