British Line Infantry Drill
At the outbreak of war in 1756, the British army required a new drill manual, to train officers and men in the latest drill available to them. The result, in 1757, was a new exercise of foot. The manual in reproduced here in paraphrased format.
N.B. pace here specifically refers to a length of 2 feet, or approximately 60 cm. this is opposed to the pre-1757 manuals, which defined a pace as 3 feet.
Exercise for the Foot, 1757
When soldier were called to arms, they were to fall in by company to the quarters of the captain in single rank. The soldiers were arranged thus:
- privates in the center, 3 divisions: the tallest of them fell in on the right of the line division, the men of average height on the left division, and the shortest men in the center.
- officers are to be 4 paces ahead of the men, with the captain to the right, the lieutenants to the left, and ensigns to the center.
- sergeants were to be at the far right of the line of privates, with the corporals, then drummers, next to them on the left-again to the right of the line of privates.
When arranged in this manner, the captain was to see that each man was properly equipped, with emphasis on the state of the locks being in good order, and given a proper flint, as well as carrying a sufficient number and type of cartridges as ordered by the captain.
Once inspection is over, the captain would order the company to form three ranks. They were arranged thus:
- the tallest privates became the front rank, the middling height became the rear rank, and the shortest men formed the center rank. Corporals were to fall into the ranks at that point. They were to assume open order, at 6 paces between the ranks.
At this point, they were split into either 2 or 4 divisions and marched to the rendezvous of the regiment. The officers were arranged in respect to these divisions as thus:
- in two divisions:
- the captain leads the first division
- the ensign leads the second division
- the lieutenant brings up the rear
- in four divisions:
- the captain leads the first division
- the ensign leads the third division (N.B.: the manual does not specify where the lieutenant stands in this situation).
In either arrangement, the most senior sergeant was to march to the right of the front rank of the first division, the next most senior to the left of the front rank of the last division, and the youngest sergeants to the right of the front rank of whichever division the ensign leads. Drummers marched front and center of the first division (i.e. within the first rank), while the pioneer (with his arms carried on his left), marched 12 paces ahead of the captain.
While in this state, the soldiers may march either in open order, with 6 paces between ranks, or closed order, with the ranks only 1 pace apart.
When wheeling to a place, the drummers run ahead of the front rank of the first division, beating their drums, till they reach about 12 paces ahead of where the company is to draw up. At that point, the drummer turns right about, so as to face towards the men as they draw up. In the meantime, the drummer continues to beat, until the officers are at their posts. The pioneer in the meantime advances 2 paces ahead of the drummer, and then turns right about to face the ranks. The captain, on reaching his post, was to be 4 paces ahead of the men, and was to turn to the right about to observe them. The lieutenant was to take position at the right side of the company, the ensign, the left.
When several companies were assembled on the parade ground, each battalion company was to be 2 paces apart. They were arranged as follows:
- the most senior company was to draw up on the right, second most senior company to the left.
- the next two companies formed to the left of first, and right of the second, respectively. The pattern repeated itself until the least senior company took position in the center.
- the grenadier company took position 10 paces right of the most senior battalion company.
Once the officers (especially subalterns) saw to it that the soldiers were in straight ranks, and properly covered half-files, all the soldiers were to turn to the left face. While forming up, the sergeants were to leave the flanks, and assume positions four paces to the rear of the line, halberds ordered.
Once all the companies formed up, the youngest sergeant among them was to look for “odd men”, and helped place them in proper positions. The procedure was to send the “odd men” to the sergeant major who forms them up into half files to be positioned in the intervals between the battalion companies. This had the effect of closing the space between the companies, when the companies faced right, one at a time, to form a line of men.
In the meantime, each captain was responsible for counting the number of effective in his company, with the resulting report to be turned in to the adjutant of the regiment. The report had to specify the officers present or absent by name, and the reason for their absence. The number and presence or absence of the other ranks was also to be noted, as well as the reason of absence, and the number of men needed to complete the company’s strength, should numbers fall below that.
