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65th (2nd Yorkshire North Riding) Regiment of Foot

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23. Piquets and their Sentries

1. Use of Piquets

All armies or smaller bodies of troops in camp or bivouac must be protected by piquets.

2. Description of Piquets

Piquets are of two descriptions, outlying and inlying, varying in strength according to the extent of the front to be guarded, and the liability to be attacked. The outlying piquet is thrown forward a considerable distance in front of the camp or cantonments; the inlying piquet usually remains in camp accoutred, and ready to turn out, and support the former at a moment's warning, having sentries advantageously posted for hearing and observing any alarm in front, and communicating, when necessary, by patroles with the advanced posts.

3. Principal Duties of an Outlying Piquet

The principal duties of an outlying piquet are to secure the safety and repose of the camp, to prevent reconnaissance being made by the enemy, and to gain intelligence of his movements, and even of his intentions, by patrolling, by careful watching, by examining the peasantry of the country, and by all those indications with which every officer ought to be familiar, such as the strengthening of the enemy's posts, unusual bustle or movement in his lines, the sound of troops or artillery on the march at night, the diminution or the increase of fires, &c. &c.

4. How Piquet Duties are furnished

Piquets in the field may be taken by brigades, the different regiments furnishing one or more companies, as may be required, a field officer of the day being in charge of the whole; or an entire regiment may be employed on piquet duty under its own officers.

5. Piquets to be extended as Light Infantry

Outlying piquets will be posted with a complete chain of double sentries in front, on the same principles that light troops are extended to cover a line. When they are posted near the main body, supports only will be necessary in rear of the line of sentries, but when distant, a reserve will also be required, and if the line is of considerable extent more than one reserve may be requisite. The post of the field officer of the day will usually be with the reserve.

6. Piquets to be divided into Reliefs

In order that each company may be able to relieve its sentries periodically, it must be divided when on piquet duty into three reliefs; one relief only will be extended on sentry, the other two will remain in support. Sentries should be relieved every hour during the day.

7. Detached Parties

If the chain of sentries should be extended as to make it inconvenient to relieve them all from the piquet in support, one or two small parties, forming intermediate supports to the chain, and under command of officers or non-commissioned officers, may be detached to convenient situations for the purpose of furnishing the sentries.

8. Piquet Sentries

All piquet sentries must be double, except the connecting sentries between the front line and the parties in rear, which may be single.

9. Positions and Conduct of Day and Night Sentries

Piquet sentries by day should be placed on heights and in commanding positions, whence they may see all the country in their front without exposing themselves to view; but at night they must be placed lower down so as to have the highest ground before them in order that they might see any approaching party against the sky without being themselves discovered. By day it is not necessary to leave more sentries on duty than are sufficient to watch thoroughly the country in their front; each sentry should be able to see the files on his right and left, as well as the intermediate country between them; at night or in thick weather a greater number will be required, and one man of each file should always remain on his post, looking out vigilantly to his front, while the other patroles to his right, till he comes up to the sentry next to him; in this mode they will alternately relieve each other. Sentries will also patrole to their front to a distance of twenty to thirty yards.

When sentries hear people approaching them by night, they must challenge them, order them to halt, and allow only one person to advance until they are satisfied they are friends. By day sentries must not allow more than one stranger at a time to approach their posts on any pretence.

10. Line of Sentries

In selecting the line for the chain of sentries, care must be taken not to extend it too much, - to post the men in the most advantageous positions for observing the roads and country in front, and to keep them as much concealed from the view of the enemy as the nature of their duty will admit. It is very desirable that every elevated spot, which overlooks the communications in the rear, shall be taken within the chain of sentries; but if this cannot be effected without extending the sentries too far, a party must be sent to occupy the heights during the day, and care must be taken to support and ensure the retreat of this party if attacked. Sentries must be so placed, moreover, as to secure one another from being cut off, and at such distances as to prevent any enemy from passing unperceived between them during the night. Sentries should never be posted near any copse or cover from which a sudden rush might be made upon them; but all woods, ravines &c., in the neighbourhood of the post, must be watched, and occasionally be visited by patroles, to prevent the enemy from assembling a body of troops, unobserved, in the vicinity.

