article will hopefully clarify the question of whether the frontier
militia units of the Old Northwest in 1812 carried their arms on the
left or the right shoulder. Note: The author wishes to make clear
that he is talking in this article about militia in Ohio, in 1812 only,
and that the use of drill manuals may have been different elsewhere and
in the later years of the war.
A document usually referred to as Duane's Handbook for Riflemen
was published by the politically influential Philadelphia newspaperman
William Duane beginning ca. 1812 with the first of three editions. The
first edition was apparently fraught with errors as noted extensively in
the 2nd edition of 1813. Should Duane's handbook be used for
modern-day reenactment units in the Old Northwest? Probably not, for
the reasons set out below.
The Controversial William Duane--friend to Jefferson
was a man of very checkered background. He was disinherited by his
mother when he married a Protestant woman while engaged in learning the
printing trade during a stay in Ireland. He subsequently moved to India
where he prospered with a newspaper published in Calcutta. He was
politically active and incurred the wrath of the British, was arrested
and deported, and his property seized. He returned briefly to England
in an unsuccessful attempt to undo the penalties levied against him and
then emigrated to Philadelphia working as the editor of a newspaper
called the Aurora
. He became heavily involved in the election of Thomas Jefferson, for whom he remained a staunch supporter and political crony.
the Jefferson's election to the presidency, Duane moved to Washington,
D.C., in expectation, fruitless as it turned out, of gaining profitable
government contracts for printing and stationery. In the meanwhile, he
became an outspoken enemy of Madison and Monroe and in recognition of
his support Jefferson awarded him the rank of lieutenant colonel of
Rifles in July 1808 and thereafter tried to raise public subscriptions
to get Duane out of debt.
served as Adjutant General of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. The
post of adjutant general is one in which the incumbent's primary
responsibility is the maintenance of personnel records. It is a post
that neither confers the rank of general nor has any line (combat)
his career, Duane wrote several books that have been described as of
"indifferent merit," including his Handbook for Riflemen (1813). In
this work, he mandated that rifled muskets must be carried on the right
in the position called "advance arms." Anyone who has ever carried a
rifled or smoothbore musket of 1812 vintage in this position for more
than ten minutes knows that it is very uncomfortable. Mercifully, Duane
did allow that carrying the rifle on the left shoulder in the manner of
the infantry was permissible when the rifleman became too fatigued to
carry it at advance arms or trail arms. In another concession to
ergonomics and established drill, Duane noted that when exercising with
infantry the riflemen should load from cartridges, not powder horns (as
he otherwise mandated).
Duane's Handbook for Riflemen
is an amazing document when one considers Duane's lack of military experience. Parts read very much like von Steuben's Blue Book
(the standard manual for training used during the American Revolution),
but other parts reveal a total ignorance of the physics of smoothbore
versus rifled muskets, and some of the book reads in the manner of a War
College course on the conduct of troops in various tactical or
strategic threat situations! Quite obviously, much of this publication
is abstracted from other sources. In one astounding section, Duane
asserted that the rifleman was never to carry his weapon unloaded. In
this writer's opinion, Duane probably did not write most of this book
but assigned the job to some subordinate officer who was overcome by the
power and fragrance of Duane's political connections and who put
together a hodgepodge that satisfied Duane. The copies of the book
printed for Duane in Philadelphia and carry no endorsement from any arm
of the military or government.
only rifle regiment in which Duane could have served in the period ca.
1808 was the 1st U.S. Rifle Regiment. The 1st U.S. Rifles was
established by an Act of Congress in April 1808. It was commanded by
Alexander Smyth from 1808 until 1812, and Smyth wrote a rifle manual
during this period in command. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th U.S. Rifle
regiments were not established until 1814 and all were disbanded in 1821
(per Heitman). This apparent lack of faith in rifle troops probably
reflects the fact that in 1821 the Army was commencing a wholesale
conversion to percussion lock weapons around that time and the Congress
was busy gutting the army. The Springfield Armory, for example, did not
start production of rifled muskets until 1847. Gardner does not list
Duane as having been in command at that time or at any time up to 1821.
