PLEASE NOTE: If you see an error in the article below or wish to correct something, PLEASE scroll to the bottom of the article and read the caveat located there. Thank you!
Basic Marching in a Straight Line as probably messed up by Ensign Didier... but bear with me.
...and the beat goes on.
Normally, we all march to our own drum.
Wait, no we don't! We're soldiers, after all!
For all re-enacting, knowing how to march is kind of vital in terms of getting on to and getting off of the field during a reenactment or demonstration... and is not only an aesthetic thing (to look good for the crowd,) but also indeed a safety thing as one hopes (and it's usually true,) the guy barking out the orders to move around is doing so to avoid hazards or to avoid getting into a problem with another unit or even the enemy.
Allow me to give you THE most common things you'll hear barked at you when starting off on a march... and what they mean to you.
I should note I am writing in terms of British texts and notes and for 1812 events... other periods and even American drill from that time is often different and if you're falling in with any group, do make sure you check their way of marching with the line commander. This article can help you with some basics, but please check to ensure correctness.
Here's and couple of examples what you'll hear on the beginning of a march as a rule...
"Thompson's Company! By the centre! Quick! MARCH!" (at which point,your left foot starts the march.)
"Squad! By the left! At the ordinary! MARCH!" (and again, your left foot starts you off.)
So, what does all that mean?
First, you or your group - whatever that may be at the time - will be addressed by the person giving orders. This sets the parameters of who's doing what.
This is important because your group may be doing something the larger group won't be... The breakdown, as best I can figure (as I'm unable to find a proper North American breakdown from the period to match-up with what I've gleaned from my time in reenacting,) is as follows... and I expect this to be corrected at some point, but let's roll with this for now.
"Team!" is usually two men. Rare thing, but could happen!
"Squad!" is usually between 5 to 10 men. More common to hear...
"Troop!" is usually 12 men or so... but is usually a term reserved for Dragoons and specialty outfits in reenacting.
"Company!" is normally at least 20 men or so... however, our company might be smaller and when together, we would still be addressed as the company, rather than a squad or the like.
"Regiment!" is 100 men or more as a rule, but again, in 1812 reenactments, a regiment can be represented (and called as such) with far fewer.
"Battalion!" is a convergence of several regiments... usually about 400 men in all at the minimum.
After this, you get the very rare "Brigade" and/or "Division" (3 or 4 battalions as a rule,) and then "Corps" (1 or 2 divisions depending).
As we're more often representing Thompson's Company, you'll hear, "Thompson's Company!" when we're being addressed to follow an order.
Next, you'll be told who will be setting the pace, dressing, and general cadence...
Usually, it's "By the right..." meaning the right marker or man on the furthermost right corner of the line or column. Everyone will dress (make sure you're lined up properly,) and in step with this person.
Yes, you can and will hear, "By the left..." when perhaps a turn or a wheeling (group turn) maneuver has made the assigned right markers into a left marker... and you'll even hear, "By the centre..." when an officer or the colours are in the centre of the advancing line or column... these folks always get to set the pace and footing when they're in place.
Now it's all about timing...
Ordinary time or, "At the ordinary" or JUST the word "March" is a slower than normal pace at 75 steps a minute. This is kind of the standard drill march time. It can seem a touch awkward to the newbie... The reason for this timing was something referred to as "Trotter's Sickness". British military backpacks of the period (made by Trotters of London,) had chest straps that were so tight, and carried so much weight, soldiers would often get winded at a quick pace... so they experimented to find the best pace to achieve good troop movement without winding the soldiers... 75 steps per minute.
Quick time or "At the quick" or "Quick march" is a more normal (standard walking pace) of 108 steps a minute. This is the one most parades use and is a fairly easy time to march to.
Wheeling or quickest time is a speedier version of the above, most often used when a line is wheeling in one direction or another. (That's when the man on the end or the marker turns then stays put, and the rest of the line then sweeps as a line to face his direction when the order's given... like a door swinging on a hinge with the marker being the hinge.) Marching at the command of "Wheel" or "At The Quickest" followed by the obligatory "MARCH!" (as/if we know we're wheeling) is 120 steps a minute... which is like a busy or rushed walk.
The above are the standard marching times... however, although it's not in the good book (a scan of which will follow this article,) you may also be called to "Double time", or sometimes just "Double it" and occasionally the less formal "Double it up!" which mean basically at the double-quick... or gentle run/trot... about 180 steps per minute.
Next in the speedy calls is a full blown charge which is effectively a dead run with an attempt to keep your dressing. Fun, but rare,
...AND YES, the light/skirmisher companies did have the "five-and-five" quick advance option of five steps quickest (120 steps p/m) march, five steps double (180 steps p/m) and repeat... but unless you want command and especially the stitch counters to stomp a mudhole in your behind and walk it dry, save that for private and silly occasions... or for a light company drill... or if you've suddenly joined the flank companies of the 43rd, 52nd, or joined up with the 60th, 95th, Voltigeurs (Provincial Corps of Light Infantry), or bits of De Rottenburg's regiment! (See fictional view of this below...)
When doing facings (turns) and the like, we all know (right???) that the left foot STAYS PUT... however, you're about to start marching, so it's the left foot that starts your stroll... If you want to be precise, your toe should be as pointed forward as possible, (not down, forward,) and your pace should be 33 inches (about 80 centimeters for you under-thirty types!) but just make sure your shoulders match the fellow to your right who's elbow you should be just barely brushing as you march, and that if you were to put your arm up, bent at the elbow, straight up in a fist, you'd just barely touch the guy in front of you (unless you're in the open order or in the front of the line in which case... well, we'll cover that in drill!) All this done and if you're in step with all this, you're perfect...
Left... Left... Left, Right, Left...
...or more correctly in our lines and columns...
Step... Step... Step... Step... Step... (called only on the left foot.)
Here's a metronome of the different speed at which you'll march to get a notion. Every other beat would be your left foot connecting with the ground.
Listen to the beats... Left... Left... Left, Right, Left...
Quickest (Wheeling) Time:
At The Double Time (a jog):
...and here you go, Ordinary into Quick Time from the modern guard!
(Start at about 1:17 to see the transition...)
If you end up out of step, or a little lost, look around like I described above... make sure your dressing (where you're supposed to be in line or column,) is correct, glance down (with your peripheral vision if possible,) and see if you're in step OR listen to the marker call it. If indeed you're out of step, DON'T STOP... just "hop" a little... think of a VERY tame Chuck Berry-esque movement... basically...
#1: Wait until you have a good pace with your right foot back, so right foot stride out, all the way back to allow the left foot forward.
#2: When the left is now falling back and you've picked up the right foot, bring yourself -without stopping - ALMOST to a standing position... basically, in the step, when the left comes back to meet the right moving forward.
#3: When the ball of the right (near the toe) is next to the heel of the left, place the right back down, and push off with it moving the left foot forward again.
Voila! You're in step! Clear as mud, right?
Oh heck, this video, from the American ROTC set, shows it being done nearly... especially at the 15 second mark and the 30 second mark.
The "HALT!" (in case anyone's confused, the "stop marching" order,) will be called on your left foot... though it can be either. The idea is take ONE more step after the order then bring both feet together and stand at attention.
Other than all this, remember...
Unless you're the ranking person in a group, do not salute or call orders. That's up to the NCO, officer, or senior marker.
Eyes front (unless otherwise told to do something else.)
Hands at your sides, open palms towards your body... or on your weapon if ordered to do so...
...and enjoy the stroll!