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An examination of the proper use of the second sergeant, both as file closer and left guide, as specified in Hardee's, and applied to reenacting the American Civil War.


By Leonidas Jones

Colonel cmdg

 6th Regiment. 1st Division ANV

The Liberty Greys




There are various kinds of reenactorisms.  I would like to address an aspect of drill that most reenactors have done incorrectly since reenacting began, the proper placement of the second sergeant. 



The Mistake.


In the bad old days, when all marching was done by the right flank, for fear that the "ones" would be unable to figure out doubling, I guess, and few people even understood what a column of companies was, let alone marched in it, many units never even bothered posting a second sergeant.  With the above stipulations, he would have no function anyway, as a left guide was unneeded


As companies grew, more and more companies began using second sergeants, but almost all used them as though they were the corporals closing the flank.  They stood at the left side of the company in line, and fired with the company.  If the company marched by the right flank, they would trail around at the end of the company like a one-man file would do.  This describes the corporal on the left flank.  The only non-corporal function he would usually perform was in opening ranks, by stepping back four paces to set the line for the rear rank.  As we shall see in this examination, even this is only half right.


This came about from not reading the manual, at least not for fine detail.  This is not a crime.  Often, when learning new material, it is necessary to get the "big picture", and clean up the details later.  Our problem is simply that we have never cleaned up this particular detail



The Solution.


Battalion staff has been aware of this for years.  In the off season after the battalion was first founded, Colonel Huddleston wrote to me and asked if we should try to correct this.  I wrote back that while he was quite correct, we had so much to accomplish in learning battalion drill, that trying to correct this detail would likely be more confusing than helpful.  I did write that there was one aspect that we should correct as a safety issue, that is to post the second sergeants as file closers when firing, to add a another set of eyes.


This our current status.  Our second sergeants are file closers only when the battalion is firing.  At all other times they are in ranks.  I believe we are easily far enough advanced to consider the proper placement.


To look at reenacting companies, the position of the second sergeant is on the left flank of the company when in line.  However, if we consult General Hardee's Title First, Formation of a Regiment, we find in paragraph 14 the placement of the first sergeant, which we generally do correctly.  In paragraph 15 we see:


"The remaining officers and sergeants will be posted as file closers, and two paces behind the rear rank."


By consulting paragraph 19 we find his exact position in the line of file closers.


"The second sergeant, opposite the second file from the left of the company.  In the maneuvers, he will be designated left guide of the company."


The second sergeant actually has two functions, that of file closer, and that of left guide.  It is only when need arises for a left guide that the second sergeant should take a position on the flank.  Our mistake was compounded by School of the Company, where most movements require a left guide.  This gives us a mistaken impression when in battalion line.



In School of the Company.



In SotC, whenever the company is in line and at a halt, the second sergeant is assumed to be in the line of file closers.  If the captain wishes to open ranks, he must direct the second sergeant to take the position of left guide. Once the opened ranks are aligned, he should return to the file closers, who have stepped to the rear with the rear rank.  When ranks are closed, he closes with the file closers.(SotC, 8, and following.) 


In the directions for advancing in line, ( SotC, 84, and following) it is interesting to note that no mention is made of positioning the second sergeant as a guide.  This is because the company is considered to be part of a battalion marching in line.  We simply assumed that he was supposed to somewhere he wasn't.


In all directions which suppose the company to be part of a column, such as breaking into platoons (SotC, 263 and following), or the countermarch (SotC, 334 and following) the second sergeant is assumed to be already posted as a guide.


The following excerpt is quite important:


SotC, 160.  "Thus, in a column by company, right or left in front, the covering sergeant and second sergeant of each company will always be placed on the right and left, respectively, of the front rank;".


Thus, in our company drills, we must decide whether we are practicing the advance in line, or the advance in column, and direct the second sergeant accordingly.


A left guide is also required when marching by the left flank. Here the directions are quite clear:


SotC, 141.  "At the instant the company faces to the left, the left guide will place himself at the head of the front rank;" .


At the command "Front" he returns to his place in line, i.e. as a file closer.  (SotC, 146.) 


However, when marching by the right flank, there is no need for a left guide.  The second sergeant should be in the line of file closers, where he will march in file with the lieutenant, or lieutenants, and any other sergeants.  This file will have moved one step to the right, to provide room for the doubling, and will still be at a distance of two paces from the doubled rear rank, now on their left.


