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Monday, April 17, 2006

Winfield Scott's Crib Sheets

I have been reading Winfield Scott’s autobiography, published in 1864. It is as full of ‘fuss’n’feathers’ in its stiff prose as you might expect; very little warmth, charm, or, truthfully, an eye for detail. It is a curious piece, but I’ve enjoyed a few things within it...thought nothing with direct bearing on this project.

I was curious to see what the fellow had to say about his great transformation of the US army in the spring of 1814, and, naturally, he does touch upon it with, well, for him, some detail.

First of all, it appears that this eager, if not pushy, young warrior (always in a hurry, and with sharp elbows for getting to where there promised the most action and chance of glory) had tried earlier to get the infantry on some professional feed and routine. Early in 1812 he writes (in third person) that:

“With his battalion he had joined the army under the command of Major-General Dearborn, on the Niagara frontier, early in May, and, as the chief of his staff, first organized the service among all staff departments, several of which were new and others unknow in the United States since the Revolutionary War. In this labor he was greatly aided by an early edition of Théibault;s Manuel Général du Service des États-Majors Généraux, etc.”

Which is a little different than the usual notations of Scott using an old 1791 Règlement. Most note, like Kevin Kiley, in Theorists, Instructors, and Practitioners: The Evolution of French Doctrine in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 that “... American General Winfield Scott, who adapted the 1791 Reglement for American use on the Niagara Frontier in 1814, and was one of the few outstanding American general officers of the War of 1812...”.

Steven H. Smith, who with the help of others, compiled an interesting bibliography on various French contemporary drill manuals and monographs, notes two copies of the Thiebault book - one in French, and one in English. As the English translation dates to 1801, there must be an much earlier French edition of Thiebault that the 1813 listed below:

Thiebault, Paul Charles Francoise Adrien Henri Dieudonne, baron, (1769-1846). Manuel General Du Service Des Etats-Majors Genereaux Et Divisionnaires Dans Les Armees: Renfermant Quelques Developpemens Particuliers Sur Les Principals Operations De La Guerre .... Paris, Vchez Magimel, 1813. xvi, 592

Thiebault, Paul Charles Francoise Adrien Henri Dieudonne, baron, (1769-1846). An Explanation Of The Duties Of The Several Etats-Majors In The French Army: translated from the manual des adjudans generaux et des adjoints employes dans les etat-majors divisionnaires des armees. London, C Rowarth, 1801.

Scott later writes in his autobiography that “As Government had provided no text book Brigadier-General Scott adopted, for the army of the Niagara, the French system, of which he had a copy in the original, and there was in camp another, in English - a bad translation.”...but whether he’s speaking of Duane or Smyth’s ‘official’ US translation of the 1791 Règlement, or the London edition of 1801, well, it isn’t clear. I’d be interested to learn that. (If anyone had a photocopy of either the French or 1801 British Thiebault editions I could have, I’d appreciate that greatly.)

Anyway, Scott writes that starting in March of 1814 (after, at 27 and nine months, being promoted to ‘the long coveted rank of brigadier-general’) he got down to the business he tried the previous year:

“No time, however, was lost; the camp was formed on very eligible ground; the infantry thrown into first and second brigades - the latter under Ripley; and the service of outposts, night patrols, guards, and sentinels organized: a system of sanitary police, including kitchens, etc., laid down; rules of civility, etiquette, courtesy - the indispensable outworks of subordination - prescribed and enforced, and the tactical instruction of each arm commenced. Nothing but night or a heavy fall of snow or rain was allowed to interrupt these exercises on the ground - to the extent, in tolerable weather, of ten hours a day, for three months. As relaxation, both officers and men were thus brought to sigh for orders to beat up the enemy’s quarters; but the commander knew that such work could not be effectually done without the most laborious preparation. His own labors were heavy and incessant. Take for illustration infantry tactics; the basis of instruction for cavalary and artillery as well. As Government had provided no text book Brigadier-General Scott adopted, for the army of the Niagara, the French system, of which he had a copy in the original, and there was in camp another, in English - a bad translation. He began by forming the officers of all grades indiscriminately into squads, and personally instructed them in the schools of the solder and company. They then were allowed to instruct squads and companies of their own men - a whole field of them under the eye of the general at once, who, in passing, took successively many companies in hand, each for a time. So, too, on the formations of battalions; he instructed each an hour or two a day for many days, and afterward carefully superintended their instruction by the respective field officers. There was not an old officer in the two brigades of infantry. Still, if the new appointments had been furnished with a text book, the saving of time and labor would have been immense.

The brigadier-general’s labors were about the same in respect to lessons on subjects alluded to above, other than tactics (measures of safety to a camp, near the enemy, police, etiquette, etc.). No book of general regulations or Military Institutions, had been provided. This great want he had to supply orally and by written orders. (It will be seen that text books on all the foregoing subjects were subsequently prepared and published by the autobiographer.)

The evolutions of the line, or the harmonious movements of many battalions in one or more lines, with a reserve - on the same principle that many companies are manoeuvered together in the same battalion, and with the same ease and exactness - were next daily exhibited for the first time by an American army, adn to the great delight of the troops themselves, who now begand to perceive why they had been made to fag so long at drill of the solder, the company, and the battalion. Confidence, the dawn of victory, inspired the whole line.”

One of the things I would like to check is the pace laid out in Thiebault. The standard military pace distance for the US army during the War of 1812 is given as 24 inches. (The British was 25% greater at 30 inches...though whether it really matters is open for debate, as we’ll see.)

Yet in an interesting table collected by Raoul F. Camus of CUNY of different US pace distances has the usual 24 inch pace noted for von Steuben and Smyth, yet right at the end of the War our Scott, in his work for the US Adjutant General’s Office - Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manoeuvres of Infantry , Concord: Isaac Hill, 1817 - dictates a 28 inch pace...which then seems to be the standard through past the Civil War.

When the change? Why? At 28 inches the difference between the American and British standard pace is virtually indistinguishable; at 24 inches versus 30 inches...well, I’m not so sure.


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