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"Marching position: which shoulder to put your musket on?" Topic

12 Posts

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American Civil War

909 hits since 11 Mar 2018
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Comments or corrections?

Sharpe5211 Mar 2018 12:59 p.m. PST

During ACW, have marching infantry a fixed shoulder where to put their musket?
I ask because a few manufacturers show muskets on the left shoulder while most put them on the right one.
What do you think?

JimDuncanUK11 Mar 2018 1:43 p.m. PST

This might help


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 2:14 p.m. PST

I remember a lot of swapping off on long road marches. Ceremonial stuff was different.

Dn Jackson11 Mar 2018 3:46 p.m. PST

It went back and forth. Right shoulder shift and shoulder arms. The entire formation would have the rifle on the same shoulder, unless they were at route march in which case every man had it where he wanted it. Route march was used over long distance/time frames. Going into combat they would have been in a formal position.

vagamer63 Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 4:07 p.m. PST

During actual drill time, guard duty, or formations it depends on which army (Union or Confederate), and which "Drill Manual" was being used/taught. To wit: Hardee's, Scott's, Casey's, or Gilham's, etc.

Sharpe5212 Mar 2018 1:11 a.m. PST

Thank you all guys.
If I had to chose I'd say right shoulder in formal drill formation. I remember that Marlburian infantry is shown in contemporary prints wth their musket on left shoulder but IMHO it is an exception.

Big Martin Back12 Mar 2018 1:45 a.m. PST

Left shoulder for formal drill – you don't get the lock mechanism scraping your neck. At least that's the idea of the C17th drill manuals.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Mar 2018 3:26 a.m. PST

The link provided by JimDuncanUK is for modern drill :)

In ACW there were three basic positions for carrying the musket. Shoulder Arms, which has the musket being grasped around the trigger guard and held vertically against the right shoulder. Right Shoulder Shift Arms which had the musket butt held in the right hand and the weapon high on the right shoulder with the lock about level with the head. Support Arms (the classic 'attack march' pose seen in many Napoleonic figures) has the hammer of the musket resting on the left arm which is held horizontally across the chest. On the march, a good officer would shift between those three positions frequently to avoid fatigue. Of course, on a route march, it would be arms at will and no cadenced step so the soldiers could carry the muskets however they wanted, including by the slings.

Dn Jackson12 Mar 2018 2:19 p.m. PST

Gilham's shoulder arms is on the left shoulder and looks very similar to modern left shoulder arms.


Scott gave a good description of Hardee's. Both manuels were used by both sides. It depends on the units.

EJNashIII12 Mar 2018 7:35 p.m. PST

Agreeing with Scott once again. Don't confuse another time period's manuals for the American civil war. Yes, SN Jackson is right as well, though mainly for the Confederates. The other principal infantry drill manuals to look at are Scott's (US), Casey's (US) and Hardees (CS) link
Gilhams: link
Casey's: link
Hardee's: link
Scott's: link

Okiegamer Inactive Member13 Mar 2018 5:29 p.m. PST

There was also the "old Army" salute which was still used as late as Appomattox. When Lee's men marched in to surrender, Chamberlain is recorded as ordering his men to this position, which is basically a left-shoulder arms with the arm fully extended, similar to what was used by most armies prior to the 1850s. It was called "Carry Arms". The basic positions of "Right shoulder, Shift" and "Shoulder, Arms" were adopted during the 1850s as part of the new Rifle and Light Infantry drill pioneered by William J. Hardee, and later expanded upon by Silas Casey and others. Prior to that, the U.S. Army had used the manual written by Winfield Scott, which prescribed the basic position of Shoulder Arms as being more like Right Shoulder, Shift, except that the hammer was up rather than turned to the right. This manual was still being used, in a limited way, by some of the militia and state volunteer units early in the war, especially those commanded by officers who had cut their teeth in the Mexican War in which Scott's Tactics was the official manual.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Mar 2018 3:16 a.m. PST

Actually, there is some controversy about Chamberlain's 'carry arms' order at Appomattox. Chamberlain wrote that account many years after the event. During the intervening years the drill manual had changed and what had been called 'Shoulder Arms' in the ACW manual was now called 'Carry Arms' (exact same position, just a different name). Chamberlain had remained active in militia and National Guard matters and he may have used the contemporary term in his memoirs rather than calling it Shoulder Arms. I find this most likely since Chamberlain wasn't an old regular and probably wasn't familiar with the older pre-CW drill and would have had no reason to use it at Appomattox (and his troops probably wouldn't have known how to do it.)

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