The Dictionary of American Biography
identifies him as second in command of "the United States Regiment of Riflemen" during the period 1808-1810.
Winfield Scott's Manual
standardized manual published by the War Department immediately after
the war was created by Major General Winfield Scott, and was originally
written and used in training by Scott during the War of 1812. It was
entitled Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manoeuvers of
the Infantry, compiled and adapted to the organization of the Army of
the United States, agreeably to a resolve of the Congress.
Scott was no inexperienced armchair soldier or political toady. Many
military historians call him the greatest American battlefield general
of all time. He served with distinction for five decades from the War of
1812, notably at the Battle of Chippewa (where his well drilled brigade
caused the British commander to exclaim "Those are Regulars, by God!")
and in the Niagara campaigns and is probably the only field grade
officer ever personally to lead a bayonet charge. He was therefore
highly respected by his colleagues as well as by those at the highest
levels of power in the country. He was a diplomat trusted by the many
presidents he served and was a hardened veteran combat commander. He
served brilliantly in the Mexican War (1846-47) making an amphibious
attack on Veracruz and in leading his small and vastly outnumbered army
in an assault on Mexico City in what has been called the most
astonishing feat of arms in military history.
to Johnson, Scott himself did not like Duane's handbook, characterizing
it as being "radically defective" and the basis of Scott's own training
manual in 1813 was Alexander Smyth's abridgement of the 1791 French
manual Reglement (Regulation). Since Smyth's manual of arms calls for
rifle troops to carry the firelock at support arms when on parade or
advancing in a gun or skirmish line it is clear that the weapons would
have been ordinarily carried at (left) shoulder arms.
postwar work apparently superseded Duane's and around 1815 it was
adopted as the standard of discipline in the U.S. Army. Several of the
state legislatures adopted the Exercises prescribed in this work and
directed their use by the militia.
militia commanders complained that Scott's work, usually called Gen.
Scott's Infantry Exercise was unnecessarily complex for their use as
well as being too expensive. In order to make the material more
accessible and affordable, a gentleman by the name of Paracletes Potter
was selected and given the task of abstracting an abridged and
simplified version for the instruction of militiamen in their ordinary
Potter's Abridgement of Scott's Handbook
2nd edition of this version of Scott's work is titled The Infantry
Exercise of the United States Army Abridged for the use of the United
States Militia (notice the similarity in title to the parent document).
of Potter's abridged version was approved by the Vice President of the
United States and was immediately favorably reviewed by Major General
Tallmadge of the New York militia and approved by the Governor of New
York as well as by the Adjutant General of Connecticut. Thousands of
copies of this book were printed and even today original copies of it
are not uncommon on the rare book market.
have stated unequivocally that whatever rules of discipline and
instruction were used by the regulars were certainly used by the militia
simultaneously. In this context it is interesting to note that Lewis
points out that the first government contract of rifles specifically
destined for the use of the various state militia was not issued until
1814. Add to this the fact that General Scott saw fit to commission a
special edition of his Exercises specifically for the militia and the
thoughtful reader will conclude that whatever was being imposed from on
high took a considerable period to trickle down to the level of the
state militia. How long it took to percolate to the level of
frontiersmen in volunteer rifle militia units is surely a matter of
Drill and Regulations in the Old Northwest
the early stage of the war, the only regular rifle regiment in action
was the 1st (Regiment of Riflemen) which was garrisoned at Sackets
Harbor, New York. The 1st did not see action until September 21, 1812
under the leadership of Captain Benjamin Forsyth in an attack against
the British outpost at Ganoque on the St. Lawrence River. By this time
in autumn 1812, most Ohio volunteer militiamen were on their way
homeward with their six-month enlistments expired. Throughout the war,
the 1st's area of operations was along the New York frontier, not in the
view of these facts, it is clear that there was no impetus whatsoever,
owing to the presence of regular troops, to encourage or compel the use
of Duane's drill among the frontier volunteer militia in the Old
Northwest. At this time in the course of the war most officers were
either using von Steuben's Blue Book, Smyth's abridgement of Le
Reglement, Duane's Handbook (where he had the power to compel it) and
incorporating ideas from the articles on the Napoleonic campaigns
appearing in the National Intelligencer. Indeed, the United States
Military Academy has provided the author with the drill for rendering
the saber salute in the 1812 period and it is taken directly from the
the issue of on which shoulder the firelock was to be carried by militia
in the immediate post-war era it is only necessary to consult Part II
of the abridged work of Potter, page 21, on which the following is
"The men being assembled on the parade ground at ordered arms, the first sergeant will give these words of command:
