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School of the Battalion: Column to Line

By Austin Williams, 5th VA Co. A

A battalion marching in a column has several options to return to a line of battle, formed to the left, front, or right of the column’s original line of march (see School of the Battalion: Forming the Battalion for a description of forming the battalion into line and School of the Battalion: Line to Column for a description of forming a column of companies). While columns can also be formed by divisions or platoons and can be formed with the left-most company taking the lead (left in front), we will deal here with a column of companies, right in front (i.e. the rightmost company of the battalion when in line will form the head of the column), at full distance (the width of a company is the same as the distance between that company and the company in front of it). Although these procedures can be followed with slight modifications to form a line directly from the march, we will assume here that the column is currently at a halt.

Forming a Line to the Left

With his battalion formed in column of companies and wishing to form a line facing to the left, the colonel will order Left into line, wheel (1). At this command, the first sergeant of the first company in the column will move quickly to align himself with the line of second sergeants on the left flank of the column, facing them. He should be far enough in front of his own second sergeant so that, when his company wheels into line, he will be in front of one of the first three files of his company. The colonel will then command MARCH, quickly repeated by all of the captains. At the command MARCH, the left front rank man of each company faces to the left and rests his breast against the right arm of his second sergeant. The companies will then each wheel to the left, with each captain marching backwards to watch his company.

Figure 1. Just after the order MARCH, with each company wheeling in the direction of the line established by the second sergeants and the first sergeant of the first company.

When each captain sees that his company is three paces from the desired line of battle, he will command [1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc…] Company—HALT. The captain then stands on the desired line next to the left front rank man of the company to the right and command Right—DRESS. When he is satisfied with the alignment, each captain orders FRONT. Once the battalion is fully aligned and dressed, the colonel commands Guides—POSTS and the second sergeants and the first sergeant off the rightmost company will return to their usual places in the battalion, passing through the nearest captain’s internal. Captains and first sergeants step aside to allow the guides to pass through their interval and then resume their posts. The battalion is now formed in a line of battle to the left of the original direction of march.

Figure 2. Just prior to the command Right—DRESS, with captains next to the leftmost man of the company to their right.

Forming a Line to the Front

With his battalion formed in column of companies and wishing to form a line facing in the same direction as his line of march, the colonel will order instruct the lieutenant colonel to move forward with two markers and place them where the colonel desires the new battalion line (2). The first marker designates where the rightmost front rank man of the first company will be and the second marker designates the point where one of the three leftmost files of the first company will be. Both markers face to the right.

The colonel will then give the command Forward into line. At this command, the captain of the first company in the column then gives the order to his company 1st Company, Forward—MARCH. Guide Right and marches his company forward until they are three paces from the desired battalion line, as designated by the markers. He stands along the desired line and orders Right—DRESS and then FRONT when he is satisfied with the alignment.

Once the first company is correctly aligned, the colonel will order By company, left half wheel—MARCH. Each company, except for the first company (which does not move for the remainder of this evolution), then wheels to the left on a fixed pivot. When the colonel judges that the companies have sufficiently wheeled, he orders Forward—MARCH. Guide right. The companies will then begin marching straight forward and guiding to the right, thus moving at an angle towards the desired line.Figure 3. Just after the companies left half wheel and begin marching forward. First company has established the battalion line as designated by the markers.

As soon as the second company reaches the point where its first sergeant has passed the leftmost file of the first company, its captain orders 2nd Company, Right turn—MARCH. The first sergeant immediately turns to the right and marches straight towards the desired line of battle. The rest of the company completes a right turn and follows the first sergeant forward. When the company is three paces from the desired line, its captain commands 2nd Company—HALT. He then stands next to the leftmost front rank man of first company. The second sergeant of second company moves forward to align himself with the two markers, standing in front of one of the three leftmost files of second company and facing to the right. The captain of second company then orders Right—DRESS.Figure 4. Just before the second company dresses to the right. Simultaneously, the third company is just about to execute a right turn, having cleared the flank of the second company.