Once the men were in line and the companies closed, the order was given by the regiment’s major for the officers to “take post in battalion”. At this point, the commissioned officers and sergeants were to simultaneously recover arms. This could be done to the left or right, with the sergeants doing so in an outwards pattern. While this goes on, the pioneers were to face to the left on their left heel, along with half the drummers. Two drummers were to face to the right about, with the rest turning right on their right heel.
When the major said “March!” the officers stepping off on their left feet marched to the left and right of the company, according to seniority. Those among them who go to the left ended up on the “outside” of companies. The sergeants in the meantime were to divide themselves into three sections: six were to go to the left of the battalion, another six to the right, with the remaining sergeants spreading themselves out evenly, with the ordering seen to by the sergeant major. Those on the flanks were to dress the ranks.
Grenadier sergeants were arraigned differently, with the most senior sergeant taking position to the right of the first rank, the next most senior the left of the front rank, and the least senior bringing up the rear, to the center of the rearmost rank. The sergeant major himself was to be to the rear of the battalion.
The pioneers were to march until they met the pioneer of the colonel’s company, at which point all of them march further until they are to the right of the grenadier company, at which time the pioneers turned right, and marched to dress with the front rank of the grenadiers.
The drummers who faced right were to march to the position of the drummers in the colonel’s company. They were then to move to the right of the company, until they were just right of the sergeants there, along the first rank. The same process applied to the drummers who faced left, with respect to the left flank of the battalion. The two drummers in the center were to march to the right hand of the battalion major. Grenadier drummers were posted to the right of the first rank of grenadiers, to the right of the senior sergeant.
Once all the officers and NCO’s were in place, the order “Halt!” was issued by the major. At this time, all the officers and NCO’s were to face to the front, with the officers and sergeants to order arms. It was only then that the colors were sent for.
While the colors were being fetched, the soldiers were divided once more into front and rear half-files, and arranged into their firing orders. Then the rear half was to march, by order of sergeant-major and major, was to face to the right, and march 18 paces to the rear, and assume their positions there. Their associated sergeants also turn right about, and march with the rear half files.
At this point, the adjutant and major were to march along the line, making sure that the lines are dressed properly. This included arranging the officers and sergeants to be in line with the files of infantry.
When that is done, the colonel takes his post, six paces ahead of the center of the line of officers. If the colonel was present, the lieutenant-colonel was to stand slightly to the left of the colonel at two paces from the line of officers, and if absent, he was to stand in the center, also at two paces ahead of the line.
When all is done, prior to the arrival of a general officer, the soldiers were to poise their firelocks, rest upon them, draw and fix their bayonets, and then once again poise their firelocks, before shouldering arms. The same procedure, minus fixing the bayonet, was practiced when a major-general was reviewing the regiment.
When the general officer (other than major-general) had arrived, and stood 20 paces opposite the right of the battalion, the major was to order the battalion to present arms, then move to the right of the battalion, with the adjutant moving to the left of the line. Both were to ensure that the ranks were dressed properly for review, and were to salute the major when the general passed by. As soon as the major has saluted, he was to take position at 100 paces ahead of the center of the battalion.
After the general was to finish the inspection, he was to take position 20 paces ahead of the center of the battalion. At that point, the major was to order the battalion to shoulder arms. Once the general was finished taking position, the major ordered arms to be presented, and then rested, with the latter being done to the beating of the drums. When the soldiers finished resting their arms, the major raised his sword, and then dropped it. The latter was the signal for the ensigns to drop their colors, and all the officers to salute the general, all the officers and ensigns doffing their hats in the process simultaneously. The officers were to remain like this till the major raises his sword again, at which point the officers were to put their hats back on simultaneously.
It was then that the Major proceeds to the manual exercise proper.
If it was a major-general who was inspecting, then once the major had taken position 100 paces ahead of the battalion, he ordered the bayonets fixed, then arms presented, with the rest of the above procedure to be repeated afterward. After that, the battalion was ordered weapons poised, rested, bayonets unfixed, returned, then the musket once again poised and shouldered.
N.B. These following plates are an interpretation of what was in the manual exercise. As the movements were only described in text, and not in picture form, and certain terms appear to be vague, the exactness of these motions is not guaranteed.
