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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada





Report H E 9

Fortress of Louisbourg



According to the 1755 ordinance for the exercise of the infantry, there were three kinds of march: marche en ligne droite, marche en ligne oblique, and marche circulaire. In the course of the most commonly performed marche en ligne droite three different paces might be employed: petit pas which was a pace of one pied, pas ordinaire, a pace of two pieds, and pas redoublé, where the distance of two ordinary paces was covered in one second. The distance of the pace, whether petit pas or pas ordinaire, was measured from one heel to the other, and the duration of both paces would be one second or 60 paces per minute.[1] The two pieds length of the pas ordinaire was mentioned, by Arbeau in 1588, and it was still the norm in 1774 when the Instruction  ... Pour Régler Provisoirement L'Exercise De Ses Troupes D'Infanterie was issued. [2] The duration of the pace altered between 1755 and 1774 however, the Instruction stating that the pas ordinaire was to be 80 paces per minute, and the pas redoublé 140 per minute. Soldiers were to be exercised to be able to attain a speed of 160 pas redoublé per minute in "mouvements de conversion." [3] The marche en ligne oblique was used to arrive at a destination by marching "le plus ou le moins d'obliquité de la ligne." The pace for this kind of  marche was set at 18 pouces from heel to heel. The march circulaire was used to execute a quart de conversion. [4]

The reason for the march always beginning on the left foot was discussed by Arbeau in his treatise. Most men, he stated, "are right-footed, and, as the left foot is the weaker, if it should chance to hesitate for any reason, the right foot would immediately be ready to support it." In order that the soldiers might regain the proper step, the march rhythm was to include rests of sufficient duration for them to recognize whether the right or the left foot was to be on the ground. If someone led with the right foot and did not correct the situation, Arbeau continued, the "soldiers would knock one against the other when they closed up [as they approached the enemy], and would hinder one another by thrusting forward the shoulder on the side of the foot put down ..." The drum beat repeated over and over again, would give ample opportunity for the footing to be corrected. [5]

The following are some of the marching maneuvers which might have been ordered in an exercise or on a march. Most apply to larger armies than would have been found at Louisbourg before 1745, but they have been included to demonstrate the role of the drummers on a march or exercise.

1 Whenever a regiment or battalion would form en bataille, all the drummers on the right would place themselves in two ranks to the right of the first rank of soldiers, and those on the left would form similarly to the left of the first rank.

2 When the drummers beat La Charge, the soldiers were to march le pas redoublé.

3 When there was not enough room for a body of troops which had been marching in open ranks to form en bataille, the major would order the officers at the head to march in le petit pas until further ordered, and the drummers would sound L'Appel. At this signal, the first ranks of each division would continue to march pas ordinaire, while the other ranks would close on the first by pas redoublé. When the ranks had thus been closed, the major would order the drums to beat Aux Champs, and all the divisions, except the first, would march by arms ordinaire until they had proceeded far enough for them to form en bataille. This they would do when the drums beat Le Drapeau.

4 In order to slow a column of march from pas redoublé to pas ordinaire, the drummers would cease to beat La Charge and begin Aux Champs. At this the soldiers of the first section would take four more paces at pas redoublé before switching to pas ordinaire. Those in the second section would begin le pas ordinaire as soon as the drums beat Aux Champs, and the third section would march at petit pas until they had before them a distance of four paces.

5 When a column was to march to the right or left, the major would indicate the direction to be taken, and the soldiers would face that way. The drummers on a designated side would begin to beat alone, those on the opposite side beating with them only after the soldiers had turned in the proper direction.

6 In order to exercise the troops as to how to divide themselves following an encounter with the enemy, the major would order the soldiers, haut les armes, to halt. He would then order by voice that the section ought to separate, or he would order a drum roll by the two drummers on the flanks of the column; one of whom would hold himself on the right flank of the second section, while the other would remain on the left flank of the third section. The first section would then continue facing en tête; the second would face to the right, and the third would turn to face left. Next the major would either say "marche" or the drums would beat Aux Champs, and the first section would march le pas ordinaire or remain pied ferme depending on what was ordered. The second section would march to the right, and the third to the left. If La Charge was sounded instead of Aux Champs, the sections would march by le pas redoublé.

7 When forming a column of retreat, the drummers would move by le pas redoublé, putting themselves in a file at the center of the column between the officers and the sergeants who would be serre-file. The drummers would remain "en dehors aux angles de la tête & de la queue de la colomne. "[6]

8 If the drummers beat Aux Champs without any preparatory rolls, the battalion would march en avant.

9 If the drummers give two "coups de rapel" the ranks would close, the first remaining firm. Similarly, each division would do the same thing en colomne.

10 In order to execute a demi-tour à droite or à gauche the drummers would beat La Retraite. Instead of using rolls to indicate direction, they would employ un coup double (flam) to signify right, and two coups doubles for the left. [7]