Notes On The Usages Of General Guides, Markers And The Colors In Setting Alignments And Direction

It is necessary to first ensure that the differences and uses between general guides and markers is understood. The right and left general guides and the colors are used to define the flanks and center of a battalion by providing easily visible reference points (the guidons and colors). The guidons usually have distinctive markings to prevent confusion between each battalion. The general guides are chosen from the sergeants of the battalion in part for their ability to maintain their step and direction of march. Markers are two or more soldiers usually from the battalion pioneers (engineers) detailed to stand where ever placed to set the initial alignment of the battalion零 formation or to indicate the direction of march or turning points for a column in march.

Frequently in reenacting the general guides are used interchangeably with the markers. While not wholly incorrect, the practice being allowed in the manuals, it was also recommended not to mix the duties of the two because of the importance of having the general guides readily available should the battalion need to form in line. The normal positions of the general guides when the battalion is formed for parade are directly behind the covering sergeants on each flank (the second sergeant of the left company and the first sergeant of the right company) on the line of file closers. The markers, being drawn from the ranks of the pioneers, would be with the pioneers unless or until placed otherwise.

When the battalion moves forward in line, the general guides move six paces directly in front of their respective covering sergeants and in line with the colors. This provides the company officers and non-commissioned officers with a well defined line to help prevent bowing as well as the proper direction of march and the boundaries of the battalion零 front to prevent drifting off to the left and right.

The color guard itself can consist of either nine or six soldiers and carry one or two colors. When carrying two colors, the colors usually are a national flag and a regimental flag. A color guard of nine men with two colors would have the two color bearers in the front rank with a guard between them, the national colors on the right and the regimental color on the left. The second rank of the color guard would be three soldiers as would the third or rear rank. The rear rank would be on the same line as the file closers. The six man, two rank color guard became more predominant as the war went on due to attrition in the ranks. When only carrying one color, the front rank has two guards flanking the color bearer. All men in the color guard have a minimum rank of corporal with the color bearer usually being a sergeant. The color guard counts off with and follow the same orders given to the color company except for firing orders. When the color company is given the order to fire, the color guard takes one step to the rear as a unit, remaining there, reserving their fire, until the cease-fire is given. At that point, they resume their proper position in the ranks. The color guard does not fire unless the colors are being threatened with capture.

When forming the battalion the color guard, general guides and detailed markers (if any) are to be posted on the chosen line first. The colors generally are to remain cased until otherwise ordered. When posting the companies on line, the color company (the first company on the immediate right of the color guard) is posted first. The second sergeant of the color company posts on the left side of the rearmost rank of the color guard on the line of file closers. The next company to post on line is the company to the immediate left of the color guard. This alternate wing posting continues until all companies are on line.

When the battalion in ordered to advance, the color bearer(s) and the front rank guard(s) step six paces in advance of the battalion as do the general guides. The second and third ranks of the color guard take one step forward, filling in the gap in the ranks. This is to prevent the line from collapsing inward and blocking the passage of the color bearer(s) and guard(s) back into ranks as necessary.

These notes were drawn from Gilham零 Manual of Instruction For The Volunteer And Militia, Casey零 Infantry Tactics, volume two, Hardee零 Rifle And Light Infantry Tactics, volume two and Kautz零 Customs Of Service For The Non-Commissioned Officer And Soldier. Those who would like to obtain a more involved understanding of these matters would be well advised to purchase and study these manuals.

By Patrick Fallon
2nd Virginia