Cavalry Skirmish Drill—Poinsett’s Cavalry Tactics

(for Dismounted Cavalry action by company)

The captain should form the platoon into line of battle at the rear of the ground he wants to deploy on.

NOTE: This means the men could march to the position in column of fours or twos and then form two ranks. (“Front into Line”, “On Right into Line” or "Left into Line" could be used depending on how the march brought them onto the ground. This will get them into two ranks or a battle line.)  The first sergeant would have had them count off (by fours) back in camp and everyone will know their number and place in the formation. There is a #1, 2 & 3 of both the front and rear rank and each number works with their partner of the same number while the #4 man holds the horses of the other three. (in dismounted work without horses you should still count fours and use your 4th man as a skirmisher - but the diagrams here are men who have just dismounted from their horses - thus only numbers 1, 2 & 3)

The captain and bugler move to the rear of the men and the captain commands:

1. Six files from right - as skirmishers. (waits for sergeant)
3. Guide right.

RESERVES: At command (#1), the file-closer (sergeant) moves up in front of the six files of the left and takes charge of the reserve. The captain waits for the sergeant to take his place in front of the reserves, and then the officer continues with MARCH.
RESERVES: At exactly the same time as the captain commands MARCH, the sergeant of the reserve commands HALT to the reserves. The reserves are at carry and not order arms throughout the exercise. The six files of the right (12 men) march forward; after going 10 paces or 30 feet, they disperse as skirmishers.

The #1 right trooper obliques to the right, the #3 left trooper to the left. The troopers of the rear rank come up as soon as possible, abreast of the front rank as it opens intervals, each one placing himself on the left of his file leader.

As soon as the skirmishers are in line they take the position of advance— CARBINE and continue to march on the oblique until the bugle signals forward or the captain gives the command. The men then move forward and adjust their intervals.

The captain will be able to see from the rear how the spacing of intervals is working. By the book the intervals should be 5 paces or 15 feet but in battle that distance is subjective, just so the intervals are uniform and you cover the ground needed.

The skirmishers should be kept from 100 to 150 paces from the reserve (300 to 450 ft).

The bugle signal No. 2 or the command HALT should be given when the skirmishers reach the limit of their distance from the reserves. OR, the sergeant commanding the reserves should move the reserves forward to keep the distance correct if so ordered by the captain.

NOTE: During skirmishing in the presence of the enemy, the men can seek cover on their line of march. The officer can command them to lie down as well if its dangerous work. The troopers keep regulating themselves toward the guide during the whole time they act as skirmishers.

The junior officer or NCO places himself in rear of the skirmishers, in order to superintend their individual movements and help organize the men if enemy fire should cause them to falter.

The captain followed by his bugler would be half-way between the skirmishers and the reserve and move along the line wherever he thinks his presence will do the most good. From his position he can direct the action, moving to the right, to the left, to the left about, to the right about, halt, forward, etc., by bugle preferably or by voice if need be.

When the enemy is met, the command is: Fire by File, Commence FIRE! which is given by the captain. The men should fire from the side of the guide (usually left). After the initial fire by file has gone down the line every file partner supports his file mate. One man fires after the other is loaded and vice versa—always having one man loaded. Fire by File allows the men to chose their targets and keep up a rate of fire commiserate with what is available to shoot at. If the enemy retreats or is no longer active and visible, the fire will be light. The captain can call cease fire at this time and move the men forward or whatever would be best for the situation depending on his orders from higher up.

If the captain wants the skirmishers to move forward he has the bugler sound forward, No. 1, each skirmisher moves forward, regulating his movements by those of the guide and preserving his space or interval. The reserve follows them, keeping its proper distance.

To move the skirmishers towards the right, to the right, No. 4, is sounded; each trooper turns to the right, taking care to preserve his distance. The reserve also turns to the right.

To move the skirmishers toward the left, to the left, No. 3, is sounded; each trooper turns to the left. The reserve also turns to the left.

If the commander wishes the skirmishers to move toward the opposite side, he orders, the about, No. 5, to be sounded: the skirmishers and the reserve turn to their rear. Its important to realize that in this movement the men must keep their weapons on the side of the enemy and this will tell them what direction to make the turn in. For instance, if the troops are moving to the left and are ordered about, they would turn to the right-about. If they are moving to the right, they would turn to the left-about.

During the flank movements, if the troopers are to continue firing, they leave the column and face to the enemy for that purpose. As soon as they have fired, they resume their places in the column by doubling their speed and load their weapons.


The skirmishers are marching to the front or at a halt and the captain wants the men to move to the rear, he will order the retreat to be sounded. At this bugle signal, the troopers of the front rank move forward 5 steps, fire, then turn to the left-about in order to move to the rear (turning their back to the enemy) while they load their weapons.

When they have marched a sufficient distance the captain has the bugler sound the about, No. 5. At this signal, the troopers, who have loaded their weapons, face to the front by turning to the right-about.

The troopers who were left on the front line fire and turn to the left-about, retire while loading their weapons, pass in the intervals of the line and their file partner and continue to move to the rear. They face to the front at the signal, the about, No 5.

The troopers of the new front line move 5 steps forward the moment the troopers who retire pass by them. These skirmishers then chose an enemy target and commence fire. The alternate movement of the two lines continues as long as skirmishers move to the rear.

When the captain wishes the retreat to cease he orders forward, No. 1, to be sounded. The skirmishers who are marching to the rear move up at speed, abreast of those the most advanced, and all march forward together until the signal, to halt, No. 2, is sounded.

If the captain wishes the whole line of skirmishers to retire at once, he orders the about, No. 5 and not retreat, to be sounded. (Yes, soldiers turned their back on the enemy!)

The reserve retires and faces to the front during any retreating movement the skirmishers employ. They regulate their movements by that of the skirmishers, so as to remain about 150 feet from the skirmishers closest rank. It executes its rear movement at the moment the retreating line passes into the intervals of the line which moves forward.


The rallying of skirmishers is always made on the point occupied by the captain.

To rally the skirmishers, the captain places himself in front of the reserve, and has the bugler sound the rally, No. 6. At this signal the skirmishers turn-about, rally on the reserve by the shortest route and in the formation it originally started out in - line of battle.

If the commanding officer is not with the reserve when the rally, No. 6, is sounded, the skirmishers rally upon him, and the reserve comes up and joins them. The troopers must rally upon any point whatever the line.


To relieve skirmishers, the captain calls upon the reserve:

1. Six files from left - as skirmishers.
3. Guide right.

At the command MARCH, the reserve disperses and moves up upon the line of old skirmishers. The right trooper of the front rank passes on the right of the right skirmisher of the front rank; the right trooper of the rear rank on the right of the right skirmisher of the rear rank, and so on throughout, each one passing to the right of the one he relieves, and 5 paces beyond him. The original skirmishers turn-about and rally at speed on the officer, who, during the movement, is placed at the point where the six files, now become the reserve, should reform.

The non-commissioned officer who commanded the six files of the left, now takes command of the six files of the right.