This feat (or series of feats) required much practice.
The musket was to rest upon the ground, immediately in front of the soldier, and exactly perpendicular.
Its excessive length made it impossible for a short man to draw and return his ramrod in precise manner, and, in either act, he frequently interfered with the man upon his right, breaking the symmetry of the movement, and provoking language forbidden by the ‘Articles of War.’
Further, the men were diligently drilled in firing—by file and by company, to the front, to the right oblique, to the left oblique, and to the rear.
But most awkward and wearisome of all was the bayonet exercise, requiring acrobatic agility, while the great length of the musket and fixed bayonet rendered the weapon almost impracticable except in the hands of one above the average stature.
As a matter of fact, all of the accomplishments thus particularized—methods of loading and firing, and bayonet exercise—fell into disuse with entrance upon actual field-service, as having no practical worth.
With such preparation and such equipment, the soldiers marched to their first battle.
The experience of a single regiment was that of thousands.
The drums sound the ‘long roll,’ or the bugle ‘the assembly,’ and companies form and march to the regimental color-line.
A few moments later the regiment marches forward until the first scattering fire of the foe is received.
Sometimes the antagonists are visible; often but few are seen, but their presence is known by the outburst of flame and smoke from a fringe of forest.
The regiment forms in line of battle, and at the word of command from the colonel, passed from company to company, opens fire.
No thought now of manual of arms, but only of celerity of movement and rapidity of fire.
Shouted a gallant officer who at home (as he was in the field, the war through) an exemplary Christian gentleman, ‘Load as fast as you can, and give them the devil!’
The battle is now on in earnest, and the discharge of thousands of muskets becomes a roar.
The range is not more than two hundred