Sgt. Leftfoot's Musing & Maneuvering: Forward,—March!
By Sgt. Addison P. Leftfoot
Editor's Note: Sgt. Leftfoot has served with several re-enactment units and often claims to actually "channel" the spirit of Frederick William Baron von Steuben himself when questions about drill arise. Look for Sgt. Leftfoot's Musing & Maneuvering as a fairly regular column in The Continental Soldier. Questions or suggested topics for this column can be addressed to Sgt. Leftfoot at APLeftfoot@aol.com or c/o this publication.
Greetings, fellow soldiers, and welcome to Sgt. Leftfoot's Musing & Maneuvering, a column dedicated to helping the army safely move from one place to another without tripping over each other or losing confused and misdirected souls, as well as serving as a guide for making sure that those who came before us aren't laughing aloud from the great beyond at our feeble attempt to bring their interpretation of military discipline to life.
As the first installment, we will start by dissecting the most simple of and one of the most mundane commands, "Forward,—March!" Before your eyes roll back in your head and you get ready to peruse the rest of this journal, be assured that the common execution of this simple exercise in the reenactment realm definitely has some room for error.
Consider this: in the ocean, schools of tiny fish travel in such a manner as to resemble one greater fish. This sense of trust and series of communal maneuvers help protect the smaller fish from their predators by making the individual parts harder to detect. Much is the same for a battalion on the march.
In Steuben's 1794 Drill Manual, whether he's discussing a battalion in column or in line, we find Steuben beginning the explanation of the maneuver with the words, "The whole step off..." >Not "the lights step off..."Not "the company in front steps off..." But "The whole steps off..." I'm sure that we've all been a part of that grand sqeezebox we generally resemble, where, upon hearing the command, the first company starts on the march and gradually gets up to speed, followed by the second company, and so on. A jolly game of catch up ensues, where, when given the "Halt!" command, the front of the column instantly stops and the back end of the accordian slowly comes to rest as the final company straggles into place.
This whole scenario could be avoided if we simply took the good Baron's words to heart and when given the command, "Forward,—March!", we all picked up our left foot in unison and planted it a hearty twenty-four inch stride's worth in front of us. Not only would we benefit from the efficiencies of all arriving to our final destination as a group, but we would look wickedly sharp as well as downright intimidating to those scurvy lobsterbacks.
In the 1950s, Joie Chitwood toured America's small towns with this roadshow, which featured car stunts showcasing tight maneuvers at high speeds. It was amazing to watch as the drivers seemed to miss each other by mere inches. But perhaps the most impressive sight occurred at the drop of the flag to start, when all dozen or so cars immediately began moving as one formation.
Think of the time we'd all save on the road if everyone trusted the other drivers to hit the gas immediately as the light turned green. Instead of allowing four or five cars through at a stoplight, we could potentially move twenty or so through, as long as we all started moving at once and at a consistent speed.
So, when you're stuck at a light in traffic on your way to work, waiting for the driver in front of you to wake up and drive, think about the potential that a singular body of individuals moving as a whole would have in reducing the time of your commute. And when you're in ranks and the overall commander gives the order for the whole to "Forward,—March!", put your best foot forward and begin moving with the trust and confidence that those in front of and behind you will do the same.