2. Shoulder -- Arms.
One word and two motions
Raise the firelock with the right hand to the left shoulder, placing the left hand under the butt.
Let the right hand fall to the right side."
position of the soldier at left shoulder arms is illustrated in Plate
III. Fig 1 & 2 in the Appendix. It is interesting to note that the
soldier used in this illustration wears a uniform similar to that worn
by the 1st US Light Infantry.
the foregoing it is seen that the conduct of a reenactment unit
representing an 1812 rifle company in 1812 would be authentic in
carrying the firelock on the left shoulder and to conduct all manual of
arms drill in accordance with von Steuben, as mandated by Ohio law, and
to load from paper cartridges. This practice is reinforced by the fact
that, for safety reasons, most contemporary reenactment event organizers
commonly discourage the use of powder horns in tactical engagements.
close order drills would be conducted with von Steuben as was also
mandated by the Ohio Militia Law of the period. In cases in which von
Steuben is silent on a given matter of drill, it would be reasonable to
consult Smyth's version of Le Reglement in order to compare and contrast
it with von Steuben and to be prepared to drill with regular units
taking into account their differences. In appropriate cases, The
Infantry Exercise Abridged and/or the practices recommended by the
National Park Service could be used as a guide and reference. Duane's
handbook should not be used.
of the Acts of Congress, 16. Act of April 12, 1808; Thomas Jefferson,
President - To raise, in addition. . . 1 regiment of riflemen.
Wayne R. Austerman, "This Excellent & Gallant Rifle Corps; The Model 1803 Harpers Ferry in Service." Man at Arms
, Vol. 3, No.4, July/August 1981.
Robert W. D. Ball, Springfield Armory Shoulder Weapons 1795-1968.
Norfolk, VA: Antique Trader Books, 1997.
Dictionary of American Biography.
Vol. III. New York: Charles Scribner Son's, 1946:467-8.
William Duane, Hand Book for Infantry: Containing the First Principles of Military Discipline
. Philadelphia: The Author, 1812.
William Duane, Hand Book for Riflemen.
Philadelphia: The Author, 1812 (first edition) and 1813 (2nd edition).
John S. D. Eisenhower, The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott
. New York: Free Press, 1997.
Charles Kitchell Gardner, Dictionary of All Officers, Who Have Been Commissioned, or Have Been Appointed and Served, In the Army of the United States. . .
New York: G. P. Putnam and Co., 1853:15.
Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register of the United States Army from Its Organization. . .
, vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: National Tribune, 1890:72-73.
Timothy D. Johnson. David Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN. Personal communication.
B. R. Lewis, "Early U.S. Military Riflemen: Their Arms and Equipment." The American Rifleman
, December 1958:30-33.
John K. Mahon, The War of 1812
. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1972.
P. Potter, The Infantry Exercise of the United States Army Abridged for the use of the Militia of the United States.
2nd ed. P. Potter: Philadelphia, 1817.
Col. Alexander Smyth, Regulations
for the Field Exercise, Maneuvers, and Conduct of Infantry of the
United States; Drawn and Adapted to the Organization of the Militia and
the Regular Troops.
New York: Anthoney Finey, and Whiting and Watson, 1812.
R. E. van Patten is Officer Commanding, Steele's Rifles - 1812 based in
Bellbrook, Ohio. He has written previously for the Journal on War of 1812 rifles and on the 1812 U.S. campaign in the Old Northwest under General William Hull.
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