Some of you may recall that a year or so ago I had viewed a program on the History Channel--or one similar to HC--on George Washington. One of the things that came up was that Wahington had Frederick William Baron von Steuben take charge of training for his new army. Out of this came "Baron von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual," otherwise known as the "Blue Book."
The program I watched made the point that the position of the sergeant major in the battle formation provided that he would be in a position, in the rear, and was responsible for, among other duties, to prevent soldiers from fleeing, and even to shoot them when necessary. I had heard this before through the years, but I had never seen anything, in writing or otherwise, that would substantiate this as fact. Then again, I had never made it a point to search for this.
I have even purchased a copy (reprinted) of the "Blue Book," but try as I may, I cannot find specifically anything to indicate that deserters were to be shot if they couldn't be turned back to their units.
Today I posted a query on this to the military history forum at SFTT; and somebody there came up w/an answer.
<a href="http://www.sftt.us/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?t=4259</a" target="_new">http://www.sftt.us/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?t=4259</a>
"This is from an 1864 publication, CUSTOMS OF SERVICE FOR NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS
AUGUST V. KAUTZ
CAPT. SIXTH U.S. CAVALRY, BRIG.-GEN. U.S. VOLUNTEERS
368. The most important duty of sergeant is that of file-closer. Posted in the rear of the company when paraded, it is his duty to see that the men pay attention to their duty, preserve order, march properly, and keep closed.
369. In time of battle, it is his duty to keep the men in ranks, not to allow them to fall out on any pretext, and to prevent them from misbehaving before the enemy. He is even required to shoot men down when they attempt to run away in times of danger.
I don't have a copy of the above, but it's a start.
Although, as I have said, I cannot find specifically, in the "Blue Book" that the sergeant major is to shoot deserters as a last resort, as indicated by the TV presentation mentioned above, I do find the following.
1. "Instructions For The Sergeant Major.
The sergeant major, being at the head of the non-commissioned officers, must pay the greatest attention to their conduct and behavior, never conniving at the least irregularity committed by them or the soldiers, from both of whom he must exact the most explicit obedience..."
2. "Instructions For The First Sergeant Of A Company.
...He is never to lead a platoon or section, but is always to be a file-closer in the formation of the company, his duty being in the company like the adjutant's in the regiment."
3. Instructions For The Sergeants and Corporals.
When a non-commissioned officer is a file-closer in action, he must take care to keep the ranks and files properly closed...He will do all in his power to encourage the soldiers, and use the most vigorous means to prevent any from leaving the ranks, unless wounded."
Baron von Steuben's Revolutionary War drill Manual, A Facsimile Reprint of the 1794 Edition, Dover Publications, Inc.,NY, 1985
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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