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The Service Of Security

Military Handbooks: The Plattsburg Manual

Security has the same meaning in the military world as elsewhere. We

properly think of the security of our persons, our property, our

families in connection with the term. In the military world the family,

or community, being so much larger, the word security acquires

additional dignity.

A husband and father provides for the protection of his family whether

at home or abroad. So does the military commande
for his command,

whether it is an army or a squad; whether it is in camp, on the march,

in battle, advancing upon or retreating from the enemy. The end desired

is the same in all cases. A study of all the measures adopted by the

successful generals in history shows that the means are not very


A body of troops in camp is protected (made secure) by the use of groups

placed between the enemy and the camp. We were told by a bee expert in

Arizona that a limited number of bees remained in the vicinity of the

hive. They were quick to observe and resist (the two great duties of an

outpost) any intruder.

Suppose that you are in a part of the jungles of Borneo where wild

Mohammedan tribes still exist, that you have had a strenuous day's

march, and it is time for you to halt and camp for the night. If you are

a thoughtful and experienced hunter you will pitch your camp where its

protection will be least difficult. A few wild men may severely punish

you for a lack of judgment in the matter. They may probably spring from

a weak and unexpected quarter when the occasion is least favorable for

you. And unless the members of your camp know that you have exercised

wise discretion, and that there are proper measures for their security,

they will be unable to obtain the needed repose for the following day's

work. From this we can see the important business (function) of an


As a father would interpose himself between his wife and children and an

attacking bulldog, so would a military commander provide a similar

protection for his camp. We see from this one of the big duties of an

outpost commander, i.e., especial attention should be devoted to the

direction from which the enemy (bulldog) is coming or is thought to be

coming, and a probably less degree of attention to other points.

Consider yourself a member of General Sherman's army during its march

from the North on Atlanta. You are to camp for the night on a very open

piece of ground. You do not know where the enemy is, but you believe

that he is somewhere south of you. The troops are tired. They have had a

long, hard march. Let us suppose it is your duty to provide the security

of the main body for the night. General Sherman has given you a certain

number of men for this purpose. Just how would you go about it?

Regardless of other considerations, it is imperative that your own main

force be not surprised or caught off guard by any contingency, however

exceptional. To secure this immunity, it is necessary to send men or

groups of men in the direction of the probable advance of the enemy,

anti to arrange these men or groups of men so that they can be of

assistance to each other. This we call forming an outpost.

It may be possible to have a line of protection extending around the

entire camp. It must be extended and arranged so as to keep the enemy so

far away from our main body that he cannot observe our numbers or our

position. The enemy must not be permitted to approach close enough to

the main body to annoy or surprise it. Experience shows that all of this

is best accomplished by placing: 1st, some groups or line of groups

farthest from our main body and closest to the enemy in order to

observe, to report the movements of the enemy, and, when necessary, to

make a temporary resistance; 2d, a line of resistance (supporting

groups) called supports upon which the first line can retire before,

being swamped by superior numbers; 3d, large groups, or line of groups

(line of reserves), so located that they may go to the assistance of

the second line in case of necessity. Such arrangements may be

illustrated by the following diagram.


Danger zone


Danger zone ---- Danger zone

--- ---

Cavalry -- -- Cavalry

-- -- -- --

/ -- -- \

/ / \ \

+ / ---- ---- \ +

^ + / \ +

/ ^ + +-----------+ +


/ \ +-----------+ \

Line of observation. \ Line of reserves -

Occupied by small \ to move forward to

groups. Drive back \ help line of supports.

enemy patrols. \

Line of supports on line of resistance.

Rallying point for small groups in front.

Note that distances from the line of observation to the main body

increase as the groups increase in size. The reserves are the largest

groups. The groups on the Line of observation are the smallest.

It is most important to note that the groups are placed according to

the conditions and circumstances of the particular case. Don't follow

any blind rules. Your judgment must tell you when to place this group

here and not to place that group there. Have as few men on such duty as


If a swamp, or a large body of water here, very small groups will

afford the necessary security.

If a forest, or steep hills here, very small parties will afford the

necessary security.

Assume that we want to afford security for our main body from any

especially dangerous sector such as ABC. Our cavalry is in front of our

first line and in touch with the enemy. The danger zone represents the

direction from which the enemy is expected.]

