The Minute Book
Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Hints on Skirmishers (1870)
Topic: Drill and Training

Duties of Flank and Rear Guards

Hints on Skirmishes

Regulations and Orders for the Active Militia The Schools of Military Instruction, and the Reserve Militia (in the cases therein mentioned) of the Dominion of Canada 4th March 1870

Should the Rear Guard be hard pressed, every wood, fence, bridge, or defile, should be defended with the greatest vigour and obstinacy.

342.     Skirmishers (with supports and a reserve if necessary) can be extended to protect the flanks of a column; when so extended they move by the flank inclination of their files in a direction parallel to the advance of the column, their supports corresponding with such movements. Whenever the column is halted flank guards face outwards.

343.     Should the column have to retreat and the rear guard become engaged in disputing the ground with the enemy, the flanking parties must be particularly on the alert to check any attempt on the enemy's part to steal round and turn the flanks, which it may be presumed a pursuing enemy will always endeavour to do.

344.     It may be often desirable, with the view of searching ground more effectually, to move the flanking line of skirmishers, properly supported, in prolongation of the skirmishers of the advanced guard, and retired into direct echelon.

345.     It is the duty of Rear Guards acting in concert with the flanking parties, to protect the rear and flanks of the column from sudden attack, to secure the safety of the baggage, and to bring on stragglers. Rear Guard is usually kept closer to the main body than an Advanced Guard, the mode of forming it is to be found in the Drill Book, its strength and composition must depend u|)on circumstances and the nature of the country, also, whether the Column is engaged in making a forward movement, or in retiring before a superior force, in the latter case there is no duty that demands more skill, judgement, courage, and determination on the part of the Commanding Officer and men under his command.

Infantryman, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1863-1870

This volunteer wears the full dress uniform authorized for the Canadian Volunteer Militia in 1863. Few units would have worn the shako shown in this image, substituting the inexpensive (and far more comfortable) forage cap. The style is generally similar to that worn by British regular infantry, with the white-metal buttons and badges commonly used by militia units within the British empire. Reconstruction by Ron Volstad. (Canadian Department of National Defence)

Source page.

Canadian Military History Gateway

346.     Every Rear Guard should be provided with axes and entrenching tools, in order to have the means of breaking up roads, blocking up defiles and bridges, intrenching positions, and throwing obstacles in the way of a pursuing enemy; a few trees judiciously felled across a road at well chosen spots, may cause considerable delay to the enemy and check pursuit.

347.     When in actual presence of the enemy a retreat is usually conducted by the successive retirement of skirmishers on their supports, who have previously been extended, if possible under cover, fresh supports being thrown out from the reserve, and thus the whole may be withdrawn in succession from point to point, sheeting the most advantages positions which the nature of the ground along the line of retreat may afford.

348.     Should the Rear Guard be hard pressed, every wood, fence, bridge, or defile, should be defended with the greatest vigour and obstinacy.

349.     If there be cavalry or guns with the Rear Guard they should be brought into use, in order to support and relieve the Infantry, wherever circumstances may render it desirable, and the nature of the ground will admit.

350.     When skirmishing,men should remember that in the field an enemy will be opposed to them, whose business is to keep himself as much as possible under cover at the same time that he them whenever they expose themselves.

351.     Two lines of skirmishers opposed to each other on smooth ground, and keeping their lines properly dressed, are never seen in a real fight. All that is required is that the men of a line of skirmishers should be in such communication that they are able to afford each other a mutual support. In advancing across open and unbroken ground, the line will be maintained with more or less regularity, because there is no inducement to break the order

352.     Where ground is broken, so as to afford cover some parts and not in others, the files advancing over the unbroken ground, should observe a regular line; but those files which may have in front of them any ground where cover is to be obtained, such as a hillock, or a clump of trees, or rocks, should dash forward to seize it at their utmost speed, notwithstanding that by so doing they may place themselves in advance of the general line by 30 or 40 paces.

353.     If the enemy is in possession of this vantage ground, a dash to dispossess him of it should be made, by the converging at full speed of such a number of files as will serve to drive him out. If you succeed in doing so, you establish a post in the midst of the enemy's lines, and he must fall back, because you flank him on both sides, while your general line advancing occupies him in front. If the enemy's skirmishers are sheltered by a hedge, ditch, bank or any other line affording cover, a quick officer will select the weakest point in the enemy's line for attack, and will direct a number of files to converge on that point at full speed sufficient to overcome resistance. In this way again a post will have been established in the midst of the enemy's line, which will flank him to right and left, while your general line advancing will occupy him in front.

354.     Skirmishers advancing in the open should consider no inequality or accident of ground too insignificant to afford shelter of some sort, if it does not protect one part of the body, it will another. Thus even a large stone should be made use of, and a small tree stump may save a man's life.

355.     In wood fighting no man should fire except from close behind a tree; after delivering his fire,he must load under cover of the same tree and when loaded, he will select a tree in advance, and then dash up to it suddenly—and so on. Experienced skirmishers in a wood will establish a footing in this way often close to the enemy's general line. And if this is done and maintained, the enemy's line must go back.

366.     Skirmishers when holding ground in the open where there is no cover, should lie down, their supports and Reserve, when within range of fire and no cover available for them, conforming to that movement.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 22 June 2014 2:35 PM EDT

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