11. Flanks to be protected

The flanks of a line of piquet sentries should be thrown a little back, and if not protected by the nature of the country, a detached party under the command of an officer should be posted in the most favourable position to prevent the flank from being turned.

12. Connecting Sentries

Communications should be kept up by means of single sentries, between the front line of sentries and the supports, also between the supports and the reserve.

13. Officers to examine ground

Officers going out on piquet duty must examine all the country over which they pass on their way from the camp, and select favourable positions for disputing the ground in case they are driven in by the enemy.

14. Posting a Company on Piquet

When an officer in charge of a company sent on piquet duty arrives on the position he is to occupy, he will first look to the immediate safety of his own party, and places sentries on its flanks and front; he will then send a file to the most elevated spot in the vicinity to get a good view of the surrounding country, and proceed himself with a patrole to examine all objects near him capable of concealing an enemy. Having thus secured himself from surprise, he will proceed to throw out his chain of sentries, and communicate with the parties on his right and left.

15. When Piquets are attacked

When piquets are attacked, the same rule will be observed as in all other skirmishing, and the detached officers' parties will not run in on the main body, but support the skirmishers; and when compelled to retire, they will, if possible, retreat on the flank of the main body, and thereby afford mutual support to each other. When a sentry is satisfied that the enemy is moving on to the attack, he should not hesitate to fire at once, although the enemy may be far beyond the range of his musket.

16. An Officer to strengthen his Post

An officer ought to strengthen his post when practicable, by constructing abattis, breastworks, &c.; where the defence of a bridge or ford is intrusted to him, he ought never to omit throwing up something of the kind to protect his men, and impede the advance of the enemy. An officer ought not, however, without permission, to block up a main road with other materials than such as are easily removed.

17. A Piquet must not shut itself up without Orders

A piquet ought not to shut itself up in a house, or an enclosure, with the intention of defending itself to the last extremity, unless particularily ordered to do so, or that circumstances should render that necessary at the moment, for the preservation of the party, in the expectation of support.

18. Under what Circumstances a Piquet should retire

A piquet may with safety defend its front as long as its flanks are not attacked; but as soon as the enemy attempts to surround the post, the piquet must begin to retire.

19. Flags of Truce

On the approach of a flag of truce, one sentry will advance and halt it at such distance as will prevent any of the party who compose it from overlooking the piquet posts. The other sentry will acquaint the officer commanding the piquet of the circumstance, who will, according to his instructions, either detain the flag of truce at the outpost, until he has reported to the field officer of the day, or he will forward the party blindfolded to the camp, under an escort. If the flag of truce is merely the bearer of a letter or parcel, the piquet officer must receive it, and instantly forward it to head-quarters. After having given a receipt, the flag of truce will be required forthwith to depart, and none of the piquet must be suffered to hold any conversation with this party.

20. Precautions to be taken when Fires are allowed

When a piquet is permitted to have a fire, it should always be as much as possible concealed from observation; and the alarm post of the piquet, in the event of an attack at night, should invariabley be fixed at a short distance in the rear of the fire, so as to prevent the piquet from being seen, when drawn up, and to compel the enemy to expose himself while passing the fire should he advance.

21. Advanced Piquets to be under Arms an Hour before Daylight

Piquets will get under arms in the morning an hour before daylight; and if everything appears quiet in front, the officer will, as soon as he can discern objects distinctly, proceed to occupy the same posts that he held the day before; but he must previously send forward patroles to feel his way, and should any change be remarked in the enemy's posts or position, he will report it immediately to the field officer of the day.

22. When advanced Piquets should be relieved

As attacks are most commonly made about daybreak, a desirable accession of force will be always obtained by relieving the piquets at that hour.

23. Arrival of the Relief

When the new piquet has arrived, the officer commanding it will accompany the officer of the old piquet along the chain of posts, and this officer will point out the situation and strength of all the enemy's posts, and afford every other information to the relieving officer in his power.

