Activities - Drill, Tactics, & Marksmanship


Drill & Exercise

“The regiment daily out at exercise…

-Captain John Knox, 43rd regiment

A common sight at events is that of units drilling, we are no exception.  We can be seen practicing the New Exercise of 1757, the evolutions set forth in the 1759 version of Bland’s, Wolfe’s alternate system of firing, as well as the tactics employed by light infantry and rangers.  It is our goal to continually research and work at these in order to master them.  As with any army a good performance on the field of battle depends upon good training. 

Drilling or going through their motions, target practice or “firing ball,”  “bush fighting,” and mock battles were among the more military duties of the soldier.   Alexander Moneypenny of the 55th Regiment recorded the orders given on July 28, 1758; “The Regts to be under arms for Exercise, three times a week.  Choosing their own Days, from six in the morning till eight, in the front of their own encampment, to practice their men in loading & firing quick, the Recruits & awkward men of each Regt. to be out twice a Day.”1  During the winter of 1759 John Knox wrote that his “regiment daily out at exercise….”2  In the summer of 1760 General Amherst reviewed his army to see how they performed the drill, he remarked; “I saw the 1st & 2nd Battn of Royal Highlanders, Montgomerys & Oughton’s fire two rounds by Platoons three deep, two rounds by Platoons two deep, the whole loaded with ball.”3 

The men, also practiced firing ball at targets.  Officers whose men were good marksmen had a distinct advantage in North America where fighting took place with combatants dispersed, hidden behind trees and rocks.  Henry Skinner recorded in his journal that General Amherst ordered his regimental commanders “to practice their men at firing at marks, whenever the weather permitted.”4  There are several entries in order books and journals during the 1759 campaign on Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point with orders for regiments to practice firing at marks.  At Fort Ontario in 1760, the troops had “stuffed gabions” to shoot at, “that the shot may be recovered, when ordered to be sought for.”5  A year earlier the when the Royal Highland Regiment was ordered to practice musketry, “all the shooting boards [were] to be covered with paper and a black spot made in the middle.”6  By the end of the war the British soldier was indeed a very good marksmen, General Amherst boasted; “in general all the men are so good marksmen that it requires only little practice to keep their hands in.”7  Light infantrymen were particularly expected to be good marksmen.  Lt.-Col. Roger Townshend wrote in a letter to Major Robert Rogers that the new light infantry companies “have what ammunition they want, so I don’t doubt but they will be excellent marksmen.”8  In his journal, Lieut. John Knox recorded the qualifications for light infantrymen, which included that they must be “good marksmen” and “expert at firing ball.”9

“Bush fighting” as it was called in North America was practiced quite often by the troops.  Capt. Hugh Arnot of the 80th regiment (Gage’s Light Infantry) wrote in his journal that in the spring of 1758, the army was “Exercising a new Method of fighting, forming, and marching, in the Woods.”10  One provincial officer wrote in his journal on June 25, 1758; “In the forenoon we were allarmed by the fireing of several small Arms in the Woods which was the English Light Infantry….”11  Later at the battle of Lord Howe’s Landing on July 5th, he noted how during the skirmish Gage’s men were joined by “some of the Provincials & a few of the Regulars who acted as Lt Infantry in the Army’s new Manuvers.”12  On August 24, 1758, it was ordered that; “the Regular Regts are to practice marching & forming in the Wood; also forming & charging in columns of different Depths.”13  During the 1760 campaign, troops under General Amherst “were instructed in the regular and irregular…method of fighting, and exercised in firing ball; in fine, they were trained up in every particular that prudence, with experience, could dictate, to render the troops expert in an open or covered country….”14 William Amherst, commander of a battalion of light infantry companies wrote on August 13, 1760; “I took the opportunity of laying here to practise my Corps to march and form in the woods.”15  The Reverend Thomas Barton described the maneuvers used in “bush fighting” in the journal he kept while attached to General Forbes army in Pennsylvania in 1758:

