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Distribution Of Outpost Troops

Military Handbooks: The Plattsburg Manual Advanced Training

The outpost will generally be divided into four parts. These, in order

from the main body, are the reserve, the line of supports, the line of

outguards, and the advance cavalry.


The distance separating these parts, and their distance from the main

body, will depend upon the object sought, the nature of the terrain, and

the size o
the command. There can be no uniformity in the distance

between supports and reserve, nor between outguards and supports, even

in the same outpost. The avenues of approach and the important features

of the terrain will largely control their exact positions.

The outpost of a small force should ordinarily hold the enemy beyond

effective rifle range of the main body until the latter can deploy. For

the same purpose the outpost of a large force should hold the enemy

beyond the artillery range.

The reserve constitutes the main body of the outpost and is held at some

central point from which it can readily support the troops in front or

hold a rallying position on which they may retire. The reserve may be

omitted when the outpost consists of less than two companies.

The reserve may comprise one-fourth to two-thirds of the strength of the


The supports constitute a line of resisting and supporting detachments,

varying in size from a half company to a battalion. They furnish the

line of outguards.

The supports are numbered consecutively from right to left. They are

placed at the more important points on the outpost line, usually in the

line on which resistance is to be made in case of attack.

As a general rule, roads exercise the greatest influence on the location

of supports, and a support will generally be placed on or near a road.

The section which it is to cover should be clearly defined by means of

tangible lines on the ground and should be such that the support is

centrally located therein.

The outguards constitute the line of small detachments farthest to the

front and nearest to the enemy. For convenience they are classified as

pickets, sentry squads, and cossack posts. They are numbered

consecutively from right to left in each support.

A picket is a group consisting of two or more squads, ordinarily not

exceeding half a company, posted in the line of outguards to cover a

given sector. It furnishes patrols and one or more sentinels, double

sentinels, sentry squads, or cossack posts for observation.

Pickets are placed at the more important points in the line of

outguards, such as road forks. The strength of each depends upon the

number of small groups required to observe properly its sector.

A sentry squad is a squad posted in observation at an indicated point.

It posts a double sentinel in observation, the remaining men resting

near by and furnishing the reliefs of sentinels. In some cases it may be

required to furnish a patrol.

A cossack post consists of four men. It is an observation group similar

to a sentry squad, but employs a single sentinel.

At night it will sometimes be advisable to place some of the outguards

or their sentinels in a position different from that which they occupy

in the day time. In such case the ground should be carefully studied

before dark and the change made at dusk. However, a change in the

position of the outguard will be exceptional.

Sentinels are generally used singly in daytime, but at night double

sentinels will be required in most cases. Sentinels furnished by

cossack posts or sentry squads are kept near their group. Those

furnished by pickets may be as far as 100 yards away.

Every sentinel should be able to communicate readily with the body to

which he belongs.

Sentinel posts are numbered consecutively from right to left in each

outguard. Sentry squads and cossack posts furnished by pickets are

counted as sentinel posts.

By day, cavalry reconnoiters in advance of the line of observation. At

night, however, that the horses may have needed rest and because the

work can be done better by infantry, the greater part of the cavalry is

usually withdrawn in rear of the supports, generally joining the

reserve, small detachments being assigned to the supports for patrolling

at a distance.

With efficient cavalry in front, the work of the infantry on the line of

observation is reduced to a minimum.

General instructions for the advance cavalry are given by the outpost

commander, but details are left to the subordinate.

Instead of using outguards along the entire front of observation, part

of this front may be covered by patrols only. These should be used to

cover such sections of the front as can be crossed by the enemy only

with difficulty and over which he is not likely to attempt a crossing

after dark.

In daylight much of the local patrolling may be dispensed with if the

country can be seen from the posts of the sentinels. However, patrols

should frequently be pushed well to the front unless the ground in that

direction is exceptionally open.

Patrols or sentinels must be the first troops which the enemy meets, and

each body in rear must have time to prepare for the blow. These bodies

cause as much delay as possible without sacrificing themselves, and

gradually retire to the line where the outpost is to make its


Patrols must be used to keep up connection between the parts of the

outpost except when, during daylight, certain fractions or groups are

mutually visible. After dark this connection must be maintained

throughout the outpost except where the larger subdivisions are provided

with wire communication.

In addition to ordinary outguards, the outpost commander may detail from

the reserve one or more detached posts to cover roads or areas not in

the general line assigned to the supports.

In like manner the commander of the whole force may order detached posts

to be sent from the main body to cover important roads or localities not

included in the outpost line.

The number and strength of detached posts are reduced to the absolute

needs of the situation.