Stack Arms and the Reenactorism
Stack Arm’s is a command heard at almost every event and drill. Many times you hear everyone rumbling about what method is being used. You hear people saying Casey’s, Hardee’s, and the Kentucky Swing during this moment. The problem is very few reenactors understand the difference between them. Even worse, the different methods are done incorrectly when a resolution for that event is found. In this article we are going to take a look at what a Hardee stack should be, a Casey’s stack, and what is a Kentucky Swing?
Many times you hear Hardee’s and then the “swing” is practiced. But this is not Hardee’s. At least not as a Union man would know but we will come back to that. Stacking arms according to Hardee’s 1855 is done with the rammers. No bayonets are used at all. Here is the text:
410. At this command the front rank man of every even numbered file will pass his piece before him, seizing it with the left hand near the upper band; will place the butt a little in advance of his left too, the barrel turned towards the body, and draw the rammer slightly from its place; the front rank man of every, odd numbered file will also draw the rammer slightly, and ass his piece to the man next on his left, who will seize it with the right hand near the upper band, and place the butt a little in advance of the right too of the man next on his right, the barrel turned to the front; he will then cross the rammers 'of the two pieces, the rammer of the piece of the odd numbered man being inside; the rear rank man of every even file will also draw his rammer, lean his piece forward, the lock plate downwards, advance the right foot about six inches, and insert the rammer between the rammer and barrel of the piece of his front rank man; with his left hand he will place the butt of his piece on the ground, thirty-two inches in rear of, and perpendicular to, the front rank, bringing back his, right foot by the side of the left; the front rank man of every even file will at the same time lean the stack to the rear, quit it with his is right hand, and force all the ram rammers down. The stack being thus formed, the rear rank man of every odd file will pass his into his left hand, the barrel to the front, and inclining it forward, will rest it on the stack.
Myself and some of my messmates actually did a Hardee stack. We read the manual as we went through the motions. It was interesting to see and do. This type of stack is very different from what anyone is used to doing. I can see a very real potential of breaking or bending today’s cheap reproduction ramrods. So, while it is a worth while learning experience I would recommend some caution.
Stacking with bayonets using the “poke through” method is what is found in Casey’s, Gilham’s, Baxter’s, and even Scott’s to go back further. Casey’s manual is more readily available and a very familiar name so we will take a closer look at Casey’s here. The other manuals get to the same end product with a few minor changes. Much of the changes are in wording, detail and to accommodate for the changing military weapons. A Casey’s stack when done is often done incorrectly. It is an area of drill that everyone could read and brush up on. The errors can generally be attributed to verbal misinformation and the fact that it is not studied and practiced. Casey’s give directions for both the musket and rifle musket. The majority of weapons used in reenacting are rifled muskets. Below is the text for stacking arms from Casey’s for the rifle musket only.
425. At the command stack arms, the front-rank man of every even-numbered tile will pass his piece before him, seizing it with the left hand above the middle band, and place the butt behind and near the right foot of the man next on the left) the barrel turned to the front. At the same time the front-rank man of every odd-numbered file will pass his piece before him, seizing it with the left hand below the middle band, and hand it to the man next on the left; the latter will receive it with the right hand two inches above the middle band, throw the butt about thirty-two inches to the front, opposite to his right shoulder, inclining the muzzle toward him, and lock the shanks of the two bayonets: the lock of this second piece toward the right, and its shank above that of the first piece. The rear-rank man of every even file will project his bayonet forward, and introduce it (using both hands) between and under the shanks of the two other bayonets. He will then abandon the piece to his file leader, who will receive it with the right hand under the middle band, bring the butt to the front, holding up his own piece and the stack with the left hand, and place the butt of this third piece between the feet of the man next on the right, the S plate to the rear. The stack thus formed, the rear-rank man of every odd file will pass his piece into his left hand, the barrel turned to the front and sloping the bayonet forward, rest it on the stack.
If a person or group is used to doing a modified/relaxed version of Casey’s or a swing based stack this will seem awkward at first. Be assured that with only a small amount of practice it will become even easier then the old methods. A great advantage to this stack is it seems to be more accommodating when there are different weapons used. I have been apart of a successful and solid Casey’s stack that used an Enfield, two Springfield rifle muskets, a Springfield musket, and all with a mixture of reproduction and original bayonets.
So, you might be wondering where the swing versions have come from? Well, I have found a few sources but please take note that in every one of them I have looked at the soldier does not move on the preparatory command. Movement does not commence until after “Arms” in all the manuals researched. Also take note that the rear rank No.1 handles his own weapon when placing and removing it from the stack.
Let’s get started with where the Hardee’s confusion may have started. As stated earlier a Union man may not have been familiar with a Hardee’s swing but a Confederate probably was. This is because good old William J. Hardee stayed loyal not to his country but to the state of Georgia. He wrote a drill manual for the Confederacy in 1862. In it he uses a swing version of stack arms.
