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The Sarge!

Slope Arms.

A question has been asked if Riflemen slope arms?

The manual of exercise for the rifle, does not provide for this motion.

However Crauford's orders, detail that the Division will march off at sloped arms, and the rifles being a part of this division may have had to obey that order.

Furthermore Stewart in his instuctioins for the system of drill to be used by the rifles in 1803, details that the motions in De Rothenburg will be followed with the following additions - - - using the motions as described for the firelock in Dundas.

The above comment would suggest that if not prescribed for in De Rothenburg, then Dundas to be, used. However the sloped arms creates an issue for the rifle, as the shoulder arms for the rifles is on the right, as advanced arms for firelock and the shoulder arm for firelock is on the left, with the slope being completed from there, the rifle has no left arm motions.

Let say the rifles did slope arms as Crauford has ordered, and using the motions as described in Dundas, he could be at his shoulder on the right, then told to left shoulder arms and slope from there.

I am inclined to think rifles did slope arms, but have no proof if done, or what words of command would have been used, so throwing this one out there for discussion.

Hmmm, interesting question. I can see a lot of merit in sloping arms, though can see no real reason for it not being allowed on the right. Though, I had always assumed that support arms was intended as the rifleman's alternative to slope arms?

Doesn't Dundas have its own support arms for the musket? In fact one position for stationary and another for on the march.

Could Advance arms also be used for the Rifle just as in Dundas, just advancing the weapon from the shoulder arms position to the other arm? This would put you in a position to slope arms on the left if ordered.

Now don't shoot me for this it's food for thought only, modern 1940s drill does have the order change arms which moves the weapon from the shoulder on the right to the shoulder on the left and the same order to bring it back again. Is this just an historical move on from advance arms? After all modern drill came from somewhere.

Just an idea for discussion.
Paul Durrant

I understand from reading personal 95th accounts that a lot of our recruitment was done from the gatherings of Volunteer units and Militia. When they were in town, our recruiting boys went out on the hunt.

I'm presuming one big advantage of this is that they would be well versed in the drill of the Army (Dundas) and as Riflemen were expected to know the Close Order drill and movements as laid out in the R&R (Dundas) as well as Light Infantry drill, then maybe the opening para of DeRottenburg's 'Regs for the Exercise of Riflemen and LI, etc...' means more than just movements;

"When a company or Battalion of Riflemen is to act with closed ranks and files, the same regulations which are given to infantry in general serve for them. And before the soldier is instructed in the manoeuvres of light troops, he must be taught how to hold himself, to march, face, wheel, etc, as in regular infantry."

That said, then surely the instructions for our specific way of loading a rifle would be the only thing needed in the Manual of Arms? Surely aside from that we could just follow the Manual of arms for the firelock?

But the differences seem to stem from the rifle being shouldered on the right (whilst musket is on the left); Shouldering on the right drops easily into the way we 'support arms' and 'trail arms'; it also drops easily into loading - and the new-fangled 'make ready!'.

All the power and manoeuvrability of our rifle movements seems to stem from the rifle being on the right  - resulting in faster and smoother motions. Was all this governed by the fact it was a simply a rifle, or because it was a shorter weapon (or both)?

Is the sloping of arms a position of ease? Is it a position of ease because of the balance a long arm like a Brown Bess can afford the carrier? If so, does the same apply to the short Infantry Rifle?

Maybe we can read in Crauford's instructions to march off at the slope as one of suggesting the army moves off with ease, and as they are a majority of musket carrying regts the order is a generalisation and rifle corps would simply trail...?
The Sarge!


Crauford's orders as we know were followed, and he says the whole division and knowing the rifles are a part of it, I feel it would have the addition of the rifles will trail.

All our motions are for the effect of the rifle in the field and they are most suited to that purpose.

The slope is one for the close order march and as you have rightly said, rifles are trained in all things Dundas, I wonder if that would include the motions of the firelock.


Advance arms are you mad, rifles shoulder their arms, as in the advanced arms, I have looked at later manuals and they provide for each arm used.

If following period method, then I think its to Dundas we have to look, rather than make something up or use very much later methods.


