ARTICLE I. Of Advanced Guards
When the whole of an army, or a part of it, is on the march, the guards in front and rear, as well as the flank patroles, are furnished by the light troops. They are intended also, for the most part, to form the advanced guards. When the army is arrived at the ground of encampment, the guard in front divides itself into several parties, so extended as to cover the whole front of the camp, whilst the infantry are employed in pitching tents and posting sentries. The same precautions are to be observed by the rear guard and flank patroles. Whilst the army is thus employed, it is the peculiar business of the light troops that are advanced to send forward patroles to search and scour minutely all the woods, copses, ravines, or defiles that may be in their front, and it may be, occupied by the enemy, who taking advantage of the army's being employed in arranging their camp, might fall upon it, and throw it into confusion. When all this business is finished, and the camp properly settled, the major-general of the day, or some other commanding officer, arrives, places the guards, and appoints to every officer his proper post.
All the advanced posts should be so contrived, that the piquets be placed on elevated situations and concealed by trees: the main body of the guard should be posted seven, eight, or nine hundred paces in the rear of the piquets, either in some small wood or behind houses, to prevent being seen, and their force discovered by the enemy, but the advanced guards should never allow the piquets to be out of their sight.
When the officer has taken possession of his post, and the advanced guards are properly placed, if he be a stranger tot he country, he must procure a man from some neighboring house or village, and question him (whilst he carefully examines his map of the country) concerning the names of the surrounding villages, if there be in the neighborhood any defiles, swamps, ravines, or other necessary objects of his attention: he must also carefully observe all the roads and bye-paths that are in his front, enquiring particularly whither they lead, if passable by cannon, and if the enemy can advance to his post by any indirect approach. He must get himself informed of all these particulars as minutely as possible, that he may be qualified to give satisfactory answers if called upon, be able to take proper measures if occasion present, and give particular instructions to his patroles who are to march in front.
When he is perfectly acquainted with these circumstances, he must repair to his vedettes, who should always be double on each post, and assign to each his particular charge, on what part of the neighborhood he is continually to have his eye, especially on the ravines, causeways, or villages.
These dispositions having taken place, and the posts sufficiently instructed, if there be time, the officer may allow the advanced guard to dismount and feed their horses. But if his post be not perfectly secure, one half of the detachment must remain saddled and bridled till the other half are fed and mounted. No feeding or dismounting is to be allowed at night, as that is supposed to have taken place just before dark; so that during the night the horses may be saddled and bridled, and at least one half mounted, to be prepared for any accident that may happen.
If the main body of the advanced guard should be placed near a village, the commanding officer may send a man or two to the top of the steeple, or of some high house, that he may be able to discover the enemy, and by discharging a pistol, give notice of their approach.
When the general of the camp comes near the advanced guard, they are to mount and advance their carbines; but if the body of the guard be so situate as to be entirely discernible by the enemy, it will not be advisable to mount, as the enemy will thereby be informed of the presence of the general or some superior officer, who may, in consequence, be disturbed in the visiting of his posts. If any detachment passes in front of an advanced guard, the guard also mount and advance their carbines.
The officer must scrupulously examine all persons who come towards his post from without, of whatever degree, whether peasants or travellers; enquiring whence they come, whither they are agoing, what their business in camp or elsewhere, or if they have any knowledge of the enemy or their situation; after which he will either suffer them to pass on, or send them back, agreeably to the orders he has received. He must conduct himself in the same manner towards the people who bring provisions into the camp, and, if he be forbidden to suffer them to pass, send them back in a civil manner, doing every thing in his power to conciliate the affections of the inhabitants, as by this means he may often gain information very material to the army.
The officer must visit his vedettes both by night and day, enquiring of them what their duty is on that post, and what they have observed there, to convince himself that they are properly acquainted with their charge. He should also be provided with a good spy-glass, to enable him to reconnoitre the environs of his post. During the night, his posts are to be visited hourly by a non-commissioned officer, and once by himself, to keep his people waking and alert.
If an advanced guard be placed so near the enemy as to be able to discover all their movements, much attention is required to discern if any number of troops arrive, what they are, if they again quit the camp, and what route they take. Troops are often detached from the enemy's camp, especially from the second or third line, without striking tents, the better to conceal their march.
