Republishing this as a bonus column because golly gee willikers, fellas, do some people need to read it.
The first requirement to be a corporal is to be a good teacher. Often that’s the last consideration when reenactors become corporals – and it shows.
The corporal as teacher isn’t an opinion. It’s what the manuals and regulations all expect. And if more people read the manuals and regulations, we’d all know that, and not make Good Old Jim a corporal just because he voted for Good Old Ezekiah to be captain, or because he always shows up.
Here it is: We’ll use Casey’s, but it’s pretty much universal.
“Every commanding officer is responsible for the instruction of his command … Captains will be held responsible for the theoretical and practical instruction of their noncommissioned officers … The noncommissioned officers should also be practiced in giving commands. “
Instruction of Corporals
66. Their theoretical instruction should include the School of the Soldier, with a knowledge of firing.
68. As the instruction of sergeants and corporals is intended principally to qualify them for the instruction of privates, they should be taught not only to execute, but to explain intelligibly every thing they may be required to teach.
If you’re one of those corporals who got promoted for other than the best possible reason, do not despair: All you need to do is know how to read.
To that end, there’s Casey’s infantry tactics, available on line. But there’s much more, like August V. Kautz’s “Customs of Service.” While Casey’s and other drill and tactics manuals were carefully written by very clever, intelligent men in order to quickly create functional military officers and units out of raw farmboys, mill workers and bank clerks, manuals like “Customs of Service” were not official. They were works by entrepreneurs, encouraged by the Army, intended to familiarize civilians with what was expected of them in the military, so they could fit in. If you were appointed corporal, you might buy “Customs of Service” on your own initiative, to make sure you did the right thing, didn’t make a fool of yourself and, above all else, didn’t let your comrades down by not knowing your role, duties, and the army’s expectations. Quite a concept.
Here’s Kautz on corporals:
323. Corporal should be living examples for the soldiers in the neatness and cleanliness of their clothing, arms and accoutrements. They should be the first to fall into ranks at roll calls and should have their tents or bunks, wherever their quarters, always systematically in order.
324. They should be familiar with the “School of the Soldier” and capable of instructing the recruits in the elementary principles of tactics (what we reenactors usually call “drill”).
Corporals are also expected to take charge of fatigue details for wood, water, and other work. They draw rations for their mess and are in charge of having their messmates keep their quarters “systematically in order.” They getting the largest responsibility when they function as corporal of the guard, which amounts to overseeing an entire shift of security – pickets, guard mount, knowing what to do, so much stuff that it’s going to be the subject of two future columns.
But you get the idea.
Being corporal gives you almost no privileges, but does convey responsibility, even in a reenacting group. Nothing is more disappointing to an officer or sergeant than a corporal unable to, on his own initiative, see what needs to be done and do it. Nothing warms the heart of officers and sergeants more than a corporal who, seeing new people in the group, takes them aside whenever there is a spare moment and instructs them in the manual of arms or other items. Or who sees the woodpile is down and rounds up three or four men and takes them to the woodpile.
Corporals have one important additional duty in formation: Make sure the soldiers near you in the rank and file understand what they are to do and actually do it. Rather than have an officer shout from somewhere in the rear ‘dress that line!’, which nobody can execute because, really, wtf does it mean? the corporals should notice when men are ahead, behind, or pulling apart, or bunching together, and quietly, with only enough noise to be heard by those in need of help, tell them specifically what to do in terms that are immediately applicable: “Joe and Ralph, move up.” “BillyBob and Phineas, slow down.” “Harry, dress is to the right, not left, move right, move right, move right, and close that hole.”
Why quietly? Because others are listening for commands from various levels. Many times a company commander has missed an important command from the bugle or the colonel because his men were hollering out corrective commands to each other, plus the usual suggestions and debate about the right thing to do and which biological opening to plug with what kind of pointy thing.
So you’re not an ornament in formation, you’re an organic part of making things turn out right. Give it a try, your unit will be happier and better.