Guardhouse - Duties of the Guards

Standing Guard


Guard duties included standing as sentinels. Sentinels were posted at various locations throughout the fort: the powder magazine, post headquarters and around the perimeter of the fort. They were also responsible for guarding prisoners who were performing work details, such as working in the gardens or hauling firewood.

Anyone approaching sentinels were asked to halt and give a password or countersign. As a person approached, the conversation would generally go as follows:

Guard: Halt, who comes there?
Person: Friend, with the countersign.
Guard: Advance, friend, and give the countersign.

The person then advances and gives the countersign or password. The countersign would often be the name of a battle that the soldiers had participated in. If the person does not have the countersign, the guard will call for the sergeant of the guard.

Other duties of the sentinel included watching for prairie fires and keeping an eye out for soldiers misbehaving. In the event of misbehavior, the sentinel would report to his sergeant. In the event of a prairie fire, the sentinel would summon the other guards not on sentinel duty to come and fight the fire. The guards would form a bucket brigade, using water in leather buckets to fight the fire. Leather buckets do not need to be kept wet to hold water the way wooden buckets do.

Sentinels were generally relieved after two hours, and could then rest for four hours, before their next tour of duty. This rotation continued throughout the 24 hours of guard duty.

Guard Mounting Dress Parade


Guard mounting was one of the high points of the day as the new guard relieved the old. Both old and new guards were dressed in dress uniform and would march in a military parade. As many trumpeters and buglers as could be mustered accompanied guard mounting.

A typical guard mount went through the following procedure:

  • As the bugler sounds Assembly of the Guard, the guard lines up in rank in front of the barracks.
  • The 1st sergeant lines up in front of the troop.
  • The officer of the guard will command: 1st Sergeant, About Face, Inspect your guard.
  • 1st sergeant commands: Attention, Shoulder Arms, Inspection of Arms
  • 1st sergeant reports to the officer: The guard is formed.
  • The officer and/or the 1st sergeant then inspect the guard, their weapons and accouterments.
  • After the inspection, the order is: Shoulder Arms, Order Arms.

The sergeant of the guard would then make a list of the guard. The guard is then marched to the guardhouse. While at the guardhouse the sergeant of the guard will assign the guard their posts and give them their orders, the password and set the reliefs.

During the guard mount, the best dressed and most polished of the new guards would be selected as orderly of the day, assisting the post commander. The soldier selected as orderly would be relieved from sentinel and other guard duties and would likely be able to sleep in a bed as opposed to resting on the platform bed. Hence, there was keen competition among the guards to be selected as the orderly of the day.


  • When relieving the sentinels, the next relief would be formed at the guardhouse, when the sergeant of the guard will command: Attention-Squad, Shoulder Arms, Relief-Forward March.
  • The new relief would march to Post 1.
  • The sentinel or guard on duty will challenge the group: Who Comes There?
  • The sergeant answers: Relief.
  • The Guard says: Halt- Advance Sergeant and give countersign.
  • The sergeant marches up, the relief detail stays back.
  • The guard commands: Give countersign.
  • The sergeant gives the countersign and then orders: Relief No. X-Arms-Port.
  • Old and new guards march together at arms-port. The old guard gives orders to new guard so only they and the sergeant can hear. The sergeant orders: Relief-Support Arms Forward March.
  • The old guard falls in place. The relief detail continues to all the posts.

The information on this page comes from an anonymous article in the files of Fort Scott NHS.

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Last updated: July 25, 2016

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