Now let’s bring it back to good old Michigan. More specifically Fort Wayne in October 1861. Colonel Duffield was in command of the 9th Michigan stationed at Fort Wayne. During this time he wrote a drill manual titled “Camp, Garrison, and Guard Duty with a Modified Manual of Arms for the Officers and Soldiers of the Michigan Infantry”. In this manual he uses a swing version to stack arms. Here is the text for stacking and taking arms:
23. Stack-ARMS !
One time and three motions. First Motion.-At this command number two of the front rank will pass his piece to the left, and seize it with the left, hand immediately below the middle band, and with the butt outside and four inches above the left foot, bayonet shank opposite the right, shoulder, the rammer to the front, he will hold his piece inclining to the right. Number two of the rear rank will raise his piece four inches from the ground, turn the rammer to the left, and pass it to number two of the front rank, who will seize it with his right hand immediately below the middle band, incline it slightly to the left, and place the shank inside of, and resting on the shank of his own piece, rammer of the right hand piece to the left, butt about four inches from the ground. Number one of the front rank will raise his piece, turning it so that the rammer is to the right, and incline the piece to the left, and in front of the pieces held by number two; hook the bayonet shank on the crotch formed by the junction of the pieces held by number two. Second Motion.-Number two of the front rank throws his right hand piece directly to the front, places the butt of his left hand piece outside of and against his left foot. Number one of the front rank at the same moment places the butt of his own piece between his feet; both abandon their hold of the pieces at the same moment, and resume the position of soldiers without arms. Third Motion.-Number one of the rear rank passes his piece to the left hand, turning the barrel to the front, places the butt on the ground between the feet of number one and two in the front rank, and rests the piece against the stack.
24. Take-ARMS! One time and one motion. At the first command number two of the front rank will seize the odd piece and pass it to number one of the rear rank; at the second command number two of the front rank will seize his own piece with his left hand, and the piece of number two of the rear' rank with his right. Number one of the front rank will seize his own piece with his right hand; number two of the front rank raises the stack, brings the butts together, and this unlock s the stack, passes his right hand piece to number two rear rank, and changes his own piece from the left hand to the right. Each man will then take the position of ordered arms.
Unfortunately, I have no information on how often this manual was used and if it was even used outside of the 9th Michigan. I still find the manual to be a great part of Michigan history and an interesting read.
To further dive into the Swing let’s look at the “Kentucky Swing” version next. This supposed version of stack arms I was told comes from a Kentucky State Militia drill manual. After some searching I found someone who had two versions of the Kentucky State Militia drill manuals. There are differences between the two versions. But in both you still do not move on the preparatory command on Stack-arms. Also, the rear rank No. 1 still handles his own weapon at all times. There is no passing it up to the front rank man. A difference in the two versions comes when you Take-arms. One version does have this:
Prepare to Take Arms.
79. At this command the pieces of the file-closers will be passed to them by No.2 of the front rank and each No. 1 of the rear rank will step forward with his left foot, seize his piece with his left hand, withdraw it from the stack, and take the position of order arms.
One time and two motions.
80. (First motion.) At this command each No. 2 of the front rank will seize his own piece with his left hand, and that of No.2 of the rear rank, which is the piece in front, with his right hand, both pieces at the middle band.
No.1 of the front rank will seize his own piece just below the middle band.
Perhaps this is where moving on the preparatory was started? Although, the rear rank No.1 still handles his own weapon on and off the stack. In the end, it still does not match what reenactors want to call the Kentucky Swing. Personally, I now believe that the Kentucky Swing that is done by reactors is a complete reeanctorism or at best a fabrication of several manuals. Perhaps this was started so they could get the stack done quicker and more efficiently in their eyes and their commanders. I know I would rather learn to do it correctly and then learn to be quicker and more efficient.
The numerous inaccuracies in stacking arms could easily be fixed. The only hard part would be the acceptance that relearning is needed because it was done incorrectly. The easy part would be the reading and practicing that would come after. The rewards would be numerous including having efficient and accurate stacks with the pride knowing it happened just as the men did it over 140 years ago.
Colonel D. W. C. Baxter. The Volunteer’s Manual. 1861
Calloway, Paul. Stack Arms: Eliminating Fumbling in the Federal Ranks, 2004
Brig Gen. Silas Casey. Infantry Tactics. 1862
Colonel W. W. Duffield. CampGarrison and Guard Duty with a Modified Manual of Arms for the Officers and
Soldiers of the Michigan Infantry. 1861
Major William Gilham. Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States. 1861
Brevet Lieut. Col. W. J. Hardee. Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics. 1855
Brig. Gen W. J. Hardee, CSA. Rifle and Infantry Tactics. 1862
Major Gen. Winfield Scott. Infantry Tactics. 1835
Kentucky State Militia Drill Manual excerpts provided William Eichler
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