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"Captain, First Sergeant, and the Battle Line " Topic

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American Civil War

511 hits since 11 Jan 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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SaxonOfSaxony Inactive Member11 Jan 2019 7:05 a.m. PST

I'm putting together a stand which I would like to represent a company. Where I'm struggling is where to put the First Sergeant and Captain. From what I can see on diagrams they both stand to the right of the company line, captain in front and sergeant behind, but does this not make them a target for enemy fire? Maybe I'm misunderstanding their role in the line.

Trajanus11 Jan 2019 7:45 a.m. PST

Viewed from behind, the First Sargent should be in the Second Rank, of the first File on the Right of the Company with the Captain in the first Rank directly in front of him.

In this position he is referred to as the Covering Sargent.

Their job is to keep the line steady and conforming with the general position and pace of the Regiment.

And yes this means they can get shot but anyone in the "Supernumerary Rank" – those Company Officers and NCOs behind the two Rank firing line could too.

Two ranks of men doesn't provide much protection! :o)

If you want to be accurate but confused read below:

19. The company officers and sergeants are nine in number, and will be posted in the following manner:

20. The captain on the right of the company, touching with the left elbow.

21. The first sergeant in the rear-rank, touching with the left elbow, and covering the captain. In the manœuvres he will be denominated covering sergeant, or right guide of the company.

22. The remaining officers and sergeants will be posted as file closers, and two paces behind the rear-rank.

23. The first lieutenant, opposite the centre of the fourth section.

24. The second lieutenant, opposite the centre of the first platoon.

25. The third lieutenant, opposite the centre of the second platoon.

26. The second sergeant, opposite the second file from the left of the company. In the manœuvres he will be designated left guide of the company.

27. The third sergeant, opposite the second file from the right of the second platoon.

28. The fourth sergeant, opposite the second file from the left of the first platoon.

29. The fifth sergeant, opposite the second file from the right of the first platoon.

30. In the left, or eighth company of the battalion, the second sergeant will be posted in the front-rank, and on the left of the battalion.

31. The corporals will be posted in the front-rank as prescribed, No. 15.

32. Absent officers and sergeants will be replaced – officers by sergeants, and sergeants by corporals. The colonel may detach a first lieutenant from one company to command another, of which both the captain and first lieutenant are absent; but this authority will give no right to a lieutenant to demand to be so detached.

The Above from Casey's Infantry Tactics:



SaxonOfSaxony Inactive Member11 Jan 2019 8:20 a.m. PST

That clears things up a little. What is their role in combat? Are the first sergeant and captain supposed to be providing fire or are they more or less file closers for the side of the company?

donlowry11 Jan 2019 9:21 a.m. PST

third lieutenant?

Trajanus11 Jan 2019 10:40 a.m. PST


I assume that's in terms of seniority as there's no such rank. Unless you mean there's only two per company, in which case you will have to take that up with Silas! :o)

All the Captains in a Regiment we're ranked by seniority and were supposed to be allocated to Companies within the line of battle on that basis so I assume Lieutenants within a Company got treated in the same manner.

Trajanus11 Jan 2019 10:49 a.m. PST


Good question. As far as I know they were there primarily to maintain order though I guess the First Sargent could have fired from the Second Rank.

Of course the Captain would have been out of range most of the time only having a pistol. I dare say when in a charge, or when receiving one, the natural tendency for both of them to let rip would have taken over.

I'm pretty sure if it had been me I wouldn't have just stood there like a bump on a log. Well actually, if being charged I'd have been looking around to see if there was a spare Gatling around somewhere! :o)

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2019 12:49 p.m. PST

Third Lieutenant is seniority thing. There were also Fourth Lieutenants, Second Sergeants, and Fifth Corporals.

donlowry12 Jan 2019 9:44 a.m. PST

I thought infantry companies only had 2 lieutenants.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2019 1:00 p.m. PST

Third lieutenants are documented in some units. I also saw a Fouth Lt. In an artillery battery.

Trajanus12 Jan 2019 2:53 p.m. PST

Wonder how that came about.

One assumes it was a regular item to have three Lieutenants or why would Casey put them in his work but as far as I know the authorised establishment for both Regular Army and Volunteer Battalion/Regiments from 1861 was two per company.

Was there a change in 1862?

There's a note added at the start of Volume 1 confirming the formal 10 company battle line and ditching the idea of 8 plus 2 Skirmish Companies that appears in the text. Maybe there's a formal change somewhere else or in another document.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2019 3:14 p.m. PST

I think it is more a matter of volunteer units doing what they want.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jan 2019 7:18 a.m. PST

Trajanus has all the postings for officers and NCOs correct for when the company is standing in line of battle.

However when the company is firing, the post of the captain is four paces to the rear of the center of his company. This is so he can observe what his men are doing and make any corrections necessary. The post of the first sergeant is on the same line with the captain, but directly to the rear of his normal position on the right of the rear rank. This is described in Paragraph 49 of Casey's School of the Company.