“the Troops are led to the Field as usual, & exercis’d in the Manner – Viz. – They are form’d into 4 Columns 2 Men deep, paralel to, and distant from, each other about 50 Yards:  After marching some Distance in the Position, they fall into one Rank entire forming a Line of Battle with great Ease and Expedition.  The 2 Front-Men of each Column stand fast, & the 2 Next split equally to Right & Left, & so continue alternately till the whole Line is form’d.  They are then divided into Platoons, each Platoon consisting of 20 Men, & fire 3 Rounds; the right-Hand Man of each Platoon beginning the Fire, & then the left-hand Man; & so on Right & Left alternately till the Fire ends in the Center:  Before it reaches this Place, the Right & Left are ready again.  And by This Means an incessant Fire kept up.  When they fir’d six Rounds in the Manner, they make a sham Pursuit with Shrieks & Halloos in the Indian Way….”[16]

Every once and a while  soldiers could expect to participate in mock battles to prepare for upcoming campaigns or expected attacks by the enemy.  John Knox recorded that soon after arrival in Nova Scotia they were having mock battles.  On July 17, 1757 he wrote; “Some intrenchments are erecting on the left of the camp, in order to discipline and instruct the troops, in the methods of attack and defence; and this is to be continued during our stay here….”  On July 24th he wrote; “This morning the picquets of the line, with a working party from the army marched to the left of the camp, where the intrenchments were thrown up; they were formed into distinct bodies; one half carried on approaches, while the other defended; frequently sallying out to obstruct the workmen, when the covering parties attacked, repulsed, and pursued them, making many prisoners; which afforded much mirth to a numerous crowd of spectators.”17  Five days later, he again noted the mock battles; “the troops continue every morning, for several hours, their counterfeit attacks on the trenches, and are greatly pleased with this kind of exercise.”18  Major Moneypenny recorded orders for a mock battle in preparation for a possible attack by the French after General Abercromby’s defeat at Ticonderoga in 1758.19

1 Moneypenny, Alexander. “The Moneypenny Orderly Book” The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga

   Museum Vol XII. Oct. 1970.  Fort Ticonderoga, NY.    P. 354.

2 Knox, John.   An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

   and 1760.  Vol. I.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.  P. 306.

3 Amherst, Jeffery. The Journal of Jeffery Amhesrt.  Edited by Clarence Webster.  University of Chicago Press. 

  Chicago, IL 1931.  P. 224.

4 Skinner, Henry.  “Henry Skinner Journal”  Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum  Vol. XV, No. 5. 1993.  Fort

  Ticonderoga, NY.  P. 365.

5 Knox, John.  An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

   and 1760.  Vol. II.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.    P. 535.

6 Stewart, James. Royal Highland Regiment Copy of the Order Book of Capt. James Stewart’s Coy, 1759. 

   Transcribed by John Neitz, 2001.    P. 11.

7 Brumwell, Stephen.  Redcoats.  Cambridge University Press.  NY, 2002.  Amherst to Brigadier-General Thomas Gage,

  New York, April 16, 1761.  P. 248.

8 Rogers, Robert. The Journals of Major Robert Rogers.  Dresslar Publishing, Bargarsville, IN 1997.  P. 135.

9 Knox. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

   and 1760.  Vol. I.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.  P. 207.

10 Arnot, Hugh.  “Hugh Arnot Journal”  Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.  Vol. XVI, No. 1. 1998.  Fort

  Ticonderoga, NY.  P.  32.

11 Cobb, Samuel.  “The Journal of Captain Samuel Cobb, May 21, -Oct. 29, 1758.”  Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum Vol. XIV, No. 1, Summer 1981.  Fort Ticonderoga, NY.  P. 17.

12 Arnot.  P. 38.

13 Moneypenny. “The Moneypenny Orderly Book” The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga

   Museum Vol XIII No. 1 Dec. 1970.  Fort Ticonderoga, NY.  P. 95.

14 Knox.  Vol. II.  P. 529.

15Amherst, William. The Recapture of St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1762, As Described in the Journal of Lieut.-

  Colonel William Amherst, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force.  Edited by John Clarence

  Webster.  Privately published: 1928.  P. 63.

17 Ibid.  P. 38.

18 Idem.  P.39

19 Moneypenny. “The Moneypenny Orderly Book” The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga

   Museum Vol XII. Oct. 1970.  P. 460.

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