By Abel Land
As promised, this is the next dispatch in the series, looking at how the serjeants would formulate the basic training of the recruit during the current war in America. Last week the content was on the foundation position for the recruit without arms; this week, the topic will be on how to stand at ease as explained in the Rules and Regulations 1807.
I would at this time like to backtrack a bit and thank one person who has helped me research and look critically at period manuals, along with clarification on some terms. This person puts his heart and soul into the knowledge of the late 18th and 19th-century foot drill — Ewan Wardle program development officer at Fort York National Historic Site in Toronto, Ontario. Thanks for your dedication to further our knowledge of historic military exercises.
First, I would like to share a note on why serjeants need to go back once and a while and look at the manuals. When I took up the King’s shilling back in around 1807, how we were standing at ease was described as boxing the feet with the right foot behind the left with the hollow in against the heal of the left foot, the left foot not to move because it sets the dressing. But as we will see only some of this in the contemporary manuals.
The Rules and Regulations 1807 does have the left foot stand fast, and the right foot move, but to a different position. Stand at ease is explained in part one, section two.
“On the words Stand at Ease, the right foot is to be drawn back about six inches, and the greatest part of the weight of the body brought upon it; the left knee a little bent; the hands brought together before the body; but the shoulders to be kept back and square; the head to the front, and the whole attitude without constraint.”
(Rules and Regulations 1807, 4)
When reading this passage, it becomes apparent that the position of the feet is different than how I was taught. The manual has the right foot being drawn back about six inches with the weight of the body being placed upon it. Now, this is not that big of a deal, but it can show where going back and reading can help a recruit look more like he should.
Let's now have a look at a couple of other manuals and see if this final position of the feet is the same. Looking back to the beginning of the conflict with the New French Republic, our government standardized the complexity and deviations made to the 1763 manual, by publishing the Rules and Regulations for the Formations, Field-Exercise, and Movements in 1792. In part one, on the position of the soldier, the description of the foot position for standing at ease is "the right foot to be drawn back about six inches." (Rules and Regulations 1792, 4) With the French Revolution coming to an end in 1802, revisions made to the 1792 manual of foot drill were published in the Instructions of Drill in 1804. The position of the soldier while standing at ease is “the right foot is to be drawn back about six inches"(Russell 1804, 35) same as in the 1807 Rules and regulations that we begun with.
The previous manuals all describe the right foot drawing back about six inches, now is this the same after the conflict has ended? Let us take a look at the Treatise on the British Drill by Captain A. Suasso of the 55th regiment of foot. Where it describes that the stand at ease is to be conducted in the prescribed manner made in the Rules and Regulations, as follows is how the Treatise paraphrases; "On the words Stand at Ease, the right foot is to be drawn back about six inches."(Suasso 1816,13) The same can be seen in A System of Drill and Maneuvers, as practiced by the 52nd Light Infantry Battalion by Captain John Cross in 1823 with the “right foot to be drawn back about six inches.” (Cross 1823, 1)
Now that all of you have had a good nap, I will let you get back to your companies and your responsibilities. Next week's dispatch will look at how to dress your sections.
Your humble and obedient servant,
Serjeant Abel Land,
41st Regiment of Foot winter garrison at Fort George, Upper Canada
Cross, John. 1823. A System of Drill and Maneuvers, as Practised in the 53nd Light Infantry Regiment. London: W. Clowes, Northumberland-Court.
Keith, James. 1803. The Soldier’s Assistant to the Manual and Platoon Exercise. London: J. Roach. [Image]
Rules and Regulations for The Manual and Platoon Exercises, Formations, Field-Exercise, And Movements, of His Majesty’s Forces. For the Use of The Non-Commissioned Officers of The British Army. 1807. London: C. Roworth, Printer, Bell Yard, Temple Bar.
Russell, John. 1804. Instructions for the Drill, and the Method of Performing the Eighteen Maneuvers. 3rd ed. London: C. Roworth, Printer, Bell Yard, Fleet Street.
Suasso, A. 1816. Treatise on the British Drill and Exercise of the Company. 2nd ed. London: W. Clowes.
The Manual and Platoon Exercises. 1792. Homer’s Head, Chaing-Cross: J. Walter.
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These articles are written and compiled by members of the 41st Regiment Living History Group.