It is for this reason, that an officer commanding an advanced guard is required to be particularly attentive, to be provided with a very good glass, and when such event takes place, to report it immediately to the general commanding. This precaution is more particularly necessary at day-break, that he may be assured whether the enemy's camp retain it's old position, or if any change has taken place in the night.
By night it is easy to discover if troops enter or leave the camp, by the noise that is made: their arrival will be known by the clashing of fire-arms, the voices of the waggoners and artillery drivers, the cracking of whips, and the neighing of horses. If there be any cavalry amongst them, it will also be manifested by the driving in of piquet-posts, and the lighting of fires. In this case the officer should be constantly in front, perfectly quiet, and observing all that passes. But if the army or a part of it decamp during the night, it will be discovered, in addition to the foregoing circumstances, by the gradual decrease of noise, and lessening brightness of the fires. To this last circumstance, however, it is not always prudent to trust, as the fires are often kept up by the light troops after the army has decamped.
When the army moves by day, the advanced guards should mount at the moment that the drums beat to march, watching the enemy, and moving forward as soon as their posts are fallen back, and have formed (as they generally do) the rear guard. The moment of departure for the advanced guards is at all times to be ordered by the general commanding. On these occasions no particular movement is to be made before the time, but they are to remain in their former position till the moment of departure, for by repeated movements, or too much hurry in mounting, the enemy may conceive that the army is retreating, and send immediately some troops in it's pursuit. It is not even necessary that the private soldier should be informed of what is going forward; for which reason an officer or non-commissioned officer must be sent round in proper time to relieve at once all the detached posts and vedettes.
As soon as the vedettes perceive the approach of an enemy's party, they are to fire; he that has fired is then to hasten instantly to the advanced guard, and report what he has seen; the guard ready and concealed, will remain on it's post, sending forward a non-commissioned officer with a few men to reconnoitre the force of the enemy, and then reporting immediately to the general commanding all that has passed, that he may make his dispositions accordingly, and reinforce the advanced guard if necessary.
It often happens that the generals of the enemy approach the advanced guard under an escort, in order to dislodge the vedettes from their heights, that they may gain possession of them, and reconnoitre our camp. As soon as the officer commanding shall be informed of this by his vedettes, he must betake himself to the spot, and if he see several people approaching the height under an escort, send the intelligence instantly to the general officer under whose orders he acts, exerting himself to the utmost of his power in defense of the height, that the enemy may not become possessed of it and discover the situation of our camp.
When a trumpeter from the enemy's camp, either alone or accompanied by an officer, comes toward a vedette and sounds a parley, one of the vedettes must advance towards him and conduct him to his post, placing him with his face towards the country from whence he came, to prevent his discovering any thing in our camp to our disadvantage: a vedette is then to repair to the officer commanding the advanced guard, and to report him, who will immediately go himself or send a non-commissioned officer to blind his eyes and conduct him to his post. He is then to enquire of him the object of his visit, report it to the general, and obtain his leave to conduct him to the camp. The same ceremonies are to be observed with respect to deserters from the enemy, who are to have their arms taken from them at the advanced guard, and be conducted to the general commanding under a proper escort. This circumstance happening at night furnishes an additional reason for attending particularly to these cautions.
When an advanced guard is placed with a deep ditch, river, or brook in it's front, the officer commanding the post is to survey the whole length of his district, to discover if there be any bridges or fords which render the passage easy; if so, he will place his vedettes in such a manner as to prevent the enemy from taking advantage of such circumstances to fall upon him. In this case, the vedettes are not to be drawn in at night, as they generally are, but to remain constantly on their posts. The bridge should be stripped, and the planks laid by, in readiness to be replaced if any detachments or patroles should have occasion to pass. During the night, small patroles should be pushed the whole extent of the ditches or rivulets, marching with great caution and circumspection, and if the bank be much covered with brambles, stopping frequently and listening to find if there be any rustling amongst them, as a company of infantry might easily lie there concealed and annoy the patroles.
It is to be observed as a general rule, that the vedettes are on no account whatever to be placed out of sight of each other.
