American Civil War Drilling and Marching
Drilling: When the bugle call for drill sounded, Civil War soldiers hurried into position. Drill was part of their training, perhaps the most important part. The men spent long hours every day in camp practicing various formations, ways to use their rifles, how to march, and how to work as a unit. They practiced how to change quickly from one formation to another. The ability of the men to do these formations quickly meant the difference between success and failure during battle. But they did not practice shooting with live ammunition as supplies of ammo were limited. It was assumed that the men could shoot, although many could not. The men assigned to canons would line them and do everything except fire them. Some men never knew what a cannon might do when fired until they were in the heat of battle.
Marching: They practiced marching as well. It was important to keep their legs strong because Civil War soldiers moved from one location to another on foot. They typically marched four in a row at a rate of about 2.5 miles an hour. When possible, men marched along the side of a road, leaving the road open for horses, wagons, and artillery. Soldiers in the front of the march had the first choice of campsites and the most time to forage once camp was set up. Troops in the back had the worse time as they had to content with mule and horse droppings, along with dust, dirt, and the constant starts and stops caused by the soldiers ahead of them.
When the soldiers received orders to cook three days of rations each, they knew a march was about to start. New volunteers packed up all their belongings to carry with them. As they marched, they cast off most of the things they had packed, and left them alongside the road. Those who had been on marches before packed only bare essentials. They knew how exhausting the march would be. On a march, feet blistered and bled. Mules died. In the winter, the blood dripping from horses knees would freeze into icicles of blood. In spite of the hardships of the march, the men often joked and sang to keep their spirits up.