The support is great when stood still, but not too fab on the march and they did a lot more marching than we do. I feel its more of a uniformity matter with Crauford.

I feel some practice experimentation will have to be done, along with the discussion to find the merits and practicality of it.

Not entirely mad.......well not yet lol, just a thought, as you obviously can't do slope on the right as the lock plate and cock would be digging in your shoulder.

And if we dropped back into Dundas and shouldered on the left what would the order be?

"As for Dundas Shoulder Arms" or maybe that famous line "Shoulder arms like the Redcoats" and yes I have heard that said.

Not by us I hasten to add.
Paul Durrant

Is it a case of our manual of arms for when we're acting solely by ourselves, and Dundas when with the rest of the Army?

That would make sense.

The action of "Sloping Arms" with a musket is for the musket to be leaned on the top of the shoulder and for the left arm to be bent for this purpose.

For the rifle to be able to do this the rifle would have to be first transferred from the Right hand-side being at the "Shoulder" to the left hand-side and then to the slope. So when the order for "Slope Arms" is given the Rifles would have to complete TWO arms movements to the LI's one movement.

If this was to be done from the "Order" The Rifleman could do so treating the rifle as the same as the musket. But how would the Riflemen know which shoulder to go to, his left or right?

I find it hard to believe that if the Rifles did "Slope Arms" we would have found more evidence and commands to do so. If Campbell's was the principle LI manual why doesn't this mention it. Does it mention Rifles "Sloping Arms" in the 1823 Drill Manual?

Could it be that when the order for "Slope Arms" was given the Rifles went to "Sling Arms"?

To me the antagonists in this discussion are trying to make their ideas fit fragments of information.
Paul Durrant

This is the 'Slope Arms' ref from Craufurd's 'Standing Orders'
(Full title: 'Standing Orders, as given out an enforced by the late Major-Gen Rob Craufurd for the use of the Light Division during the years 1809, 10 & 11')

Article II
Marching off, Silence, Marching at Ease... (etc)

3. All words of command addressed to men marching at ease, must be preceded by the word 'Attention', upon which the men will slope their arms, and take up the step, and the most perfect order and silence must be resumed and enforced, until the word is given to March at Ease...

6. When at the end of a march it happens that a line is to be taken up by successive formation, each company may slope arms as soon formed, by word of command from its own Officer; But the companies must not order arms, or Stand at Ease, until they are directed to do so by the Commanding Officer of the battalion, which will not be done until the whole is formed.
The Sarge!

The question was asked (not by me, I might add) and I'm merely exploring the possibilities - in the name of research - if the Rifles sloped arms, as Crauford's orders are explicit and we know were used right up to Waterloo. If the rifles were not meant to do it, I feel Crauford would have said so.

Campbell, who is our accepted instructor, makes no mention, but his instructions originate from 1808 with a reprint in English in 1813, when he is no longer in the British Army.

However we currently use motions not described by Campbell and use Dundas as the default, as clearly these motions are necessary in order to operate.

The instructions given for the manual arm of exercise for the rifle are different to the firelock and that makes sense, as they are different weapons. But does that mean we did not do any of the firelock motions?

According to Colonel Stewart who penned a system of instruction for the Rifles in 1803, Cumloden Papers entitled, 'Formation of Light Infantry and Rifle Regiments of the British Army 1803 Rules and Regulations for the Formation, Field Exercises and Movements of the Light Infantry and Rifle Regiments of the British Army, Col Stewart 95th (Rifle) Regt. of Ft.' And in Part 4 of this system he writes the following, "Instruction with Arms - as in De Rothenburg, with additional motions, recover - from the shoulder, shoulder - from the recover, port arms, fix swords, prepare to charge, shoulder arm - from the port, unfix swords, order arms - from the recover, recover - from the order. The above as in the Exercise of the Firelock."

This demonstrates that not all the motions required for the rifle are prescribed for in Manual arms of Exercise, even Weddeburne makes mention of this in his works.