Towards the close of the evening, the officer commanding the advanced guard must report by a non-commissioned officer all that he has observed at his post, and also all that he has learnt from the peasants or his patroles: to be correct in this, he would do right to commit to paper the occurrences of the day, and, if necessary, make his report in writing. At the same time he will learn the parole and countersign. The countersign is to be given to each vedette the moment he is posted, which will take place every hour, or every two hours, according to the season and the weather. Neither the parole, or any order of material import, is to be imparted by the officer to any person whatever.
When the darkness of the night prevents a distant view, and especially in the vicinity of the enemy's posts, the officer must fall back with his detachment two or three hundred paces; the vedettes also must do the same, still preserving a convenient distance.
When the night is perfectly obscure, the horses are not to be allowed to feed, or even to be unbridled. If occasion require, or if from contiguity of situation, a surprise be to be feared, the detachment should remain mounted the whole night. If there be no danger, a part may dismount, and if the season require, and circumstances allow, a little fire may be kindled, provided it be in a hollow place, and not easily to be discovered. On the least alarm, the fire is to be extinguished, to effect which, earth or sand may be used for want of water; otherwise it would serve as a guide to the enemy, and prove an annoyance to the post.
The officer commanding an advanced guard should be particularly attentive tot he keeping his people waking and alert, not allowing them on any account whatever to sleep, or fasten their horses, but hold them by the end of the halter, with the reigns the bit and bridle on the saddle, that at the first signal, they may be in readiness to mount.
Small patrols, according to the strength of the guard, are to be sent in front of the vedettes every hour, or oftener, if necessary, who will advance two hundred paces beyond the vedettes and traverse their whole front, halting frequently to discover if there be any noise or footstep near; if it be the case, one of the patrole is to return immediately with the report to the advanced guard, whilst the remainder place themselves as near the noise as possible, to discover the cause: if it prove to proceed from a party of the enemy, the patrole will fire and fall back quickly, under cover of the night, on the grand guard.
Whenever the vedettes hear any noise by night one of them should advance four or five hundred paces, challenge and demand the countersign, and if he receives no answer, he should fire and fall back quickly.
When troops detached from camp approach the vedettes, they are not to be allowed to come within the line, even though they be provided with the countersign: the commanding officer of the advanced guard must order the officer of the detachment to come forward in charge of a non-commissioned officer and two men, and question him minutely, (unless he happen to know him personally,) making him remain with the him whilst his detachment files off towards the camp; as soon as the detachment has passed the post, the officer may be permitted to follow. But if it happen that the detachment has been many days absent from camp, and consequently ignorant of the countersign, it behoves the officer commanding the advanced guard to redouble his care and diligence in making the most scrupulous examination, and if he find no reason to the contrary, he may suffer the detachment to file off one by one, in front of his guard.
If an advanced guard should not be able, for want of sufficient strength, to extend properly it's vedettes, particularly if the country be hilly or intersected with many little vallies or defiles, or the night should be dark and gloomy, the vedettes must visit each other alternately from left to right, taking care that one be always fixed on his post, that nothing may pass unobserved in the hollow ways: on these occasions, the patroles should also be on the march, and the advanced guard constantly in motion.
It frequently happens, that a general wishing to reconnoitre the enemy, takes the officer of the advanced guard with him in front of his post, as a protection: in this case, the officer, leaving his vedettes on their posts, must form with the remainder of his party a guard in front of the general, and patroles on his flanks, to cover him and his suite: if the general proceed the whole length of the line, the officer must keep himself four or five hundred paces towards the enemy on the general's flank, in such a manner that he may be always covered: besides this, he may detach a part of his troop towards the enemy, who marching by the general, one by one at a certain distances, with their eyes constantly looking towards the enemy, will prevent any thing from approaching to the annoyance of the general whilst making his discoveries. When the general is returned to camp, and safe within the line, the officer may return to his post.
When an officer commanding an advanced guard has reason to expect an attack by night, he must give such instructions to his vedettes and non-commissioned officers that are detached, that if the accident should arrive, they may not fall back immediately on his post, but a little to one side of it. The advantage arising from this caution will be, that the enemy, though superior in numbers, will not have it in their power to fall on the main body with the whole front of their party, or even attack them on the flank or in the rear, and put them to route by favor of the night. In these circumstances, the advanced guard, are to keep up a constant firing, and to retire very slowly, skirmishing as they go, to allow time for the troops who are ordered to their support to arrive, and that the army may have proper notice of the enemy's approach.