The second sergeant will march two paces from, and abreast with, the last group of four men (remember that the first file from the left will have doubled up), if the last group is a complete four or at least three men.  If the last group is two men or one man, he will be abreast with the last complete group. (Wherever the men who make up the second file from the left are marching.) If the march by the right flank is in two ranks, he will be abreast of the second file from the end. Our first goal, however, is to get him out of ranks, and into the line of file closers.  Never should he march behind the company.


If the company, marching by the right flank forms by company into line, the second sergeant does not post as guide until the command "guide left" is given.  I apologize to those whom I have instructed differently, I was teaching as I was taught.


Regardless of whether or not the sergeants are on the flanks, or not, they are not considered to be in the ranks.  Sergeants should routinely carry their weapons at the shoulder.  When the manual of arms is instructed, they should remain at the shoulder, unless demonstrating the correct movement.  When the company presents arms, they should give the rifle salute instead.




In School of the Battalion.


In Line.


The quote from SotC, 160, clears up any question about the second sergeant's position in column.  This we have been doing correctly.  It is when in line of battle that we have been most in error.  Here again we have assumed he was supposed to be someplace he wasn't.


School of the Battalion does not tell is where the second sergeant is to be, because General Hardee has already instructed us in this, in Title First, Formation of a Regiment. Here, however, we must also note paragraph 23:


"In the left or tenth company of the battalion, the second sergeant will posted in the front rank, and on the left of the battalion." 


Obviously, in battalions of less than ten companies, this would be whichever company is on the left flank.  That company's second sergeant becomes the functional left guide for the battalion.


In opening ranks for a battalion in line, many of us have picked up that our second sergeants are not supposed to step back, unlike opening ranks in a company formation.   What we have missed is that they were not supposed to be in line in the first place.  The exception is the left guide of the left flank company, who steps back with the line of first sergeants, and remains on that line, closing with the rear rank.  (SotB, 25.)


In firings, the second sergeants do not step back to act as file closers, they should already be there.  The manual does not specify the position of the left guide of the left flank company, but I believe he should step back, as all first sergeants, including that of the right flank company, who is the functional right guide of the battalion, are clearly directed to do.  (SotB, 31.)


When advancing in line of battle, the second sergeant's position is clearly exactly that when at a halt, marching two paces behind the rear rank, opposite the second file from the left of his company, remembering the exception on the left flank.


In a Flank March.


A battalion marching by the flank is not considered to be in a column.  Rather, it is in line of battle and maneuvering to a flank.  The term "column" is never associated with it in the manual.  This is why the correct command for changing direction should be "by file right (left)'.  It should not be "head of column to the right (left)", because, technically, the formation is not that of a column.


The march by the right flank is exactly as specified in company drill for the second sergeants.  They remain as file closers, and march  where I specified earlier.  The exception again is for the left flank company.  This second sergeant (left guide of the battalion, should place himself to the left of last file of his company, covering the line of captains. (SotB, 724.)  At the command "front", he returns to his position on the flank, just as the captains return to their positions.


It is in the march by the left flank, that matters differ greatly.  The second sergeants cannot each post themselves as left guides.  There is no space for them.  Rather than the captains transferring to the left of their companies and marching beside their own second sergeants,  they should transfer and march beside the first sergeant of the company next on the left.  The only exception is the left guide of the left flank company, who is already positioned as guide, and simply faces.  His captain transfers and marches beside him.  As an aside, the first sergeant of the right flank company should cover the line of captains in the same manner as described above for the march by the right flank.(SotB, 735.)



In Column Evolutions.


While the need for left guides in column has been clearly specified, we need to address the various manners of forming into column from line and back.


By Company Right (Left) Wheel.


When wheeling to the right into a column of companies, the second sergeant positions himself as left guide as soon as the marching (left) flank is disengaged from the battalion.  He then conducts the marching flank exactly as we do. (SotB, 71.)


When wheeling to the left into column, the left guides place themselves on the flank at the conclusion of the wheel, at the command "Halt."  (SotB, 74.)


By the Right of Companies to the Rear, into Column.


This movement will have a slight difference from our usual practice.  We can no longer stop our second sergeant as he goes by.  He will be marching in the line of file closers.  Rather, we should do as the manual specifies, and halt our companies when the last file has completed its wheel by file.  (i.e. when it is square to the new direction.)  The left guide posts himself when the company fronts, forming the column.(SotB, 90.)


Should we ever perform the movement by he left of companies,  we must extrapolate.  I would suggest that the left guide post himself as soon as the companies break files after facing, which has the effect of disengaging them from the battalion.


