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Civil War Re-enacting for the Bugler


Reenacting has gone from a pastime where participants were expected to “act” like soldiers for a few hours over the course of a weekend to one where living history opportunities are encouraged and fostered. Many like to remain in “First Person” throughout and event. As reenactors, we must recognize that this is, after all, first and foremost a hobby. Admittedly it is an engaging hobby, one which consumes many of our thoughts and much of our “disposable” income, but it is still a hobby. We believe it to be a most serious hobby, though, and vastly different from most others. Our hobby seeks to reasonably portray life among the troops as it was during the Civil War.

Military etiquette is an essential element of re-enacting if the re-enacting is to be done passably well. Part of the fun of recreating that period is knowing not only the drills of the troops whom we seek to portray, but also their conduct in and out of camp. While not every rule of the day is followed, there are many which are critical to a minimally correct impression. Sadly, too many are ignorant of the fundamentals rules of military etiquette.

The Articles of War contain the two fundamental forms of discipline: formative discipline and corrective discipline. However, the tacit assumption made in the Articles of War is that the training manuals (such as Gilham’s Manual for Volunteers and Militia) will deal most effectively with formative disciplines, leaving the primary function of the Articles of War as dealing with corrective discipline.

Military etiquette is concerned less with the repercussions of inappropriate behavior than the inappropriate behavior itself. It is concerned with instilling in the men of the army the correct forms and protocols to be followed as men duly enlisted and sworn into service. While it has been codified well, the complete list of rules and regulations concerning personal and corporate conduct is also quite long. A thorough knowledge of all of the protocols is not necessary for a successful and good military impression. There are some principle protocols which need to be understood and observed, however, and that is the purpose of this subject treatment.

The subject of etiquette, the forms required by authority to be observed in official life, is arguably the signalments overlooked area of re-enacting. If it is important to conduct ourselves with crispness on the drill field and in skirmishes, it is important to comport ourselves in a fitting manner in the camps. The disciplines of the drill field go a long way to making us professional looking soldiers on the field. The disciplines of military etiquette can only serve to reinforce that appearance on the field and in camp.

Etiquette in the military is necessarily more formal than the etiquette of civilian life, for in the military we most closely approximate a caste system. Those protocols include dress, personal appearance, and interaction within and between the ranks. Dress is a foundational means by which each level of the military is set apart from the other. Under girding the concept of attention to detail in presenting the best possible appearance in uniform is the idea put forth in an old shaving cream ad: “Look sharp, be sharp, be clean”. Inherent in paying attention to those details is taking pride in appearance.

Military etiquette is different from civilian etiquette, being in some ways more stringent, and yet in other ways easier to absorb because it deals with so many fewer areas of life. The tacit assumption behind the main body of military etiquette is that there will be little contact with the fairer sex, making the range of subjects under their rules of etiquette more narrow, and the number of subjects comprehended by military etiquette far fewer, Still, there are areas of specialized knowledge to which the civilian would not normally be exposed, including treatment of the flag, wearing a saber, and others. It is to these that we need to pay special attention in honing our military impressions.


A bugler, whether on company, regimental, or brigade level, must understand basic customs and courtesies that the military follows.

As a bugler, you are always in the eye of officers and NCOs. Buglers are often looked at as a representative of their respective outfit. So it is important that military bearing, deportment, and the correct wearing of the uniform be at the highest levels of standards that are set in regulations You should achieve to surpass the standard.


Most forms of military courtesy have some counterpart in civilian life. For example, you are required to say “Sir” when you talk to an officer. Throughout our history, young men and women were taught to say “Sir” to their fathers and other male elders. It is considered good manners for a younger man to say “Sir” when speaking to an older man. The use of the word”Sir” is also common in the business world, in the address of letters, and in any well ordered institution.