Rest your firelock
Each motion was separated from the next in the exercise by two seconds.
N.B: in the third motion, the soldier is in fact leaning slightly back and to the right. as a result, the right foot is not only pointing towards the right, but is slightly behind the left foot. the musket is in fact slightly tilted forward, and not straight up.
Order your firelock
N.B: the first motion differs from "rest firelock", in that the left hand is moved up towards the center of the musket.
Ground your firelock
N.B. The second motion in the original manual describes both hands being at the same level. if taken to mean the same as it does today, then the left hand would also be almost touching the ground.
Take up your firelock
Rest your firelock
Club your firelock
Rest your firelock
Shoulder your firelock
Basic stance and marching
The default stance of the British soldier in battle, as per the manual of arms of 1757 as well as other manuals introduced during the war, was with arms shouldered. The men were lined up so that each rank was separated from each other by 2 feet, with the files lined up shoulder to shoulder (~21"), providing sufficient space to manoeuvre, but also maintaining a tight formation. Alternately, soldier could be deployed in open order, with the ranks being six feet apart and anywhere from 3-6 feet of space between the files. Soldiers were expected to observe perfect silence. Clothing and equipment was to be in perfect order, with all metal parts polished, clothes clean. The right number and type of cartridges were to be checked for, as well as the condition of the lock and flint.
When shouldering arms, the soldier was to keep his weapon nearly vertical, carried on the left shoulder, barrel facing outward, lock “turned up” and below breast level, with the butt flat against the hip, the weapon pressed against the body with the ball of the thumb. The musket was to be held with the index and thumb ahead of the corner of the stock, with the middle finger on the corner, the other fingers on the bottom of the stock. Soldiers were to stand with shoulders held back, stomach slightly tucked in, chest pressed out, chin up, and the right arm hanging down with the palms facing back. Finally, all but the rightmost man in the line was to have his head cocked to the right. The rightmost man kept his head straight forward. While not stated in any manual, the tricorne was generally worn cocked to one side—typically to the left. This was to allow the weapon to be shouldered, without hitting the hat.
Prior to the Seven Years' War, and as implied in the manual of 1757 (as well as those of 1735 and 1753), soldiers were expected to march by raising their thighs so as to be nearly horizontal, while simultaneously bending the knee to form a right angle, then taking a small, firm step forward. Unlike the Prussians, the steps were to be regulated by the beat of the drum even on the battlefield, at a pace specified by the captain or battalion commander (N.B. it is not specified in any of the manuals what the rate was, but it may typically have been about 60 steps a minute, each step 1.5 feet prior to the Seven Years' War, just 1 foot afterward). However, in practice during the war, soldiers more typically marched in a manner similar to that of the Prussian army of the time, though whether the rate of the march was the same (70-75 steps/minute) is unknown. It seems however that the pace was still regulated by the beat of the drum or even the fife, going by accounts by William Windham of the drilling of the 68th Foot and 72nd Foot.
Loading and Firing procedure
A British infantryman was taught to load and fire his musket in 16 steps organized in 23 motions. In many respects, it is simply a modified version of procedures dating from no later than 1735, the difference being slight modifications to accommodate a tighter formation (21" by two feet, instead of three by three). The descriptions of the movements are illustrated by the author, with text based on that of the original manual, supplemented where applicable by William Windham's military treatise of 1759, where the 1757 manual is silent. The soldier first joined his right hand to the stock of his firelock, and then recovered his firelock. He then followed orders:
Open your pan
1) The soldier stepped back four inches with his right leg, facing to his right, while his left hand held the musket between the lock and musket swell, keeping the left arm close to the body. His right hand is to have the ball of its thumb behind the hammer, fingers shut. The musket is to be positioned so that the lock is below the right chest; the muzzle is to be at the head level of the person in front of the loader.
2) The soldier opens the pan, keeping the right elbow down.
Handle your cartridge
The soldier brings his right hand down to his cartridge box, grabbing a cartridge with his index, middle finger, and thumb, with the latter pointing towards the hip. The soldier then brings the cartridge up to his the mouth, with the elbow turned up.
