Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Yes, British Soldiers were taught to Aim

With surprising frequency, modern writers who discuss military aspects of the American Revolution mention that British soldiers were not trained to aim their muskets when firing upon the enemy. Some writers go so far as to say they were actually trained not to aim. These claims have no basis whatsoever in fact, and yet they are repeated again and again.

The very flimsy foundation for these false assertions seems to be a change in terminology between the manual-of-arms used by the British army, and the one introduced to the American army at Valley Forge by General von Steuben. In the British manual, the command for aiming was called "Present"; the description for this command very explicitly described closing one eye while sighting down the barrel with the other eye. The new American manual used approximately the same description, but changed the name of the command from "Present" to "Take Aim." The change was nothing more than using a different word to describe the same concept; von Steuben may have introduced the new terminology to avoid confusion with an unrelated use of the term "Present" in the British manual. Some modern authors, apparently looking only at the words of command and not the descriptions of what they meant, seem to have interpreted von Steuben's use of the word "aim" as a great innovation rather than a simple one-word replacement, leading to a misconception that British soldiers were (illogically) not even trained to aim their weapons.

For more details on this subject, including discussion of target practice by British soldiers, see my article in the Journal of the American Revolution: http://allthingsliberty.com/2013/08/the-aim-of-british-soldiers/

Learn more about British soldiers in America

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