By the Right of Companies to the Front or Rear.


This is exactly as above, the second sergeant remains with the file closers.  Should the colonel command "by companies into line", remember that the left guide does not go immediately to post as guide.  Since we have formed line of battle by this command, the only left guide to take a flank post will be that of the left flank company.  Be careful of inversions.  While company designations do not change, left is still left.  If the company order is inverted, the first company is now on the  left, and its left guide is now left guide of the battalion.


By Companies into Line.


When marching by the flank, the companies form as in School of the Company.  Remember that the left guide posts himself as guide at the command, guide left.


Left into Line, Wheel.


This may seem complicated, as it involves a somewhat different procedure of wheeling.  To simplify a bit, it will work if we realize the guide is not the pivot of a stationary wheel.  The pivot is the corporal on the left of the company.  The left guide should stand fast.  At the conclusion of the wheel, the guide's right arm should be against the breast of this corporal.  He is then, by the way, in an excellent position to judge the alignment of his company, in front of its left file, facing right.  After the company is aligned, at the command "Front", the guides will return to their places as file closers, passing through the nearest captain's interval.  The captain will step before the first file of his company, and the first sergeant behind that same file, to allow him to pass.  (SotB, 391, and following.)


If desired, this can be further simplified by having the guide continue as pivot for now, since we are all accustomed to this.  Just before the guide reaches the line, he can step back to the file closers, before the line engages.  While this might make it easier in the short run, the actual procedure can be used to simplify the upcoming evolutions, and I would recommend it.


By Inversion, Right into Line, Wheel.


Since the first sergeant does end up in the line, how we accomplish the wheel is of no consequence to the end result, although the correct procedure is the same as described for the stationary wheel to the left.  Unfortunately, the manual does not prescribe how or when the left guides return to the rank of file closers after conducting the marching flank.


Again, if we were to follow the manual exactly, the captain would halt his company three paces before the marching flank reaches the line.  He would then cause them to dress upon the line, giving a perfect opportunity for the left guide to step out and return to the line of file closers.


Since are not going to try to correct all the minutia at once, the second sergeant can step out just before the completion of the wheel, or he could post himself before the left file as in the left into line wheel, and then retire through the next captain's interval, as above.  I recommend the latter, since is very close to the prescribed procedure, and, depending on how you read it, could be seen as exactly right.


The manual states that the left guide should post himself "opposite one of the three left files" of his company.  My proposal fits that, and creates a consistent position, making it easier to remember.


On the Right into Line.


The guide being shifted to the right, the company turns to the right at its appointed time.  The left guide of the first company retires to the file closers at the command "Halt", when the company has reached the line.  (SotB, 420.)


The proper disposition of the other left guides requires the halt three paces before the end of the wheel, as above.  To come close to the manual's specification, we can have the left guide post himself before the man on the left of his company, as in the Left into Line, Wheel, and as recommended for the  formation by inversion.


Forward into Line.


Here the manual does not specify how or when the left guide of the first company retires to the file closers, but it is reasonable to suppose that it will be the same as on the right into line, retiring when the company halts.


For the other left guides, we can also follow the suggestion of having them post as in Left into Line, Wheel.  This is very close to correct, as seen before, without tinkering with too many matters of detail all at once.


Change Front Forward.


While this is not a column to line evolution, the mechanics are so similar to Forward into  Line, that it makes more sense to address it here.


Assuming the change is on the first company, the captain wheels his company to the right.  There is no mention of the left guide, so we must assume that the corporal on the left flank conducts the marching flank, and the second sergeant remains as a file closer.


The other left guides post as guides in the right half wheel, as soon as the flank is disengaged.  (SotB, 747.)


I would suggest the same method for returning them to the line of file closers suggested for Forward into line.


Into Line in Two Movements.


This being a combination of Left into Line, Wheel, and Forward into Line, the directions have been given above for those movements.


Into Line, Faced to the Rear.


Here, the left guide of the first company will march as in the flank march for School of the Company.  The left guide of each succeeding company must detach himself  before his company reaches the line, and place himself so as be near his last file, facing to the right, as if the battalion had wheeled into line.


Ployment, and Deployment.


While these evolutions are less familiar, all are dependent on companies maneuvering by the flank to their positions in line or column.  From the second sergeant's standpoint, follow as for flank marches in school of the company, holding himself ready to post as left guide when the company fronts after entering the column in the ployment, and to step forward before his last file facing right when his company dresses on the line in the deployment.