Open your cartridge
The soldier bites off the top of the cartridge, immediately placing the thumb on the exposed end, and promptly brings it opposite to and at a right angle to the pan (and above it).
1) The thumb is placed on the edge of the pan, and the hand is tipped to carefully shake in the powder. The cartridge is covered by the thumb.
2) the cartridge is brought back to its prior position.
Shut the pan
1) The soldier quickly shuts the pan with his little and ring fingers.
2) He then casts the musket back, by pushing down the stock with the left hand, catching the muzzle with the right hand. Meanwhile, the musket is to sink through the soldier’s left hand (the arm of which hangs straight), so that the butt of the musket is opposite the soldier’s left toe, while at the same time the musket is held in the left hand by the swell (N.B. in most people of the time height was about 5’7”, this would mean the musket butt does not touch the ground). While doing all this, the soldier must continue to hold his cartridge shut with his thumb, index, and middle fingers.
Load with cartridge
1) The soldier puts the rest of the cartridge in the barrel, shaking out the powder into the barrel, and then pushing the ball into the muzzle with the index (it’s implied the paper acts as wadding, coating the ball with paper. they did not hold the balls in the mouth to spit into the barrel, or separate the paper and ball, as some movies and even reenactors imply: there is simply no evidence for this)
2) the soldier then seizes the butt-end of the rammer with his thumb and index, in the process wrapping round the barrel with the two digits. The other fingers however do not do the same: they instead remain clenched. Both elbows are to remain close to the body.
Draw your rammer
1) The soldier withdraws his rammer from its seating, stretching his arm out in the process as far as possible. He then quickly seizes it where it meets the seating, inverting his hand in the process.
2) The soldier then clears the rammer, inverts it once more, and then shortens it using his belt buckle, so that his hand is within three inches of the butt of the rammer, keeping the rammer parallel with the barrel in the process.
3) The soldier finally brings the rammer up to the muzzle. While doing all this, the elbows must remain close to the body.
Ram down the cartridge
1) the soldier seizes the rammer at its midpoint, and drives it down the barrel firmly. The soldier promptly grabs the rammer at where it is at muzzle level, the thumb facing down, and pulls out the rammer halfway.
2) The soldier then completely withdraws the rammer, inverts it again, and then shortens it with his belt buckle, this time to within twelve inches, rather than three.
3) He then brings the back end of the rammer to the first pipe, and conducts it down through the first pipe and into the second pipe, thumb up.
Return your rammer
The soldier than pushes down on the rammer at its butt-end with the palm of his hand quickly and with force, then raises the firelock with the left hand, bringing the right hand to the stock behind the lock, the left hand slipping back to the area between the swell and lock. The cock should be at the height of the waist belt. (N.B. the manual doesn’t state whether in the process the musket should be dead centre ahead of the man, or slightly to his left: simply that it is vertical and as mentioned. In the illustration given here, it is to the slight left: however, Windham has it as dead centre in front.)
1) The soldier then faces left (so that he is once again facing forward), being up the right heel so as to within four inches of the left heel. At the same time, he brings the weapon opposite his left shoulder, and grabs the butt end with the left hand, bringing up the stock to the level of the pelvis once more.
2) The soldier then draws the elbows quickly back, so that the musket finally rests on the shoulder, and the right arm is thrown back, resulting in the soldier assuming the shoulder arms position.
At this command, the soldiers in all three ranks recover their arms. Once done, each rank does as follows (elbows to generally remain close to body, unless otherwise noted: thumb always stays on the cock):
- Front rank: the front rank kneels on his right knee, right toes in, heel upright, and body erect. The musket is fully cocked in the process, and kept facing up. The soldier remains holding the musket by the back of the lock with his right hand, and with his left, holding the musket by the area between the lock and swell. (N.B on the parade ground, the soldier must step back three feet, as the drill is held in open order).
