Drill Books and Rifles: Part II

by Gus Person

Co. H, 4th U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars

February 2004

     After Major William J. Hardees Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics manual was adopted as the standard manual for the U.S. Army in 1855, the late 1850s and early 1860s witnessed the publication of a variety of new manuals written primarily for the volunteer militia. Foremost among that group was Major William Gilhams Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States. Gilham, who was the commandant of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, borrowed liberally from Scott and Hardee, and also included a section on skirmishing, and chapters on cavalry and light artillery tactics. His manual was used extensively by many Confederate units during the Civil War. 1

     Elmer Ellsworth arguably did more than any other individual to promote the military art in America in the 1850s. His traveling zouave drill team, headquartered in Chicago, challenged any company, including regulars to the Military Championship of the United States and Canada. The U.S. Zouave Cadets based their drill on Hardees Tactics as well as on Winfield Scotts Infantry Tactics, Captain George McClellans translation of the French bayonet exercise and the U.S. army regulations. Their drill Programme even included a silent drill section 2

Wartime Doctrine

     Immediately after the outbreak of the war in April 1861, the U.S. and Confederate armies cast about for appropriate drill manuals for their forces. When Hardee resigned to join the Confederacy, he obviously lost favor with the Federal government. However, his Tactics was still applicable, and on 1 May 1861 the United States Infantry Tactics(two-volumes-in-one) was adopted as the U.S. standard. The new work was essentially Hardees Tactics with his name conspicuously removed. Immediately after resigning from the U.S. Army, Hardee accepted a commission as colonel of the 1st Regiment Georgia Regulars. That Spring he entered into a partnership with Mobile, Alabama publisher S.H. Goetzel & Co. to produce an edition of his Tactics for publication in the South. Some changes were made to make his manual applicable to all infantry, no matter how armed or organized. Therefore, in this unusual circumstance, both national armies came to use different editions of the same manual in the early days of the war. 3

     The most important successor in the Federal service to Hardees manual was Brigadier General Silas Caseys Infantry Tactics, which was based on the same French source as Hardees and added very little to tactical theory. It was intended to make the Hardee system widely available in the North without crediting that system to a soldier who had become a Confederate general. CaseysInfantry Tactics was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on 11 August 1862. At that time, Casey commanded part of the defenses around Washington D.C., and provided supervision for the camps of instruction around that locality. Caseys Infantry Tactics was not an innovative work. It was charged at the time that Casey had virtually copied all of Hardees manual. Casey did, however, provide a manual of arms for the three-banded rifle-musket, and his third volume provided instruction for units up to corps darme. 4

     Caseys manual remained the Federal standard for the rest of the war. However, regardless of which manual was being used by either army, no system adequately addressed the problems posed by the range and lethality of the rifle-musket. Units could deploy faster, and move about the battlefield much quicker, but when formed in closely-packed columns or lines of battle, they were still an irresistible target for enemy marksmen. Catastrophic casualties usually resulted.

     No better example of the inadequacies of the current doctrine used on the Civil War battlefield could be found than in the experience of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Overland Campaign of 1864. Early in the war, the defenses of Washington D.C. were manned by a number of heavy artillery units. In the Spring of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant stripped these units from their garrison posts to reinforce the Army of the Potomac. With their red-trimmed frock coats, polished brass and stainless colors, the Heavies were quickly made the butt of jokes by the cynical veterans who regaled the new arrivals with shouts of Fresh Fish, Abes Pets! and Paper Collar soldiers! Now trained and utilized as infantry, and without the benefit of combat experience, the 1st Maine was thrown into action against Lieutenant General Richard Ewells II Corps Confederate veterans at the battle of Harris Farm on 19 May 1864 during the battles around Spotsylvania Courthouse. The regiment, 1200 strong, was committed to the assault in standard line of battle and ended up losing 476 men, 147 of whom were killed or mortally wounded. For over an hour they battled Ewells men, back and forth across a series of wooded hollows and ravines. While the Confederates took advantage of natural cover and concealment, the Heavies conducted a stand-up fight and paid a bitter price. A month later at Petersburg on 18 June, the regiment tried the same thing again, and received another severe drubbing. That afternoon, the Federal commanders initiated a series on head-on assaults against the Confederate entrenchments. The 1st Maine, aligned in three battalions of four companies, was designated to spearhead the assault. Their well-dressed lines surged down a slope and were lashed by musketry and artillery fire. The onrushing lines were torn to pieces and brought to a halt before the Confederate rifle pits. Of the 900 men who commenced the assault, 241 were dead or dying and another 371 wounded. It was another hard lesson to learn. 5

     Full Circle

     The year after the Civil War ended, the army adopted the Model 1866 Springfield rifle, utilizing the Allin conversion (trapdoor breech-loading mechanism). At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Emory Upton (United States Military Academy of 1861) was commissioned to write the new tactical manual based on the new weapon and incorporating the lessons learned during the war. Upton had made a name for himself in 1864 during the Spotsylvania battles. On 10 May he was assigned to lead a force of twelve picked regiments in an assault on the west face of the Mule Shoe Salient. Upton organized his force in four lines. Stressing surprise and a speedy assault without stopping to fire, his storm tactics carried the first and second lines of the Confederate entrenchments. He was only obliged to withdraw when the promised reserve division failed to come to his support. For his efforts, Upton was immediately promoted to the wartime rank of brigadier general of volunteers by U

     The year after the Civil War ended, the army adopted the Model 1866 Springfield rifle, utilizing the Allin conversion (trapdoor breech-loading mechanism). At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Emory Upton (United States Military Academy of 1861) was commissioned to write the new tactical manual based on the new weapon and incorporating the lessons learned during the war. Upton had made a name for himself in 1864 during the Spotsylvania battles. On 10 May he was assigned to lead a force of twelve picked regiments in an assault on the west face of the Mule Shoe Salient. Upton organized his force in four lines. Stressing surprise and a speedy assault without stopping to fire, his storm tactics carried the first and second lines of the Confederate entrenchments. He was only obliged to withdraw when the promised reserve division failed to come to his support. For his efforts, Upton was immediately promoted to the wartime rank of brigadier general of volunteers by U.S. Grant who used the same tactics two days later with the entire II Army Corps.

     After the war, Upton became known as a military reformer, and certainly his efforts in writing the new tactical manual gave all the hallmarks of thoughtful change. Henceforth, the infantry could all fight in dispersed, skirmish order rather than in the war-time closely-ordered lines of battle. 6

     One wonders what the casualty rates would have shrunk to had concerned commanders attempted to correctly correlate their tactics to the weapons at hand from the outset of the war. But old habits died hard; tradition, false doctrine and ignorance simply combined to end the lives of too many infantry soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War.





1   William Gilham, Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States (Philadelphia, PA: Charles Silver, 1861).

2   Elmer E. Ellsworth, Manual of Arms for the Light Infantry (1859-60); Dom Dal Bello and Geoff Walden, Manual of Arms for Infantry: A Re-Examination, Camp Chase Gazette(August 1996), IV:36.

 3   Dal Bello and Walden, Manual of Arms for Infantry, I:39, III:36.

4   Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson,  Attack and Die, Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage (Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1982), 54-55; Silas Casey, Infantry Tactics Vols. I-III (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1862).

5    U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Series I, Vol. XL, Part 2, 156-157; Bruce Catton,  A Stillness at Appomattox(New York: The Fairfax Press, 1984), 536; Brian Pohanka, Don Troianis Civil War(Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1995), 156-158.

6   Emory Upton, Infantry Tactics (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1867).

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