I must here point out an inconsistency in the manual.  In the directions for deploying column on the rearmost division (or company) the first three divisions are marching by the right flank, in order to unmask the fourth.  General Hardee gives the following direction to the chief of the third division:


SotB, 546."……. The chief of the third division will not follow its movement; he will see it file past, halt it when its left guide shall be abreast with him…."


Unfortunately, according to all directions previously given for the flank march, the left guide would be in the rank of file closers.


Does this mean that there is an unspecified exception?  Should the captain halt them when the 2nd sergeant is abreast him in the line of file closers, which would seem to be at least two paces too soon?  Or is this an error, which was in the manuals as early as  Scott's in 1835?  


The directions are reversed from those of deploying on the first company.  In those directions, it works perfectly, since the right guide has replaced the captain in the front rank, and is trailing the company when it marches by the left flank.  But when a company marches by the right flank, the left guide is in the rank of file closers.


In Scott's Abstract of Infantry Tactics of 1829, the entire question of deployment from close column is omitted, giving the idea that it was little used.  This is certainly the case in reenacting today, so perhaps the point is moot.  Yet, should we ever reach the point of studying this evolution, I would suggest  that the captain halt his company after the last file has passed him, as the directions for the ployment provide.  (SotB, 125.)




The Experiment.


In the 1st Maryland, we determined to experiment with something closer to proper use of the second sergeant for this season.  In our first event, at Bentonville, our company, combined with the 55th Virginia, was so small that it was formed as a platoon, with only one guide.  However, at Neshaminy and Hammonassett, our numbers were easily strong enough to try out the procedure.


Two different soldiers occupied the role at the two events.  The greatest difficulty, though far from great, was being sure the second sergeant posted as a left guide when one was required, and getting them back as file closers in time for line of battle to form.


At Neshaminy we had companies of nine to twelve men, with one outsized company, the 21st Georgia from the 7th Battalion.  With small fronts, evolutions were performed so quickly, that we were barely able to move him in time for the next company, the 16th North Carolina, to come into line.  If we make the adjustment of posting the second sergeant in front of the last file, looking down the front of the company, the second company will be able to fall in on the line even if we haven't finished dressing.   This is his exact position in some cases, and close in most others, as we have seen.  By making the one position serve in all cases, it is easier to remember, consequently easier to learn, and is far closer than what we have been doing.


At Hammonassett, with double company strengths, the evolutions took more time, and there was little problem.


The only real problem with our company using the second sergeant as I have outlined in this monograph, and all the other companies is in forming column by the right of companies to the rear.  I now have to wait until the last file completes its wheel, while everyone else is stopping the left guide.  Our left guide is not taking that post until the command "Front", as per the manual.  The result is that our company is making a little more forward progress before we halt.  When we all front, and the left guide posts, we are a little more than one file too far to the right, causing every one to have to guide over on us when we start to march.  I "fixed" this by having the left guide post back over to the left, and making the company dress back to him.  It would probably make more sense for all captains to halt their company based on the last file, rather than he second sergeants.  This has the advantage of being exactly what the manual specifies.


On the whole, the experiment is working well.  From the second sergeant's standpoint, it becomes much more interesting, in that he has to very alert at all times, in order to post himself as needed. From the maneuvering standpoint, it caused little difficulty, and when we are accustomed to the procedure, I expect there will be none.  We also have the good feeling that comes with taking another step towards authenticity.






The question of the second sergeants was put aside some years ago, because our practice, while not exactly authentic, it was simpler, and did work, allowing us to concentrate on bigger, more important concerns.


Our practice is still simpler than the authentic version, and it still works.  If your individual companies choose to retain the simplification for the time being, for instance, if you need to train new NCO's and would prefer not to confuse the issue, it should not cause great problems.


However, I would recommend that, in our own sovereign and independent ways, we take this step.  First of all, let us realize the dual role of the second sergeant as file closer and left guide, and let us make an effort to place him on the flank only when truly needed.


This monograph began as that simple a statement.  It grew from there into a more complex work.  In the body of this paper are many suggestions for the mechanics of posting and reposting the second sergeants, mostly according to Hardee's, but with some minor simplifications to facilitate learning.  These are guides to get us started. I don't mean to say we will accomplish this all overnight.  However, let us make the start.







With this article, there is no need for a formal bibliography.  All citations are to Hardee's Rifle and Infantry Tactics, 1862 North Carolina Edition.  The 1855 edition is identical in content. 


Leonidas Jones

Major. Principal Instructor

Liberty Greys, 6th Regiment, ANV

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