Right shoulder shift

This is an easy fix, and an interesting mistake.

A great many reenactors do “Right shoulder shift” with the musket utterly vertical. That’s utterly wrong and utterly tiresome, because it forces the right arm to constantly tense to hold the weapon upright.

If you look at a photo from the war, it is pretty clear the Old Guys did it with the musket at a slight diagonal across the back of the neck.  With that tiny adjustment, all your right arm is doing is keeping the weapon from falling to the ground, because your shoulder near the neck becomes a fulcrum and the weapon is balanced upon it.

The 26th NY drilling. Not only are they at “right shoulder shift,” they are at “right shoulder shift, rest.” Contemplate that. Also, note that the covering sergeants are all at the same position as the rank and file, not doing a “sergeant’s carry.”

How did we get this so troublesomely wrong?

♦ Fear of clouting the fellow behind you with the muzzle of your weapon if you tilt it too far backward. That got simplified to “any tilt is a bad tilt, even across the body.” Don’t dispute that, you know you’ve heard someone get chastised for a droopy musket with a “hold it straight.”

♦ Commingling instructions from “Support arms” with instructions for “Right shoulder shift.”  Vertical is OK for support arms*, the fulcrum for that, done properly, is the hammer across your forearm.  But somebody long ago, when there were about 10 Civil War reenactors, got it confabulated in a twisty way, and those 10 taught it to 100 and those 100 taught it to 1,000 and here we are today, proudly doing it wrong.

Here’s the words, from Silas Casey:

Right shoulder shift—ARMS.

One time and two motions.

  1. 219. (First motion.)  Detach the piece perpendicularly from the shoulder with the right hand, and seize it with the left between the lower band and guide-sight, raise the piece, the left hand at the height of the shoulder and four inches from it; place, at the same time, the right hand on the butt, the beak between the first two fingers, the other two fingers under the butt plate.
  2. 220. (Second motion.)  Quit the piece with the left hand, raise and place the piece on the right shoulder with the right hand, the lock plate upward; let fall at the same time, the left hand by the side.

Can’t really see the slant in that, can you? Maybe that’s why Casey included a diagram:

Can I just sing the praises of Mark Tackitt for a moment?  This living historian has collected and put online an almost endless series of references, including dozens of manuals, regulations for armies, articles written about drill, and a mess of other items you can drift happily through forever.  I’m hitting a few things every Tuesday in this blog that are generally classified as “stuff I see being done wrong a lot that we can fix very, very easily.”  Mark (“Silas” on the field) has done a much more ambitious project, one that took years and never ends: Compilation and discussion of everything, including stuff most of us have never even heard of, let alone do wrong.  I am humbled and awed every time I go on Silas’s Reenacting Links.

Note 1: In answer to a question, yes, I’ve been a writer for decades and I can’t stop just because I’m collecting my Social Security investment due to “retirement.” Writers never retire.   Here are my Civil War related books:

Seize the day! A guide to wringing more satisfaction from your civil war reenacting experience. A practical how-to for living historians.
The Ludlam Legacy   A 16-year-old rich kid finds himself orphaned, shipwrecked and on his way to war with the 7th New Jersey. History-heavy fiction.
Brother William’s War      A southern bank clerk becomes a reluctant warrior. History-heavy fiction based on a true story out of Chester, SC.
I believe you can get the entire lot digitally for about $9. Did I mention writers rarely get rich? 🙂

Note 2:  The 142nd PVI Co. G, Stroudsburg, Pa., will be at the Pike County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society on Saturday, April 22, from very early until about 4 p.m.  We will be doing basic drill at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will probably provide an escort for President Abraham Lincoln for his address at 2 p.m.   We would be delighted to have any and all join us; it’s informational for the public and a chance to drill. We don’t care about stitches for this event, we care about attitude. We are also winging it on food.

The Historical Society is at THE COLUMNS MUSEUM, 608 Broad Street, Milford, PA.   Careful with the GPS mapping: There’s a Milford in New Jersey, too, a long ways away!

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The Jersey Gallinipper

I’m a lifelong amateur historian, a retired journalist, an advocate of history-heavy Civil War reenacting, and a living historian who has put in good time in very good units at very good events, hitting every reenactor rank from private to brigadier. I’ve come out of journalistic “retiracy” to do a blog on little things that can make a Civil War weekend a better experience, for living historians and spectators.

One thought on “Right shoulder shift”

  1. another great post, Bill. RS Shift is usually done wrong–I fell in with “campaigner” units that demanded a vertical pose. another related item is while at RS Shift and the double quick step, it’s “automatic” to go to shoulder arms when back to the quick step. NOT! Beware of “that’s automatic” orders!

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