Military history reveals that armies throughout the world have participated in some form of drill. The primary value of drill historically has been to prepare troops for battle. For the most part, the drill procedures practiced have been identical to the tactical maneuvers employed on the battlefield. Drill has enabled commanders to quickly move their forces from one point to another, mass their forces into a battle formation that afforded maximum firepower, and maneuver those forces as the situation developed.
In 1775, when this country was striving for independence and existence, the nations leaders were confronted with the problem of not only establishing a government but also of organizing an army that was already engaged in war. From the "shot heard around the world," on 19 April 1775, until Valley Forge in 1778, revolutionary forces were little more than a group of civilians fighting Indian-style against well-trained, highly disciplined British Redcoats. For three years, General George Washingtons troops had endured many hardships--lack of funds, rations, clothing, and equipment. In addition, they had suffered loss after loss to the superior British forces. These hardships and losses mostly stemmed from the lack of a military atmosphere in country. Thus, an army was created with little or no organization, control, discipline, or teamwork.
Recognizing the crisis, General Washington, through Benjamin Franklin, the American Ambassador to France, enlisted the aid of a Prussian officer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Upon his arrival at Valley Forge on 23 February 1778, von Steuben, a former staff officer with Frederick the Great, met an army of several thousand half-starved, wretched men in rags. He commented that a European army could not be kept together in such a state. To correct the conditions that prevailed, he set to work immediately and wrote drill movements and regulations at night and taught them the following day to a model company of 120 men selected from the line.
Discipline became a part of military life for these selected individuals as they learned to respond to command without hesitation. This new discipline instilled in the individual a sense of alertness, urgency, and attention to detail. Confidence in himself and his weapon grew as each man perfected the fifteen l-second movements required to load and fire his musket. As the Americans mastered the art of drill, they began to work as a team and to develop a sense of pride in themselves and in their unit.
Watching this model company drill, observers were amazed to see how quickly and orderly the troops could be massed and maneuvered into different battle formations. Officers observed that organization, chain of command, and control were improved as each man had a specific place and task within the formation. Later, the members of the model company were distributed throughout the Army to teach drill. Through drill, they improved the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Army.
To ensure continuity and uniformity, von Steuben, by then a major general and the Army Inspector General, wrote the first Army field manual in 1779, The Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, commonly referred to as the Blue Book. The drill procedures initiated at Valley Forge were not changed for 85 years, until the American Civil War, and many of the drill terms and procedures are in effect today.
Drill commands are about the same as at the time of the War of 1812, except that then the officers and noncommissioned officers began them by saying, "Take care to face to the right, right, face." Also, during the American revolutionary period, troops marched at a cadence of 76 steps a minute instead of the current cadence of 120 steps. Then units performed precise movement on the battlefield, and the army that could perform them best was often able to get behind the enemy, or on his flank, and thus beat him. Speed spoiled the winning exactness. Also, firearms did not shoot far or accurately in 1776, so troop formations could take more time to approach the enemy.
As armament and weaponry have improved, drill has had to adapt to new tactical concepts. Although the procedures taught in drill today are not normally employed on the battlefield, the objectives accomplished by drill--teamwork, confidence, pride, alertness, attention to detail, esprit de corps, and discipline--are just as important to the modern Army as they were to the Continental Army.
Military Music Origins
The word "taps" is an alteration of the obsolete word "taptoo," derived from the Dutch "taptoe." Taptoe was the command - "Tap toe!" - to shut ("toe to") the "tap" of a keg.
The revision that gave us present-day taps was made during America's Civil War by Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, heading a brigade camped at Harrison Landing, Va., near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army's infantry call to end the day was the French final call, "L'Extinction des feux." Gen. Butterfield decided the "lights out" music was too formal to signal the day's end. One day in July, 1862 he recalled the tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music. Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes and, after listening, lengthened and shortened them while keeping his original melody.
He ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day thereafter, instead of the regulation call. The music was heard and appreciated by other brigades, who asked for copies and adopted this bugle call. It was even adopted by Confederate buglers.
Ceremony of Beating Retreat
It appears that the original call was beaten by drums alone, and that it was some years before the fifes were introduced. The bugle came at a later date still, and the present ceremony of having a band paraded is a modem innovation, which is purely used as a spectacle.
In days gone by, the hours of darkness brought a cessation of hostilities until the following day. The object of the call was to rally the guards necessary to secure the encampment for the night. It was also a warning for those outside the encampment or garrison to retire or else they would be kept outside until the next morning.
There is often confusion between a 'Retreat' and a 'Tattoo', The distinction was made in the General Orders of the Duke of Cumberland; 'the Retreat is to be beat at Sunset', whereas 'the Tattoo is to be beat at ten, nine or eight o'clock at night'.
In 1799, the General Regulations and Orders for the Conduct of HM Armed Forces in Great Britain, laid down that it shall be "beat at sunset" and this is repeated in all editions of King's (and Queen's) Regulations down to the present day.