After the captain of second company is satisfied with the alignment of his company, he commands FRONT. His second sergeant remains forward as a guide aligned with the markers. Once he sees that second company is fully aligned and dressed, the captain of first company orders 1st Company, Support—ARMS (3). Meanwhile, third company will be moving up to the line in the same manner as second company. Once the captain of third company orders FRONT, the captain of second company will order 2nd Company, Support—ARMS. These procedures will continue until the entire battalion is dressed on the desired line. The colonel then orders Guides—POSTS and the second sergeants and markers return to their normal posts as previously described. The battalion is now formed in line of battle facing to the front.

Forming a Line to the Right

With his battalion formed in column of companies and wishing to form a line facing to the right of the current direction of march, the colonel will order instruct the lieutenant colonel to move forward with two markers and place them where the colonel desires the new battalion line (4). As with forming a battalion to the front, the first marker will designate where the rightmost front rank man of the first company will be and the second marker will designate the point where one of the three leftmost files of the first company will be. Both markers face towards what will be the right when the company is formed (i.e. towards the column’s current rear).

With the markers in place, the colonel will command On the right, into line. Battalion, guide right. MARCH. At the final command, the battalion will march forward. When the first company is precisely aligned with the first marker, its captain will order 1st Company, Right turn—MARCH. The company’s first sergeant will immediately turn ninety degrees to the right and march forward so as to bring the first file front rank man (usually the first corporal) opposite the right marker. The rest of the company completes the right turn and marches towards the desired battalion line. When they are three paces from the markers, the captain will command 1st Company—HALT. At this halt, the second sergeant will return to his post in the line of file closers and the captain will position himself along the desired battalion line. He will then command Right—DRESS, with the company dressing up to the two markers. Once properly aligned, the captain will order his company to FRONT.

Figure 5. Just after first company has dressed along the desired battalion line. Note the subsequent companies continuing to march forward.

Simultaneously, the other companies in the battalion will continue to march straight forward. When the captain of the second company sees his company has cleared the left flank of first company, he will order his company to turn and march towards the new battalion line as described above. The Second company’s second sergeant will align himself with the two markers, facing towards them. The captain then causes second company to right dress  alongside first company. Once he orders second company to FRONT, the captain of first company orders his company to Support—ARMS. Meanwhile, third company will be moving up to the line in the same manner as second company. Once the captain of third company orders FRONT, the captain of second company will order his company Support—ARMS. These procedures will continue until the entire battalion is dressed on the desired line. The colonel then orders Guides—POSTS and the second sergeants and markers return to their normal posts as previously described. The battalion is now formed in line of battle facing to the right.

Figure 6. Just before second company dresses along the desired battalion line. Note third company in position to conduct their right turn.


Endnotes

  1. Hardee, William J. Hardee’s Rife and Infantry Tactics for the Instruction, Exercises and Maneuvers of Riflemen and Light Infantry. New York: J.O. Kane Publisher, 1862. Volume II – School of the Battalion, Part Fourth, Article Second, para 390-396; Gilham, William. Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States. Philadelphia: Charles Desilver, 1861. Article VI School of the Battalion, Section 323. The texts of Hardee’s and Gilham’s manuals are identical on this topic other than section numbering.
  2. Hardee, Tactics Volume II, Part Fourth, Article Second, para 440-448; Gilham, Manual of Instruction, Article VI School of the Battalion, Section 329. The texts of Hardee’s and Gilham’s manuals are identical on this topic other than section numbering.
  3. This is a general rule for all successive formations. Hardee, Tactics Volume II, Part Fourth, Article Second, para 437; Gilham, Manual of Instruction, Article VI School of the Battalion, Section 328. The texts of Hardee’s and Gilham’s manuals are identical on this topic other than section numbering.
  4. Hardee, Tactics Volume II, Part Fourth, Article Second, para 414-428; Gilham, Manual of Instruction, Article VI School of the Battalion, Section 328. The texts of Hardee’s and Gilham’s manuals are identical on this topic other than section numbering.

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