The Advanced Guard

Its purpose & practice

Advanced Guard: is the party of either horse or foot, which marches four to five hundred yards before the body, to give notice of any danger.
-- from Thomas Simes' Military Dictionary, London, 1768.

  This page presents excerpts from Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry and Instructions for Their Conduct in the Field, Printed for the War Office, London 1799. Although this drill manual was published a number of years after the Revolution, experience gained in the American War seems quite evident. Many aspects of light infantry duty are discussed in the original text, but only those passages having to do with the advanced guard are included here.

General Rule

  It is a rule which must always be attended to, that no column, regiment, or detachment, whether it be near, or at a distance from the enemy, marches without an advanced guard, and flank patroles, in order to reconnoitre the country, and prevent the possibility of an attack before the column has time to form, or to look for and dislodge the enemy when he is supposed to be in the neighbourhood, though no account is received of his exact position.

Distribution of the advanced guard and flank patroles

  The distribution of the advanced guard, and flank patroles, remains as has been before directed. The intention being, that they should be sent as far in front and on the flanks as possible, it becomes equally necessary, that they again should detach in their front and on their flanks (in as large proportion as their numbers will allow) skirmishers, whose business it will be to examine closely all objects which present themselves on the march, to transverse all inclosures, and the like. Skirmishers must always be in parties of two men each, so that while one is employed on the look-out, and if any thing approach, or is perceived at a distance, the one may immediately make a report to the body from which he is detached, while the other keeps his eye constantly on the object till the return of his comrade.

  The distance at which an advanced guard and flank patroles should keep from the column must be determined by local circumstances, and by the strength of the column. They should, however, be always at such a distance, that if they should be unexpectedly attacked, the column may have time to put itself in a posture of defence; and also, that if defiles1, villages, or woods, present themselves on the line of march, they may be examined thoroughly before the arrival of the head of the column, that there may then be no delay. The skirmishers must be very cautious during the march, not to be cut off from the advanced guard; and the same precautions are necessary for the advanced guard, with respect to the column.

When an Advanced Guard meets an enemy

  If the commander of the head of an advanced guard, should have intelligence of the approach of an enemy's patrole, he will first halt, endeavour to discover the strength of it, and then fall back on the main body, the commanding officer of which, if the enemy is in not too great force, should try to conceal his men, suffer the enemy to approach, and endeavour to entangle him between his parties, and the head of the column, when he may attack him without risk.

  If an advanced guard is set upon unawares, by a body of the enemy in ambuscade2, the officer commanding it must immediately attack; but it will depend upon what may be the general object of the move, whether he is to engage with his whole force, trusting to the column for support, or whether he is merely to keep the enemy in check, so as to gain the time sufficient for the column to make such dispositions as may be thought necessary.

  It is a maxim however, and one which cannot be too strongly impressed upon the mind of every officer commanding an advanced guard, or flank patrole, that in the event of his being pursued, by a considerable body of the enemy, he is by no means to fall back immediately upon the column: officers should therefore take precautions against any unforeseen accidents that may occur during the march, and attentively observe the ground by which a retreat may be effected. The commanding officer of an advanced guard is not to confine himself to the main body, but occasionally to visit the advanced, and flank patroles, that he may make his own observations, and trust as little as possible to the reports of others.

When the column halts

  If in the course of a march the column should halt, the advanced guard will of course do the same; the flank patroles and skirmishers making front outwards; and it is to be observed, that no defile within a short distance of the advanced guard or flank patrole, should be left unoccupied. The advanced guard should endeavour even to make itself master of the ground beyond the defile, if it is only be sending a few men to take post there, that the column may be in security during the halt, and the men be suffered to rest themselves. Besides, by this precaution, the advanced guard will secure the pass of the defile. It will of course be understood that when a column halts, the advance guard and flank patroles will post their own sentries, and thus form the pickets, and chain of sentries for the whole column.

Refer to this sketch of an advanced guard from the manual.


The Order of March

An excerpt from Lt. Colonel Andreas Emmerich's The Partisan In War, or The Use of a Corps of Light Troops to an Army (London: H. Reynell, 1789, pages 47-50).

  1. One corporal, with two men on horseback in front.
  2. One corporal, with three chasseurs and three light infantry men to follow.
  3. One serjeant, with six chasseurs and six light infantry men to follow, the last-mentioned corporal, out of which number, he is to detach one man on each flank.
  4. One Serjeant, with twelve light dragoons, who is likewise to detach flanking parties, if the country will permit of it, but if not, this duty must be performed by infantry.
  5. One subaltern, with two serjeants, two corporals and thirty infantry, to follow, who is also to send out flanking parties.
  6. The captain who is on duty for the day when the march commences, is to move next, with one hundred men, commissioned and non-commissioned officers in proportion, composed of cavalry, chasseurs, and light infantry, and in like manner to detach flanking parties.
  7. The main body follows last, one troop of cavalry heading the column, if in an open country; then all the infantry, and the remainder of the cavalry closing the line of march. A sufficient guard of cavalry and infantry ought to be always left to bring up the baggage.
In the order of march above stated, it must be carefully observed, that every succeeding party is never to lose sight of the party immediately in its front, but to keep at a regular distance from it.


  1. Defile: a narrow pass which obliges an army to defile off; it is one of the greatest obstacles that can occur in the march of an army, especially if it happens to be between woods or marshes; for it not only gives an enemy an extraordinary advantage, of either attacking the front or rear, when they cannot come to relieve on another, because of the straightness of the passage; but it likewise very much impedes the march of an army: a retreating army always puts a defile between them and the enemy, to secure them a retreat.
    -- from Thomas Simes' Military Dictionary, London, 1768.
  2. Ambuscade: or ambush, is a lurking party in a wood, or other convenient place, to surprise an enemy. To discover an ambush, or fall into one, are plain.
    -- from Thomas Simes' Military Dictionary, London, 1768.

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