- Centre rank: the men of the centre rank step directly back with the right leg about 18 inches (bending his right knee a bit in the process, but keeping the left one straight), so that the right foot is behind the right foot of the man ahead of him. Again, he cocks his musket, and holds it pointing up, in a manner similar to that of the front rank. Right elbow is to remain down.
- Rear rank: the soldier steps to the right, rather than the back, so that the right foot is just behind the back of the heel of the man to his right. Right knee is to be slightly bent, left one straight. The soldier cocks his musket at the same time. (N.B. none of the manuals state how far to the right they must step, though it is likely no more than 12-18 inches).
All the soldiers force their weapons down and forward, so that the left hand slides forward to the area of the swell of the musket, the right elbow remaining close to the body. The butt is placed between the shoulder and arms, and the thumb is removed from the cock, while the index moves to the trigger. Soldier takes aim with the musket in the process in a manner similar to today’s armies. However, there are details to this, according to rank — mostly to minimize the chances for friendly fire:
- Front rank: mostly as described above.
- Centre rank: the men of the centre aim a little to the right of the men of the front rank.
- Rear rank: the soldier aims the weapon between the file leader (the man at the front of his file (or rather, half-file), and the right-hand file or half-file.
The soldiers all at once briskly pull the trigger, and immediately recover arms, and assume the position of the first motion(that of opening the pan), only with their right thumb behind the cock.
Half-cock your firelock
The soldiers do just that with briskly, bringing down their right elbows in the process. They then repeated the above process, starting with handling the cartridge.
Simplified orders during battle
When in battle, all the steps were summarized as follows:
1- Prime and load!
2- Make ready!
5- Prime and load! (when continuing to fire).
6- Cease fire! (When shooting is no longer necessary).
Individual use of the Bayonet
When in battle, bayonets were to be fixed, as in most other armies of the period. However, the British at this time emphasized the use of firepower over that of the bayonet, and this showed in the procedure used to charge bayonets, as per the manual of 1757.
In battle, at the command Charge your bayonets! the soldiers of the front rank immediately stepped forward about eighteen inches with the left leg (so that it is bent, while the right leg is straight), and dropped their weapons forward, so that they were horizontal, and at chest level. The left hand grasped the musket at the feather spring (or between the lock and swell of the musket), with the fingers and thumb pointing towards the lock. The left elbow pointed to the front, so that the left arm acted as a rest for the musket. The right hand meanwhile grabbed the butt end of the musket, so that it was nested fully in the palm of the hand. The two rear ranks remained at the recover arms position. No other methods were provided for either by the 1757 manual, any of the earlier manuals (1735, 1753), or in Humphry Bland’s treatise, published in 1726.
This style of bayonet use was a relic of a time when soldiers were issued pikes, having evolved as a means of carrying the cumbersome pikes when fighting against either infantry or cavalry. As such, it was singularly unsuitable method for use in a truly offensive or individualistic manner with a weapon such as the bayonet. To make matters worse, most treatises and manuals of the time give little thought or mention of practising with the bayonet: it was simply neglected. As a result, the British were by continental standards relatively sub-par in their tactical and individual use of the bayonet.
As a result of this, as the war progressed new methods of using the bayonet were sought: William Windham, who wrote the 1759 Treatise “A Plan of discipline for the use of the Norfolk Militia”, devised a more modern usage of the bayonet: this time, the soldier in the front rank stepped back a moderate pace, and levelled his bayonet so that the lock is just above the waist-belt, the tip of the bayonet directly pointing at the chest of the person opposing, the whole piece being held close to the body. This was much more effective, and a variant of this was officially adopted in 1764 by the British army when writing its new manual, and continues in modified form to be the general method in use to this day. Worth noting is that according to Windham, this method was similar to that used by the Prussians, though it is implied he developed it independently.
Blackmore, David, Destructive and Formidable: British infantry firepower 1642-1765, Frontline Books, London, 2014
Exercise for the Foot with the differences to be observed in the Dragoon Exercises For 1757
Windham, William; Townshend, George Lord Vice: A plan of DISCIPLINE for the use of THE NORFOLK MILITIA, 1759
Ibrahim90 and William Jack for the initial version of this article