By Patrick Fallon
Although a battalion derives both its basis of alignment and direction of march from the right and left general guides and the colors and its guard this does not eliminate or diminish the necessity of the individual company corporals and sergeants to control and maintain their particular company alignment and guidance when participating in the battalion’s general direction of march. Every company’s sergeants and corporals must continue to work at controlling the tendencies to drift away from or to crowd in towards the center of the line just as they would when marching in line as a lone company even though they are within a battalion.
The two main mistakes which upset the alignment of the battalion when moving forward in line of battle are drifting away from the center and crowding in toward the center. The problem of drifting away from the center is usually most pronounced in those companies on the ends of the lines, especially those who are in contact with he flanking company of the next battalion. The flanking battalion heads in a direction away from your battalion’s line of march and in an attempt to maintain the juncture of the two battalions, that company mistakenly guides on their neighbor’s movement instead of following their own battalion guides and colors. Crowding the center comes from a misinterpretation of how to properly align within your own company. The misunderstanding rises from attempting to maintain their line with too firm of a contact between the soldiers in each rank. You should strive for a gentle touch of the elbows to maintain that contact without developing any real pressure. If you start pushing at all you have already lost your proper alignment.
There is also a tendency to mistake guiding on with guiding towards. To guide on means to maintain a position and direction relative to a point. To guide towards means to make that point your destination. Learning how to properly gauge the speed, distance and direction necessary to keep your positions in alignment is not impossible, it just takes practice.
The building blocks for all of this are 1), to teach the company to maintain its alignment; 2), to teach the sergeants and corporals how to control and direct that alignment and line of march both within the company and within the framework of the battalion; and 3), to learn how to use the general guides and colors to guide the battalion’s alignment and direction of march. The sergeants and the company officers have to learn how to trust in the judgment and guidance of the battalion officers and general guides to continually correct the whole battalion¹s alignment and direction. Only the officer commanding the battalion can change the direction of the color guard when the battalion is moving in line. Once the officer leading the battalion has given the Color Sergeant the line he wants followed that remains the direction the colors will head towards. If the battalion starts to drift from the rest of the brigade or to crowd onto them it is up to the battalion officers to correct that by giving the general guides and colors a different line of march to bring things back to their proper distances.
Again, the key elements to all of this are the proper instruction of the companies and their corporals and sergeants in maintaining their alignment, learning how to use the general guides and colors as points of reference to maintain the battalion’s alignment and direction and learning how to listen to and follow the instructions of the battalion officers.
I would like to acknowledge the excellent body of work Dom Dal Bello has created regarding the formation of battalions and their evolutions and of course the original masters, Messer’s Scott, Casey, Gilham and Hardee for helping me to arrive at a basis for these observations.