Infantry Soldier-Historic Background

Infantry-Backbone of the Army
Infantry have long been considered the "backbone" of the army. Trained to fight on foot, they formed the core of any fighting force. On dozens of far-flung battlefields, the fortunes of the young nation of the mid-nineteenth century were shaped by foot soldiers. While dragoon soldiers received much of the glory, it was the infantry who did most of the fighting. At Fort Scott, the mobility of the dragoons allowed them to leave the fort for periods of time, leaving the infantry to, "hold down the fort." Infantry soldiers performed most of the fatigue duties and the construction of the fort's buildings.

A typical workday would begin with the sounding of the reveille at daybreak and would end at sunset when retreat was sounded. The workday was punctuated and regulated by various calls which were played by the company musicians (Dragoons: Bugle; Infantry: Drum and/or fife) that indicated where the soldiers should be or what they should be doing. Some of the normal calls included assembly, sick call, fatigue call, Sergeants call, Officers call, stable call and tattoo. Tattoo was the last regular call of the day and indicated that all of the soldiers should be in their respective barracks unless they were on guard duty, extra duty or a special assignment. Taps is a bugle call that was written during the Civil War and is now played in all branches of the modern military service to signify the end of the day.

Garrison life consisted of numerous roll calls, inspections, parades, guard duty, weapons training, drills and the necessary fatigue or work details which were required to operate and maintain the fort. Some of the work details included cutting and transporting firewood, hauling water, cleaning weapons, functioning as a company cook or baker, working in company gardens, loading and unloading supply wagons, and working in the post hospital as a ward steward or attendant.

At Fort Scott, the monotony of regular garrison duty was relieved by the construction of the fort and periodic work details away from the fort which were required to repair and maintain the military road. The dragoons (horse soldiers) participated in a variety of assignments around the region including expeditions in the Western Territory, escorting wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail, riding as couriers and patrolling the frontier which also helped to relive the tedium of garrison duty. The infantry (foot soldiers) however, normally remained at and manned the fort.

Soldiers were on duty six days a week from daybreak to sunset, unless they were assigned as a baker, cook, hospital attendant, or guard. These duties were performed by different soldiers on a rotating basis and were necessary for the continuous operation of the fort. If a soldier could read and write well, he could be assigned as a clerk and excused from routine fatigue details. Each day, immediately after reveille, the soldiers were required to clean the barracks and organize their equipment before they went on fatigue duty. Everything (bunks, bedding, floors, furniture, etc.) was cleaned, but the barracks remained infested with bedbugs, lice and other vermin. The soldiers were normally off duty on Sunday, unless they were on a special assignment or extra duty.

There was one mandatory dress parade daily, and it was usually conducted as part of the retreat ceremony (lowering of the garrison flag) at sunset, but the time of the parade could be changed at the discretion of the Post Commandant (commanding officer). The soldiers were also required to wear their full dress uniforms for guard duty and the best looking soldier was selected as the Commandant's Orderly. He was excused from guard duty and was assigned to Post Headquarters for a day.

Traditionally, the Fourth of July and Christmas were considered holidays and the soldiers were excused from fatigue details. The holiday celebrations, in garrison, usually consisted of patriotic speeches, competitive games between the Dragoons and Infantry, company banquets and a formal dance in full dress uniforms.

At other times, when they were off duty, the soldiers engaged in various types of recreation which included playing games of cards, dice, and checkers or hunting and fishing. Gambling was a common practice and when they did not have any money, the soldiers would gamble with beans, wooden or bone chips and other personal items (tobacco, knives, combs, etc.) Music also relived the monotony of barracks life and there were usually a few soldiers who could play the banjo, fiddle or harmonica to entertain the other members of the company.

Reading was also encouraged and almost every regiment or company maintained its own library for the soldiers who could read. Books, magazines and other reading materials were often purchased from a company fund or by individual officers, and the library was maintained in the company office or regimental headquarters.

Soldiers received a basic monthly wage which was specified in the US Army Regulations according to their respective rank and branch of service. Dragoons were slightly better paid than the infantry. A dragoon private made $8.00 per month while an infantry private made just $7.00.

Information for this page came from two anonymous articles in Fort Scott's files: Life of an Enlisted Soldier at Fort Scott and Frontier Military Life in the 1840s.

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Last updated: July 24, 2016

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