If any man of the advanced guard should desert during the night, the officer must immediately change the countersign, and send it to the piquets and vedettes, lest the enemy, profiting by such intelligence, might present themselves as friends, and surprise the detachment. the same rule should also be observed on any desertion whatever. It is likewise very material, that he change the position of his troop, lest the deserter may conduct the enemy immediately upon him.
It often happens during the night, that the army decamps very quietly, either on an expedition or from some other motive, leaving their advanced guards on their post till daybreak, to conceal their intentions from the enemy: in this case the greatest circumspection is required, that no patrole of the enemy approach and discover it's being marched. To effect this, the whole of the guard should be mounted, and small patroles be constantly moving four or five hundred paces in front of the vedettes, to hinder their approach. But if at day-break, the enemy should discover what has happened, the officer must draw in his posts insensibly, and betake himself to the station assigned him, leaving a non-commissioned officer as a rear guard to cover him in the same manner that he covers the army.
His eyes should nevertheless be often turned behind him, to discover if the enemy follow, in what force, and what troops they are, which circumstances he is to report to the officer commanding the rear guard. It happens too often, that on quitting their ground, the soldiers, servants, women, or other followers of the camp, set fire to the huts, discovering by such practice the march of the army. The greatest attention and most positive orders must be enjoined to prevent such accidents.
If an advanced guard be placed in a very hilly country, it is not enough that it is covered in front of the enemy, but the officer must also visit during the day all the neighborhood, to select proper situations in the low places and copses for night-posts, where he may be safe from being surprised or surrounded: the patroles also should visit during the night every situation where there is any kind of danger.
When an officer, placed in a country with which he is unacquainted, receives orders during the night to change the position of his guard, he is not to do it instantly without care or caution, but first have recourse to his map by a light procured from an adjacent house, or some other means, and examine particularly the neighborhood to which he is about to remove. The situation of his main guard, his vedettes, and the route his patroles are to take, should be particularly clear and manifest to him. He should endeavor to lay hold of some countryman, learn from him all necessary circumstances, be conducted by him to the ground which he has observed on his map, and then post his vedettes according to the plan that he has formed.
Finding himself in a strange country, and particularly if there be an enemy in the neighborhood, he must keep his party mounted all night, constantly sending out patroles.
At day-break, when he is able to look about him, the little errors and mistakes which took place owing to the darkness of the night, may be rectified. The safety and security of an entire army often depends on the vigilance and intelligence of an officer commanding an out-post or detachment. He ought consequently to pay the most particular attention to the exact execution of his duty, as the least negligence on his part may be productive of the most disastrous consequences, both to himself and the whole army. Supposing, indeed, that he should be attacked by a force greatly superior to his own, it is his duty to maintain his post as long as possible, and if forced at length to retire, it should be done coolly, skirmishing and keeping up a constant fire, that the body of the army which he covers may have time to take up a good position, and be well prepared to receive the enemy.
It is a general custom for the new guard to advance at day-break within five or six hundred paces of the old guard, to support it in case of an attack, which often happens at that period. If all be quiet, the new guard advances, and salutes at the distance of five hundred paces, taking ground to the left. The officer commanding the old guard gives the word to mount, and to salute, as soon as he sees the new guard arrive. The two officers then meet each other, and the relieving officer learns from the retiring one all the necessary particulars. The officer of the new guard chuses and appoints the men that are necessary as vedettes, and followed by a non-commissioned officer, learns from the officer of the old guard the situation of the posts.
A non-commissioned officer should attend him, that he may be informed how to place and to relieve the posts. This business being settled, every particular communicated, and all the patroles of the old guard called in, it files off, and at the distance of one hundred paces, recovers arms; the new guard immediately comes also to the recover. The one officer conducts his party in good order to the regiment, and presents himself to the general commanding, whilst the other takes possession of the spot occupied by the old guard, and orders his people to dismount.