Military courtesy is not a one-way street. Enlisted personnel must be courteous to officers, and officers are expected to return the courtesy. Officers respect soldiers as individuals, just as you respect officers as individuals. Without this basis of mutual respect, there can be no military courtesy or discipline. Enlisted personnel show military courtesy to their officers because they respect the position of responsibility held by the officer. Officers, on the other hand, respect their personnel because they know the responsibility the personnel have in carrying out orders.

First of all, it is important to know the rank structure of the Army during the Civil War


Non-commissioned Officers
First Sergeant

Commissioned Officers
Second Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
Lieutenant Colonel

General Officers
Brigadier General
Major General
Lieutenant General

Musicians can hold the rank of Private and Corporal

The highest rank for musicians is the Principal Musician whose rank is marked by a six chevrons with a star. This rank has been confused as a Sergeant Major’s rank, however the Principal Musician holds no authority over Infantry troops.

Commission Officers require courtesies. When an officer approaches, a hand salute is given. You hold the salute until returned. The term of respect “Sir” is used when speaking to officers and civilian officials. Each sentence or statement should be either preceded or terminated with the word “Sir”, but should not be used both before and after the statement. You can also address an officer by his rank.

As part of military courtesy, always walk and sit to the left of your seniors. This is another custom with a long past. Men fought for centuries with swords, and, because most men were right handed, the heaviest fighting occurred on the right. The shield was carried on the left arm, and the left side became defensive. Men and units that fought were proud of their fighting ability, and considered the right of a battle line to be a post or honor. When an officer walks on your right, he is symbolically filling the post of honor. So as a bugler, you should always be to the left of your commander and walk slightly behind him always at the ready to sound a call if needed.


The following will help you conduct yourself appropriately in the presence of officers and anyone senior to you in rank:

When talking to an officer, stand at attention unless given the order “At ease.” When you are dismissed, or when the officer departs, come to attention and salute. When you report to an officer for any reason, it is important to make a good first impression. When a Bugler has requested and obtained permission to speak to an officer officially, or when the soldier has been notified that an officer wishes to speak with him, the soldier reports to the officer. Approach the officer to whom you are reporting and stop approximately two steps from him, assuming the position of attention. Give the proper salute and say, for example, “Sir, Bugler Smith reports.” The form of the report may vary according to the local policy, but the recommended form is “Sir, Bugler Smith reports.”  The salute is held until the report is completed and the salute has been returned by the officer. When the business is completed, the bugler salutes, holds the salute until it has been returned, executes the appropriate facing movement and departs. When outdoors and approached by an officer, you should stand (if seated) and salute unless on fatigue duty,

From the regulations–“When a soldier without arms, or with side-arms only, meets an officer, he is to raise his hand to the right side of the visor of his cap, palm to the front, elbow raised as high as the shoulder, looking at the same time in a respectful and soldier-like manner at the officer, who will return the compliment thus offered” When outdoors and approached by an NCO, you should stand (if seated) and greet the NCO by saying, “Good morning, sergeant,” “Good afternoon, sergeant,” or “Good evening, sergeant (last name, if known).”

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  1. Craig Flick Craig Flick July 22, 2019

    Thank you for putting together the “School of the Bugler” portion, as a new bugler it’s invaluable.

  2. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | May 15, 2019

    It was put together as a guide for re-enactors since there was no “bugle manual” of the time.
    It uses material from the School of The Soldier” but adapted for buglers.


  3. Marc Speed Marc Speed May 11, 2019

    I am curious about the “School of the Bugler.” Is it from Hardee, or did you compose it?

    In either event, it is most useful.

  4. JohnnyReb JohnnyReb September 26, 2013

    Seeing as the confederate army was modeled exactly the same way as the union army, regulations are the same.

    They use the same calls for EVERYTHING.
    You must remember most if not almost all officers in the Confederate Army resigned from the Union army to join the confederates.

  5. Kate Kate September 18, 2012

    Hi Great article and quite informitive. Do these regulations apply for the Confederates as well as the Union? Are the calls mostly the same? The type of Buge? The Uniform? Do you know if there is a list and music of Confederate calls?


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