This plan must be modified according to the particular case. Let us

suppose that we are camping by a large body of water, or that we are

surrounded by mountains. We can easily imagine where we could change

the above general plan so as to give adequate protection and at the same

time lessen the number of men detailed for security. We must never

forget that men are generally tired when they arrive in camp, and that

we should make their work as light as circumstances permit. It requires

a nice judgment to choose the correct number for security.

We should know the names of these groups. Farthest away is the line that

sees, and reports what it sees, but can offer only a limited resistance.

This is called the line of observation or the line of outguards. In

rear of the line of outguards we have larger groups placed at greater

distances. These are called supports. This is the line that fights.

This is the line that makes extensive preparations for fighting (or

resisting). It is called the line of supports or the line of

resistance.[2] We have one farther and last line of groups which is

still larger and occupies still greater distances than the two we have

just discussed. This is the safety valve and is called the reserve, or

the line of reserves. This is the line that gives a sound factor of

safety. It will only be called upon in cases of emergency and may

therefore generally enjoy a considerable degree of repose. But it and

the line of supports combined must have sufficient strength to delay the

enemy, in case of a general attack, long enough for our main body to

form for battle.

Let us look at the line of outguards for further important

considerations and distinctions. The enemy's movements and operations

should ordinarily be expected where there are for him least

difficulties. Large (dangerous) bodies of troops find trouble in

marshes, thick forests, steep mountainous country. They avoid these

obstacles as much as possible, selecting open country, solid soil,

strong bridges, and good roads. Here is where large and strong groups in

opposition are necessary. Small and unimportant groups (or no groups at

all) should be placed where the enemy's advance is exceptionally

difficult. Finally, there will be places between these last two extremes

that require just an average amount of attention, that is to say,

require groups of medium strength.

The groups that are largest and are used at the important places where

danger is most expected, are called Pickets. (These consist of from

two squads of eight men each to eight squads.) The least important

groups are called Cossack Posts. (These consist of four men, usually a

noncommissioned officer and three privates.) The groups of average

importance are called Sentry Squads. (These consist of eight men, a

corporal and seven privates.)

Having discussed in broad terms the security of troops in camp, we are

prepared to consider their security while either advancing upon or

retreating from the enemy. In either case groups are placed between our

main body and the actual or supposed position of the hostile troops.

When we are advancing upon an enemy our advanced groups constitute what

we term the advance guard. If we are retreating from the enemy, our

rear groups compose the rear guard. The main general ideas of an

advance guard are illustrated by the husband who takes his wife and

family to his house after an evening's absence. The house is dark and

without occupants. The wife and children are apprehensive of danger. The

husband goes first, turns on the light, and searches for any indications

of an enemy. He looks, if desirable, in the closets and under the beds.

If there is any one that may harm his family it is his duty to find out

and dispose of him.

In the advance guard we have exactly the same general scheme as with

outposts. Far advanced to the front (and often to the sides or flanks)

we have small groups (called, when considered collectively, the advance

party) whose business it is to inform us of the presence of the enemy.

Next we have a large group (support) to assist these small and rather

helpless ones in advance in case of difficulty. And last we have a still

larger group (reserve) that may be called upon in great emergencies.

We should fully understand that all these groups are out to accomplish

several ends, but their one great and ultimate object should be to push

on ahead of the main body so that it may be secure and its march

uninterrupted. To accomplish this it is desirable to get all possible

information about the enemy; it is also desirable to keep him from

getting any information about your own troops.

The ideas are nearly the same with rear guards. Note this important

difference: if, in an advance upon the enemy, your advance guard should

suddenly be fired upon, your main body would (temporarily) halt. If, in

a retreat, your rear guard is halted by the enemy's fire, your main body

would normally be marching farther from it. In the first case assistance

is near at hand. In the second it is withdrawing. The rear guard in a

retreat should therefore be a little larger than in an advance. It must

be able to extricate itself from any situation however difficult or it

loses its usefulness. Its commander should have a cool, level head. To

delay the enemy and thus assist the main body to escape is his mission.

For him to remain too long in a good position might endanger not only

his safety but that of the main body as well.