The Wheel of a Line of Infantry

The Wheel for a Line of Infantry

                                                                                                            By Joe Wagner

In almost every reenactor unit, it has to be admitted that in the course of any given event, they will perform one movement more often, and likely with less skill, than almost any other maneuver.

Yes – it is the cursed wheel – left, right, about, etc.  Nothing tells the audience, or fellow reenactors, more about how much practice you’ve had recently or how many new and untried recruits there are in the ranks, than by watching a unit perform a wheel or two.

Why is it such a problem to do it right?   Mostly because it means a lot of individuals have to think and move intelligently and cooperatively together.  Cooperation means practice – you can’t really learn it by yourself.  But wheeling well relies on a few simple rules.  It’s really just geometry.

Take a look at Diagram 1.

Diagram 1

“Left, Wheel, March!”

Everyone knows what should happen – the entire line of two ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder, transfers their front from one direction to another, such as from line A-B to line A-C.  Its geometry – all points on the line A-B move along the arc X to reach the new position A-C, without changing their relationship to each other.

And that’s where the first failure usually occurs. The troops are not infinite points on a theoretical line moving along an arc without deviation from each other.  We are all individuals, with our own set of feet, and our own perceptions and distractions.  The result is bumping, lagging, gaps, and a ragged line of individual “points” arriving at a new position more or less simultaneously.

If the troops could master two rules, and follow them when the command comes, you can do it right, more or less automatically, every time.

Rule #1The straight line must be maintained throughout the movement from position A-B to A-C along arc X.

This happens by doing the following:

At the command “left (or right) wheel”, the front rank troops turn their head slightly to look down the line in the direction opposite that of the given command.  Why? – for linear alignment.  Maintaining a straight line from point A-B to A-C while the line is in motion depends on the front rank looking outward to the end of the moving line to maintain their relative position within it.

Why look to the outside, rather than the inside of the turn? Because the outside end is where the line’s movement is taking place.  The person in the front rank at the outside end of a wheel defines the proper location of the line at any moment.  That person controls the angular movement of the line throughout the execution of the wheel.  He establishes the pace of the movement, and the direction of the line’s front at any moment.  If everyone in the line has their body front pointing in the same direction as, and parallel to, the person at the outside end of the line, we are half way to executing a proper wheel.  Since you may not be able to actually see to the end of the line (depending on the girth of your rank neighbor or the length of the rank) it suffices if you maintain a parallel position with the person next to you, then its his job to look to the next person out and so on, to the end of the line.

Rule #2.  All points on the line must go from A-B to A-C along the same arc.

Failure in the arc department is demonstrated by the two arcs X and Y in Diagram 2.  Two troops (aptly named d and e) standing next to each other in line A-B, executed the wheel and ended up twice as far apart in line A-C. They even followed Rule #1 and kept a straight front while arriving in their position. But they did not get there along the same arc, and therefore a gap opened up between them at some point in the wheel.

Diagram 2

To follow Rule #2 requires that everyone must remain physically connected to the person on either side of them throughout the movement – all points must follow the same arc.  We do that by having everyone in the front rank maintain a positive shoulder/elbow pressure to the INSIDE of the wheel while in motion.

Why press to the inside, rather than the outside?  Because the inside guy (the pivot point) is the only individual in the entire process who KNOWS exactly where he’s going – nowhere – and so he’s the guy we want to have in constant contact with everyone else.  He’s the source of all knowledge on the final location of the entire wheeling line.  Lose contact with him and the wheel has no axle.  The outside guy controls speed of movement and alignment, but it’s only the inside guy who knows where everyone is going to end up – right next to where he is.  That’s if he does his job right, and does not drift off his pivot position.

Pity the taller folks who are always rear-rankers. They are mere hangers-on in this entire maneuver. They follow the bobbing head of their file-mate in front, bound to the success or failure of a maneuver that is being controlled by the front-rankers, without a vote or opportunity to chart their own path.

So it’s simple – when the boss says “Wheel”

  • Front ranks turn your face opposite to the command direction and move parallel in rotation and step with the outside man.
  • Press your shoulder/elbow into the person next to you on the pivot side (opposite the direction of your face), and maintain that contact throughout the maneuver.

That’s it – you’re ready to go wheeling.

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