For many years, historians and living historians have debated how the soldiers of 1812 stacked arms. The manuals have been vague however. Most have only brushed over the subject without really explaining how to "Pile" or stack arms.
The mainstay of tactics for the United States Army till the year 1812 was Baron De Steuben's "Blue Book". Steuben went into great detail describing camp, the march and the manual exercise yet his only comment regarding the stacking or piling of arms was:
"The Piquets being sent off, the commanding Officer of Battalions commands their men to pile their arms, and dismiss them to pitch their tents." 1
Steuben's manual was replaced by the Army in 1812 by "Regulations for the Infantry of the United States", written by (Smyth) "an officer of the Army". This manual does not contain even a mention of piling arms. 2
William Duane published the next official manual of the United States Army in 1813. It was entitled "Regulations to be received and observed for the Discipline of Infantry in the Army of the United States. A Handbook for Infantry". Duane was not highly regarded nor was his numerous printings of his "Hand book for Infantry. Most American officers refused to use it. On Page 97 & 98 of his handbook Duane stated:
"The stacking of arms by two contiguous files in the order of two deep or in the order of 3 deep, is now the mode adopted, stacking the firelocks of the three is easy, facing the centre rank to the Right, stepping with the left foot six Inches Backward; and the front rank coming to the Right about: the firelocks stand in regular order; they are secured from moisture, and are easily resumed by the members on returning to the Ranks."
Duane mentions stacking of arms by two ranks, but does not explain how. His explanation of stacking with three ranks is about as clear as the Missouri River. 3
After the war, the confusion the Government had created with the several Infantry manuals & regulations that were issued and used during the war, was finally cleared up. Winfield Scott chaired a board that created a new national manual. The Army's new manual stated:
" Bayonets being fixed and arms shouldered, if the instructor wishes arms to be piled, it shall be effected in the following manner. He shall command
1.Front rank one pace forward.
3. Right --- About.
At the word, march, the front rank shall march on pace to the front, and at the words, about, and face, shall face to the right about as already described. ...The four men will join the shanks of their bayonets over their common centre, giving their firelocks no more inclination than is necessary to keep them firmly together.
When the squad is reassembled for the purpose of resuming arms, the men will arrange themselves as they stood when when piling arms; every man placing his right hand on his firelock without moving it."
1. Squad 2. Take---Arms 3. Shoulder ---Arms
At the word of command, every man will gently disengage his firelock from the pile ...." 4
Hmmm. The common centre. Who was more clear, Duane or Scott? However, good information is found regarding the motions of the front rank and that the men are placing their hands on their muskets before receiving orders to take arms. Yet, Scott's manual is not very clear besides being published after the war had ended.
The answer may be found in yet another Manual. Actually, in a Military Dictionary written by E. Hoyt. His "Practical Instructions" for officers has the best description yet to stack arms.
This is practiced when troops are dismissed, a short time from parade, and is reckoned a more safe method of securing the arms, than grounding, which on wet ground exposes them to dampness.
Let a squad, consisting of four men be drawn up in two ranks, at the distance of two paces; the front rank brought to the right about, and the whole to the order, with fixed bayonets.
PILE - ARMS !
The two men composing the first file, make a small pace forward with the left foot, turning their pieces outwards with the right hand till the barrels are forward, at the same time sloping them forward till the necks of the bayonets come in contact, and rest on each other; the second man in the front rank then seizes his piece with the left hand near the muzzle, and with both hands thrusts his bayonet under the necks of the bayonets of the first file, and making a pace with the right foot
obliquely to the right, placing it upon the ground, making with the other butts, nearly an equilateral triangle; the second man in the rear rank will then turn his piece and place it against the others. If the
recruits are to be dismissed, the instructor commands,
CLEAR FROM ARMS ! MARCH !
The rear rank goes to the right about and the whole march to the rear, the front rank passing the arms.
If the squad consists of eight men, the next four pile in the same manner. In this manner a company a battalion, & c. may pile arms, each four (numbering from the right) making a pile. If there happen to be one or two men on the left flank, they must pile with the four on their right: if three remain they may form a separate pile." 5
Redemption at last. Finally a good description to "Pile" or "Stack" arms.
1) REGULATIONS FOR THE ORDER AND DISCIPLINE ...By Baron De Steuben. New York 1805 page 38
2) REGULATIONS FOR THE INFANTRY OF THE UNITED STATES ... By "An officer of the Army" ( Alexander Smyth) Philadelphia 1812
3) A HAND BOOK FOR INFANTRY By William Duane Philadelphia 1813 pages 97 & 98
4) RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR THE FIELD EXERCISE AND MANOEUVRES OF
INFANTRY ... Concord 1817 Pages 30 & 31
5) PRACTICAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR MILITARY OFFICERS & C. By E. Hoyt Greenfield 1811 Pages 155 & 166.