On the Placement of Guards...
A Recommendation for Continental Line Re-enactments

By Jim Hayden

We all know the story, for better or worse. During the long winter at Valley Forge, Baron Von Steuben created what many call a miracle. Out of several drill manuals, and regiments working in some cases on their own, he created an army with one drill manual. "The Blue Book," as many of us call it is more than a drill manual, however.

Too often we all make the mistake of forgetting about the other aspects included in its pages. For those of us recreating the American Army — post 1777, it is more of a "bible" — a source book which covers drill, maneuvering, how to march a column, how to fire, establish a camp and preserve its cleanliness, inspections, drum beatings, preservation of gear, treatment of the sick, instructions for various officers and soldiers, and even the posting and use of guards.

For some reason, the use and posting of guards still remains a mystery to some. I hope to unravel these mysteries and indeed suggest how we can adapt these regulations for use in our re-enactments. All of Von Steuben's guard information is covered in Chapter 22. For those with a reprint of the "Blue Book," that is pages 91-113 of the regulations. As such, I won't footnote the source — I'm only using the ONE.

Based on the Baron's writings, I am suggesting the following system and placement of guards for our use. These suggestions are based on a "Steuben" camp, of some distance from the "enemy." This clearly would have to be altered in case of adjacent or close camps.

Types of Guards to be Used

  1. Camp Guards — 9 men preferably

    • 5 men in a semicircular ring around the camp at a distance appropriate for the site. The distance should be far enough away to allow time for the camp to become armed at an alarm — without being overrun.
    • 2 men posted in front of the colors (optional)
    • 1 man posted in front of the Commander's tent
    • 1 man posted in front of the Second-in-Command's (or Adjutant's) tent.
  2. Quarter Guard — (in rear of kitchens) a small unit (6 or 7 men) to be encamped — can also be a rifle or dragoon unit. This guard is not changed. It is their encampment. Their tents should face away from the main camp, and be arranged in a single line. They are on duty all the time, and so the camp should never be unmanned without orders.
  3. Pickets — Role can be usually filled by camp guards, outposts, and patrols.
  4. Outposts — Checkpoints on major roads leading toward enemy. 2-3 men per checkpoint.

NOTE: each "guard" should contain a junior grade officer or NCO. Light Infantry, Rifles, and Dragoons should be used to patrol between outposts and toward the enemy in SMALL detachments.

The Posting of the Guards

While outposts were originally manned for up to several days, in our situation, they should be changed every hour or two. Originally, the Adjutant would post the guard at Outposts. Under our circumstances, I suggest the commander of the new (relieving) guard post the guard, as otherwise the Adjutant will be busy all the time.

The new guard officer should do the following:

  1. Form the men, under arms, on the company street. (5 minutes prior to the reporting time)
  2. March them to the Adj.'s tent at the assigned time for inspections and to receive orders. (I suggest we do this on the half hour.)
  3. After receiving orders, march men to the post.
  4. Upon arrival, the new guard should be at shoulder. The officer of the old guard should form his men, and on the arrival of the new guard should order — "Present Arms."
  5. The new guards should march 3-4 paces to the right of the old, halting in line with them. (Both guards should be facing the enemy.)
  6. The new guard officer orders — "Present Arms."
  7. Officers approach each other, the new receiving sign and countersign information from the old, as well as any other information and orders.
  8. Officers return to guards. The old guard is ordered to "Shoulder Firelocks."
  9. Old guard commander orders his guard only to "Right About Face."
  10. Old guard is then marched back to camp and dismissed. The old guard's CO then reports back to the Adjutant.
  11. New guard remains at "Present" until the old guard is gone. Then they are brought to shoulder, faced left, and take the old guard's place. They may go to "Rest."

On the hour, camp guards should be relieved. They should follow steps 1-3 as for outpost guards. Once they have been inspected by the Adj. and orders have been given, they will be placed in the following order:

  1. The two men in front of the colors
  2. The ring of sentinels
  3. The guard of the Commander's and Adjutant's Tents

The method for changing the camp guards is also quite simple:

  1. When the sentinel on duty sees the relief approaching, he presents his arms.
  2. CO halts the guards and commands — "Present Arms."

