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The Maneuver and Conduct of Marine Units Ashore
For the re-enactor

By Bruce Cates

In contrast to commonly held opinions, Naval re-enacting really is quite different from Army re-enacting. The long-standing and closely held traditions of naval service create a truly different environment and routine. So much so that a Marine of her Majesty’s service of the period would have much more in common with a U.S. or C.S. Marine than they would a soldier of their respective Armies. Their individual skills, experience and even their daily language was quite apart from their Army cousins.

I am frequently asked what a new, prospective Marine re-enactor should study to prepare themselves for their impressions. I would answer this by saying that All Marine re-enactors, new or the old hands, should concentrate upon: 1) the school of the soldier, making the appropriate adaptations for Marine use; 2) the instructions for skirmishers; 3) the naval version of guard mount; 4) artillery drill and hopefully certification; 5) ship board functions such as repel boarders, boat drill, etc. Additionally, for the Senior NCO or Officer of Marines, a solid understanding of the school of the Company and the applications of it’s evolutions to a skirmish line and a solid concentration on the appearance and crispness of troops, needs be added to the list.

For the senior NCO or Officer of Marines, there are several distinct differences in the manner in which Marines were deployed in the field from that of their Army counterparts. With two notable exceptions, Marines were normally deployed in combat, in line of skirmishers and maneuvered the line in much the same way the Army would maneuver a Company, rather than a traditional company formation. In both of these exceptions, first Manassas and Fort Fisher, the deployment as a company was nearly disastrous for the Marines involved. In the latter, the Marines quickly returned to a deployment by lines of skirmishers.

There are several sound and functional reasons for this type of deployment. This approach took better advantage of the individual skills of the Marine marksman and compensated greatly for the effects of massed fire from the enemy. Additionally, Marines were seldom concentrated in unit sizes of company strength. Their normal application as ship board and station detachments frequently precluded adequate numbers to form a company size force. Unlike the majority of their Army counterparts Marine Officers were not quite as indoctrinated in Napolinic tactics. For many of the same reasons that Berdan resisted deploying his Sharpshooters in a Company formation, Marine officers employed the skirmish line as their preferred combat formation. They were also vividly aware of the range and accuracy of the rifled musket.

After all, Marksmanship was the bread and butter of the individual Marine’s function. To understand this you need only once, climb to the tops of a sailing ship underway. The gentle pitch and yaw felt upon the deck is translated to an almost violent movement in the tops. Add this to the fact that your target is moving in an equally violent fashion and never in the same direction at the same time. The skill of the marksman and the accuracy of his weapon is a difficult point to miss.

This is not to suggest that Marines never maneuvered in Company formation. In barracks, at drill, in transit, or on parade, where sufficient numbers were present, they quite clearly maneuvered in accordance with the school of the Company. However, combat presented a whole different set of requirements. Their areas of concentration and in fact expertise, were small unit tactics, deployment as line of skirmishers, artillery, and shipboard functions such as repel boarders, and the inverse as boarding parties. For this reason, the senior NCO or Officer of Marines would have little more than an introductory understanding of the school of the battalion or Regiment.

It is for this reason that the re-enactor serving as senior NCO or Officer of Marines needs to concentrate his study on the School of the soldier and particularly the proper methods of deploying a skirmish line. Though Casey’s and Hardee’s manuals were used by U.S. and C.S. Marines respectively, they too were adapted to the practical needs of the environment. For example; try to "T" you feet on the deck of a ship in the same manner you would on land. It will last for about thirty seconds before you’re sitting on your cheeks. The proper "T" stance for a Marine is with the feet twelve to sixteen inches apart with the right foot to the rear of and perpendicular to the left foot, with the right heel directly in line with the heel of the left foot, knees slightly bent. There are several other examples of functional differences in the application of the manuals, which include the proper position for "in place, rest", the frequent use of arms port as a position in the manual of arms, etc.

With the long-standing traditions of strict shipboard discipline of the naval services, both U.S and C.S. Marines would have concentrated upon their appearance and the condition of their equipment much more than their Army counterpart. With the exception of an instance in which the C.S. Marines were making a point to their Army suppliers, who had equipped them with obsolete and barely serviceable arms, the weapons and accoutrements of the Marine would be in good repair and well tended. This is as true for C.S. Marines as it is for their Federal counterparts because they were supplied by the central government as a regular force. As such, they did not suffer quite to the extent, as did the state forces, as a result of the blockade.

The United States Naval Library, Naval Institute, and the Naval Academy’s library are all good sources for all your research works. All three may be accessed on-line or through your local library.

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