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The History of US Military Drill Tactics, 1779- 1891

    US Military Drill began with colonial era militia, drilling, as best they could under English drill tactics, which was based on the Prussian model.  It was in the spring of 1778 that Baron Friedrich von Steuben instituted a new drill, based on the Prussian model, and gave coherent instruction to the Continental Army.

    Baron von Steuben's manual, the Regulations etc., were adopted as the official drill manual of the United States Army in March, 1779.  They remained in effect until until 1812.  However, the manuals which were to supplant van Steubens work were not freely available, and, for the most part, von Steuben's remained the primary drill manual for most regular and militia units through the War of 1812.

    General Winfield Scott, however, was well schooled in the most modern French Tactics, used by Bonaparte to great effect.  When he took command of the northern troops in the War of 1812, he had great success with these tactics in the Niagara Campaign.  Noting this success, he was appointed as head of a board to draft a new drill tactics, based on the French model, which was released in 1815, and revised in 1825.

    The 1825 revision was considered too complicated for militia use, and so General Scott was again appointed to a board to create a manual for militia and volunteers, which resulted in the Abstract of Infantry Tactics, adopted for volunteers and militia in 1826, our best look into the military drill of the early 19th century.

    Generally, this drill was very complicated.  French drill was extensively revised in 1827, and, once again, General Scott was made head of a board to revise US drill tactics.  The result was his extensive Infantry Tactics which were adopted in in 1835.  This manual remained in effect until 1855, and remained in use by many militia units after that time.  It was the manual in use during the period of the War with Mexico.

By the 1850's, arms development was clearly catching up with Scott's manual.  Major (Brevet Lt. Col.) William Hardee was named to head a board to develop a new system, once again based on the newer French model.  These Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics
were adopted in 1855, as the standard US drill manual.  

Hardee's assumed that the two band rifle would become the standard long arm of the army, and his Manual of Arms reflected this.  However, the three band rifle became the standard weapon.  Hardee revised his manual to reflect this, but, by the time it was ready, secession had already begun.

Hardee's revised Rifle and Infantry Tactics  was published in 1861 in Mobile, and by 1862 had become the standard manual for most Confederate infantry.  

The US Army flirted with Casey's manual, but issued a US Infantry Tactics in 1863, which was simply the 1855 Hardee's, without naming the now Confederate General.

In 1866, General Emory Upton prepared a new Infantry Tactics.  Upton had, with great success, commanded in all three branches in the late war, and used this experience to his advantage.   His drill had elements of artillery foot drill and cavalry drill, and was the first US manual that was not based largely on foreign drill. It was adopted in August 1967.  To learn more see my comparison article.  

Upton revised his manual in 1873, largely cleaning up the language of the original manual.  Upon his death in 1881, Upton had nearly finished a new revision. This work was finished by General Alexander, and formed the basis for the close order drill of the 1891 Infantry Drill Regulations, which was the drill standard for the Spanish War.  See my comparison article for more information on this drill manual.

The next drill manual adopted for the US Army was in 1911.  As this site is devoted to 19th century drill manuals, that goes beyond our scope.

Much of the detail for this short article comes from a longer, unpublished article by Dr. Noxon Toomey.  Look here for that article.

Leonidas Jones
Colonel cmdg
6th Regiment, 1st Division, ANV
The Liberty Greys

For more complete information on 19th Century Military Drill, visit the main page.

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