    NOTE: For ease, I suggest that the man to the right of the squad be placed first, with the man being relieved taking his place on the left of the squad. If two ranks of guards are used, the old sentry should fall in behind the new guard. The commander will then end up as the guard of the CO's tent, and will relieve the old CO. In the event of confined areas, this may also be done in column, with relieved sentries falling in to the rear.
  3. CO then orders old and new sentry ONLY to "Shoulder Firelocks."
  4. The new guard is brought forward by the CO and receives his orders from the old sentry. He takes his place and the old sentry takes his place in the ranks.
  5. The CO then commands — "Front Face." The two sentries face front.
  6. The CO orders the squad to — "Shoulder Firelocks," and marches them to the next post.
  7. After placing the last guard (the CO), the old guard CO takes over and marches the men to their parade and dismisses them as in Outposts, reporting to the Adj. when done.

NOTE: The Adjutant should (along with a small guard) relieve the final sentry guard and outpost guard of the day, in the same manner as above, but without posting a new guard.

In Case of Alarm

All guards should only have a small quantity of cartridges, as they should only skirmish to delay an attack and sound an alarm. This will allow the camp to arm itself.

If possible, a runner should be sent back to notify the Adjutant of the situation. All information gleaned by the patrols should be reported directly to the Adjutant, who shall report it to the Commander. (If forage is discovered, it likewise should be reported to the Adjutant, who will pass it on to the QM.)

If an alarm is raised at an outpost, it is the Adjutant's responsibility to cause the alarm to be raised in camp. A drummer should ALWAYS be posted at the Adjutant's tent, for this and any other "calls" that should become necessary.

Upon the sound of "To Arms," all soldiers should immediately take up their arms, cartridge boxes, and bayonets. (They should not take time to dress in their full uniform.) Company Sgts. must immediately assemble the men and march them to the "parade."

During this time, the Adjutant must report to the CO (or in his absence, the ranking officer, or officer of the day) regarding the situation. The orders to march, defend the camp, etc., are to come from the officer in command.

All, some, or none of the assembled troops may be used. NOTE: Not all of the troops should be committed toward an alarm, in case the enemy has attempted a decoy action. A certain amount of troops should always be in camp in case of another alarm (unless there is a scheduled battle and not "wargames").

Honors Due from Guards

Von Steuben covers this area in full on pages 112-113 of his manual. As we are fielding the CL as one regiment, all commissioned Line and Light Infantry Officers should be greeted by Presenting Arms while on guard duty. Officers of attached units (Artillery, French, Dragoons, Provost, etc.) should be greeted by standing at attention with Shouldered Arms.


It will be up to the event command staff to evaluate the need and/or use of challenges using "Parole/Countersign." If used, it is the responsibility of the Adjutant and/or Officer of the Day to create the sign and countersign to be used each day. This information will be given to the guard COs, who will pass it to the sentries, etc., along with how the challenge will be performed. If the correct information is not given by those challenged, it should be concluded that they are not to be in that area. They should be detained, and/or brought to the Adjutant's Tent under guard. If they are coming from the direction of the enemy, they should also be blindfolded as it should be assumed they are enemies.

Anyone needing to leave the camp area during camp hours should report to the Adjutant's tent to request a pass. This pass will entitle the bearer to pass through the sentry and outpost lines for a specific purpose and period of time.


As we constantly strive to perfect our interpretation of life in the Continental Army, the correct use of guards can play a major role. It also can create some intersting scenarios; the capture and subsequent trial of a "spy," desertions, etc. Certainly during "wargames," they can be used even more.

Again, these are suggestions for their use, as I interpret them from the Baron's writings. The Baron is not clear in all his regulations, and debate is still continuing on such areas as when should Bayonets be fixed and unfixed by the sentries. I welcome your suggestions and hope to see us using guards correctly in the future.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Hayden. All rights reserved.