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A Turner Bugler, 2004

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The Barleycorn Boys Campaigner’s Corner


by (Bvt. Sgt.) Pvt. Mike Palada

Comrades, I will spare you from my quoting the rest of that scene from that certain popular Civil War movie. However, I offer you men the following first-hand remarks on the oft-times frowned and sneered upon, mocked and detested duty of a soldier by modern living historians-that being guard duty.

“Guard Duty is the most important duty of a soldier. In time of war, the neglect on the part of the guard, or even of a sentinel, might cause the loss of an army. In time of peace, though the danger might not be great, or there might not be any danger arising from a careless manner of doing this duty, yet this carelessness in garrison might be carried out by habit into the field in time of service, and therefore the non-commissioned officers on guard should at all times strictly attend to these duties, and exact compliance on the part of the sentinels to the regulations and orders governing the guards.” Capt. Miner Knowlton, Manual for Non-commissioned Officers, Instructions and Regulations for the Militia and Volunteers of the United States, 1861, pg. 11.

Likewise, Capt. C.C. Andrews in his Hints for Company Officers on Their Military Duties, 1863, pgs. 36-37, throws in his two cents, “It is general in the service to punish men by imposing upon them extra guard duty. This, in theory, is wrong. Guard duty is the most honorable and responsible which the private soldier is required to perform. To use it as a punishment to a wrong-doer is conferring upon him credit rather than discredit; while at the same time it degrades that kind of service in the eyes of the other men. It is better to put a man on extra drill or on some police duty about the camp.”

As you have by now guessed, this installment will serve to present the basic outlines of guard duty. The need for a better knowledge of, and respectful appreciation for, this most noble service has been made aware to your humble correspondent by several officers and enlisted men of the Brigade concerned with presenting a more military atmosphere in and around camp at designated times, as well as in the light of recent and past incidents of vandalism, thievery, and malignant tomfoolery at several events both large and small, some attended by the Brigade and some not. As was the case from 1861-’65, there is still an inherent need to stand one’s post today, at modern living history encampments. By offering the basic guidelines and procedures of the lonely sentinel walking his guard, it is this writer’s hope that most, if not all, of you men will see the need for and in turn assist your officers in mounting a proper, professional, and well disciplined Guard.

Because the entire subject cannot adequately be covered herein, let us first turn to some elementary terminology. Guard refers not to an individual, but rather a group of soldiers detailed to this duty or the duty itself. Sentinels or Sentries, then, are the individuals that are detailed to the Guard. A Corporal or Sergeant of the Guard is in charge of each detachment with an Officer of the Guard or Officer of the Day overseeing the entire guard. The Countersign, in the name of a battle, is the daily password which to challenge those seeking to come into the lines. Unlike modern military practices, which give a “watchword” and then wait for a password, civil war countersigns consisted only of a password. Pickets are sentinels away from the main lines or established camps, usually directly in front of and facing a hostile enemy force.

Duties of the sentinels on guard include, but are not limited to keeping order within the camp, guarding stores of supplies, stopping deserters, preventing damage to property, be it government or public. Sentinels of the guard are also usually stationed at several other key posts, such as in front of the unit commander’s tent, the guard tent (the time-out spot for those being punished), on the color line (stacks of arms for infantry and artillery park for gunners), as well as around the perimeter and on the flanks of the camp.

Sentinels also are tasked with challenging persons after retreat (sundown to sunrise), when visibility is poor, or at any other time the guard is ordered to do so. The importance of this is not to let anyone in camp or around stores, property, weapons, etc., that have no business being there. When a sentry sees someone approach his post, he will challenge, “HALT. Who comes there?” If the response is “Friend” the sentry will then command, “Advance, friend, with the countersign.” If the party is more than one, the sentry will command only one person to advance. Also, any riders that approach will be ordered to dismount and walk their mounts, no one is allowed to ride past the sentinels into a camp. If the correct countersign is given the sentry may pass the party. If the wrong one or no countersign is given the sentry comes to the ready (bayonets are fixed) and calls out, “Corporal (or Sgt.) of the Guard, Post No. ___.” Sentinels will likewise challenge their scheduled relief or any other armed party that advances upon his post during periods that they are to challenge.

Again these are just the bare-bone basic essentials of guard duty. However, I hope that at least, with your enthusiasm and effort, the Brigade may begin to subscribe to this most honorable duty with the utmost professionalism and military decorum. The practice of guard duty is as important now as it was then, and for the same reasons. For those who’s curiosity is now peaked and are interested in learning more (and yes you will have to be drilled in the methods of Guard) consider attending the School of the Guard, which tentatively will be held at the Palmyra event, presented by Yours Truly-or contact this writer or Jason Albregts for instruction at a later time.

Questions, comments, concerns? Fan-mail, hate-mail, something you want to see in a future installment? Bend my ear around the bivouac fire, or wire me a message at TheBarleycornBoys@military.com Omnia mea mecum porto. Bully!

This article was originally published in the October 2002 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Sheila Porter, Editor.