So because it's not in manual, does it mean it was not done? That is why I believe practical work also needs to be conducted along with research, to ascertain if the slope arms is possible or whether its impractical due to its length.

The Field Exercises and Evolutions of the Army, 1824 detail the following motions for the firelock; supporting arms, sloping arms, carrying arms, ordering arms, standing at ease, attention and shouldering from the order, as mentioned in the Manual Exercise.

When you look at the same section in 1807 abstract it lists the following; supporting arms, carrying arms, ordering arms, standing at ease, attention, shouldering from the order, as mentioned in the Manual Exercise.

Its interesting to note that the 1807 and 1824 manuals list the same, however there is an addition of sloped arms in 1824 manual. I can not help wondering if this is significant.

Alas both manuals have no description of motions, as under section 28 Manual Exercise they both state 'by regulation'.
Hagman's roadie

From a practical sense, the slope arms allows the weight of the weapon to be balanced on the shoulder. Designed to prevent undue fatigue I shouldn't wonder.
We all know how tiring it gets holding the rifle at the shoulder, even then going to the trail makes little difference.
Imagine having to hold it on the right with the full weight burdening that arm for an entire march, then having to potentially go into battle.
We have a 'sling arms' that moves the rifle to the left but this would most probably not suit for close order marching.
I have to admit I can't imagine we would have held our rifles on the right either at the shoulder, the trail or supported for the entire duration of a march.
Paul Durrant

The Sarge! wrote:
When you look at the same section in 1807 abstract it lists the following; supporting arms, carrying arms, ordering arms, standing at ease, attention, shouldering from the order, as mentioned in the Manual Exercise.

As Blakey points out, the 'Manual Exercise' in this addition of the R&Regs describes all the above - but no 'Slope Arms'.

This is repeated in the following;
Treatise on the British Drill by Suasso, 1805, p50's%20Regulations%20for%20the%20Inspection%20and%20Review%20Exercise%22&f=false

...and Russell's Instructions for the Drill and Performing the 18 Manoeuvres, 1814, p66;'s%20Regulations%20for%20the%20Inspection%20and%20Review%20Exercise%22&f=false

The 'Manual Exercise, as ordered by His Majesty in the year 1764, etc' also gives no mention of this 'Slope Arms'.
Greg Renault

Slope arms is one of those movements that was absent from the official manual of arms, but which apparently persisted in practice because it was useful (and eventually added to the 1824 version).  In the 1816 edition of his Treatise on the British Drill Anthony Suasso includes Slope Arms in his section titled "Several Motions of the Firelock, not comprehended in the Manual Exercise", with the following note:

Although this motion is not supported by any authority, and that even the only mention which is made of it in the Regulations is where it is forbidden, p. 106, to sentries to carry their arms in this position, it has however been noticed here on account of the frequent use which is made of it while on a march. (109n)

So we have it on a period authority that Slope Arms, though not found in the official manual,  was widely practiced.  Although Suasso says nothing specific about Slope Arms from the light infantry carry, it seems to me we might infer that it may have been utilized by Rifles as well, if it was practical.  

For what it's worth, the French and the US sloped arms on either shoulder.
Here is the quote from Winfield Scott's 1814 translation of the French 1791 Reglement:

132.  Carry the firelock, indifferently, on either shoulder, with either hand, the barrel sloped.

But I can't envision an easy way to go directly from the LI/rifle carry to a slope position on the right shoulder (or back again, for that matter).  Easy enough to go from the rifle to the musket carry (Shoulder Arms from Advanced Arms in the M&PE) though, sloping arms on the 3rd motion, as the right hand drops to the side.
Greg Renault

Slope Arms is one of the manual exercises depicted by Rowlandson in Ackermann's 1799 London Volunteers, which points to common practice despite its absence in the official manuals.


Slope your Firelocks!

As a grey haired veteran of the American War for Independence, I can attest that "Slope your Firelocks!" was a command that I first noted in the 1775 edition of Pickering's "Easy Plan of Discipline for a Militia". That it became known and used by His Majesty's forces can be demonstrated by its inclusion in the 1784 "Irish Volunteer's Companion" as a additional motion.

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