24. Duty of the Officer of the old Piquet

When the sentries are relieved, and the weather is sufficiently clear to ascertain that there is no indication of an attack, the officer who has been relieved will forward a written report to the field officer of the day; fall back upon the reserve piquet,and march to camp in the same order as when he advanced; but if the advanced piquets should be attacked before he arrives in camp, he will consider it his duty to face about instantly and march to their support.

25. Patrolling

One of the most necessary and effectual methods of preventing surprise and of gaining information remains to be noticed, viz., patrolling, without which, however active and alert the sentries, the service of the outpost never can be properly performed. The mode of conducting these patroles, their strength, and the distance to which they may be sent, are all necessary dependent on the ever-varying local circumstances in which piquets may be placed; but it may be laid down as a good general rule , that, when near the enemy, a patrole should be sent out once between every relief during the night.

26. Vigilance, Silence, and Circumspection indispensable in patrolling

Vigilance, silence, and circumspection must be strictly enjoined upon all patroles: no noise must on any account be made, and when anything is to be communicated, it should be done in a whisper.

It is not possible to lay down exact rules for conducting patroles in every case that may occur on service, but one or two of the most usual modes of carrying on this important duty may be briefly adverted to.

27. Patrolling in front of the Line of Sentries

The patrole on leaving the piquet, should, when practicable, communicate in the first instance with the next post upon the right (or left), and patrole cautiously along the whole front of the line of sentries, just near enough to see them, and communicating with the next post on the left (or right) return again to the piquet by the rear of the chain. The sentries must not be thrown off their guard by the frequent appearance of these patroles, but be taught to expect an enemy in all that approach them: some pre-concerted signal, or interchange of countersign in a low tone, should be used, and which should be changed at every relief.

28. Patrolling when the Enemy's Posts are distant

Patroles must be sent along the roads in the direction of the enemy's posts, to such distance as may be deemed expedient. These patroles must be preceded by feelers, quick intelligent men selected for that duty, whom no sound will escape, and whose experienced ears will detect approach of enemy long before it reaches them. A patrole must above all things avoid unnecessary firing, or, in other words, false alarms: on hearing the approach of footsteps the feelers should instantly fall back to the patrole; and should the sounds indicate the advance of a larger body than a patrole, one or two men should be sent back with all haste to inform the officer of the piquet, who will make immediate preparations for defence. The patrole will retire steadily and unobserved, if possible, upon the piquet; but if perceived and overtaken by the enemy, an incessant fire must be maintained, in order to apprise the camp that the enemy is coming on in force. Though it may safely be inferred, that if the piquets know their duty, and are judiciously drawn up for the defence of the roads, it will be extremely difficult for an enemy, however strong, having failed in his plan for taking the advanced posts by surprise, to make head, under all the disadvantages of a night attack, against men who know the ground, and whose plans have been previously concerted for disputing those points in their line of retreat, and where the disparity of numbers must, in the dark, be in a great measure neutralized.

29. Patroles to avoid exchanging Shots with the Enemy

In falling in with an enemy's patrole in advance of the chain of sentries, it will always be most prudent to retire at once without exchanging shots, which can only tend to harass and disturb the troops in their rear.

30. A strong Patrole to be sent out just before Day-light

A strong patrole will always be sent some distance on towards the enemy's posts just before day-light, and this patrole, above all others, must proceed with redoubled caution, for fear of falling in with the enemy's columns, waiting for day-light to attack.

31. The principal Object of Piquets in case of Attack

In the event of an attack, the commander of a piquet must ever bear in mind that the great object of his efforts is to gain sufficient time to enable the main body in his rear to get under arms and prepare for action. The points he is to dispute in falling back having been previously selected, few cases can occur in which it will be impossible to attain that end, without endangering the safety of his piquet; but even in an extreme case, he must remember that it is his duty to sacrifice himself, rather than be driven into the main body, before it has time to form.

32. Outlying Piquets pay no Compliments

Outlying piquets pay no compliments, but when approached by a general officer, the field officer of the day, or by any armed party, they will fall in and stand to their arms.

Sentries on out-post duty pay no compliments.

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Updated 7 September, 2004