The captain would rarely ever be doing any firing. His job is to command the men of his company, THEY are his weapon :)

The other sergeants and the lieutenants are in the rank of file closers, two paces behind the rear rank. In combat, their job is to make sure the men keep to their spots and keep firing.

It should be noted that when the company is moving in different formations or splitting into its two platoons, all of those other sergeants and lieutenants will have specific jobs to do, they aren't just there for show.

As for the third lieutenant, he would be assigned to the second platoon. When the company breaks into platoons (as might be done if the battalion was marching in a column of companies and had to reduce its width to pass through a narrow place) the captain commands the 1st platoon, assisted by the second lieutenant. The 1st lieutenant commands the second platoon, assisted by the 3rd lieutenant.

Trajanus13 Jan 2019 9:43 a.m. PST

Thanks Scott, I was hoping you would show up.

I should have known about the Captain, as moving back in firing, in the same manner as the Color Guard I assume!

This 3rd Lieutenant thing. Where does it come from? Its shown right back as far as Scott and he even has an Ensign on the strength too! (Which vanished at the start of the war)

However, Federal Establishment under General Orders 15 & 16 of 1861 clearly only show 2 LTs per Company

So did Casey, following Hardee, following Scott just miss this detail and include the 3rd one in the text and diagrams?

I note your familiarity with the term and its use in Platoon command, which makes sense but is this something from your book learning, or did you actively have them when you were re-enacting?

If so, given the General Orders, why?

donlowry13 Jan 2019 10:11 a.m. PST

Yes, I had occasionally seen mention of a 3rd Lt in anecdotes, but figured it was a militia thing, or some strange variation.

In some European armies I believe the ensign was the guy who carried the colors. In rank = to a 2nd Lt?

cplcampisi13 Jan 2019 2:24 p.m. PST

The usual place for the Captain and First Sergeant are as you describe. This allows the captain to see what's going on, and to maneuver his company as needed.

When the company is firing, the first sergeant drops back to the line of file closers, and the captain is to take a position opposite the center of the company, 4 paces behind the line of file closers. (Article 49 in the School of the Company, 1861 US Infantry tactics). Here he can more easily regulate the company's fire.

When the regiment is deployed in a column of companies, the Captain is to stand in front of the center of the company. While not explicitly stated in my manual, the First Sergeant would step forward to occupy the former place of the Captain on the line.

When the captain is in the front rank he is "covered" by the first sergeant. The first sergeant is really only supposed to discharge his musket in defense of the captain, but there were probably other situations which arose.

Trajanus13 Jan 2019 3:07 p.m. PST


That's correct the British Army had Ensign as a rank up until 1871 when it officially became 2nd Lt and they carried Colors. Although like our phantom ACW 2nd Lts each Company had them too.

Ensigns rotated in the duty and were called forward as relief from Company positions when in action. In the Napoleonic period they were the proverbial "Bullet Magnet" so it was a less than popular duty.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jan 2019 5:43 p.m. PST

The first sergeant 'covers' the captain when in line of battle. If the captain steps out of his position, the sergeant immediately steps up to fill the position. This is critical because if the file were left empty, it might well get 'squeezed' closed when the battalion moves.

One little noted detail of the regulations is that when the battalion is in line of battle and the command 'forward march' is given, on 'forward' there is a pause to allow the front rank of the color guard to advance 6 paces in front of the line along with the right and left general guides. But ALSO, all the captains in the left wing (the five companies to the left of the colors) leave their spots and move down to the left end of their companies, actually filling the spot of the captain of the company to their left. So, for example, the captain of the 6th company would actually be standing in front of the first sergeant for the 7th company. Why? Well, when the battalion advances, the guide is usually on the center. All the companies align themselves on what the center of the battalion is doing. All of the captains need to oversee what their men are doing to make sure the line stays straight. All the captains in the right wing can look toward the center and see not only what the center of the battalion is doing, but also what their own company is doing since they are to their left. But all the captains in the left wing have a problem. If they look to the right, toward the center, they are looking AWAY from their company. they can't see both at the same time. So by moving down to the left end of their company, they can look to the right and see the center AND their own company. Incidentally, this also leaves the first sergeant of the 6th company all by himself. His captain has moved down to the left and the sergeant must 'cover' for him and fill his spot in the front rank.

Trajanus14 Jan 2019 7:38 a.m. PST

My God! Is it any wonder it took fifty years of US Army/Drill Book Authorship effort to squeeze out all of these points of practical detail?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Jan 2019 8:13 a.m. PST

Well, Emory Upton made a good start of it with his new tactics manual after the war. By eliminating all the unnecessary details to try and maintain the ordering of companies by seniority he managed to reduce the tactics manual from three volumes to one :) After the Franco-Prussian War the European armies were all paring down their tactics to essentials, too, and the US followed suit.

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