Instructions for Sentinels

Property of Troop B, 10th Cavalry


No. ______                                 Instructions for Sentinels


A sentinel when ordered to turn over his instructions will reply.

“My general orders are:

            1.-To walk my  post, carrying my piece at ‘support,’ or on either shoulder, muzzle elevated.  In wet weather, I carry my piece at ‘secure.’  I keep myself on the alert, observing everything that takes place in sight or hearing of my post.

2.-I do not take orders from, or allow myself to be relieved by, any one, except officers of the guard, non-commissioned officers of the guard, the commanding officer, and the officer of the day.

3.-I report all violations of orders I am required to enforce.

4.-I cannot leave, my post; nor can I hold any conversation, except in the proper discharge of my duties.

5.-I repeat all calls made by sentinels more distant from the guardhouse than myself.

6.-In case of a disturbance in the vicinity of my post, I cry, ‘The guard, No.___.’  In case of a fire, I cry, ‘Fire, No. ___’ Whether it be a fire or disturbance, if the danger be great, I discharge my piece before calling out.

7.-During the day, from reveille to retreat, I salute all officers according to rank:  The commanding officer and the officer of the day (whatever rank) and all officers above the rank of captain I salute with ‘present.’  Captains, and all officer of lower rank, I salute with ‘sergeant’s salute.’

8.-From retreat to taps I stand ‘attention’ to officers but do not salute.

9.-After taps I stand ‘attention’ to officers only after they have given the countersign, or been passed by a non-commissioned officer of the guard.

10.-During the night, from taps to reveille, I challenge all persons who approach me, taking, at the same time, the position of ‘ready’ and do not allow any person to come within reach of my piece until he has given the countersign, or been passed by a non-commissioned officer of the guard.

My special orders are:  [The sentinel then gives all the special orders of his post]

[The sentinel at the guard house. (No. 1), in addition to the foregoing, will turn over the following:]

11.-At night having challenged any person approaching my post and received the reply, I command ‘Halt’ and call, ‘Corporal of the guard, friend’ or ‘friend with the countersign,’ according to the answer of the person challenged.

12.-Between reveille and retreat I turn out the guard for all bodies of armed men, general officers of the army, the commanding officer, and the officer of the day.”


Notes Explanatory to “Instruction for Sentinels.”


To #1.-A sentinel is not permitted to loiter or sit down on post; nor can he stand still except when necessary to carry out his orders.

To #3-The report is made to the corporal of the guard, who is called by the sentinel for that purpose.  As a rule, the sentinel will arrest the offender and hold him until the corporal of the guard arrives.

To #4-Sentinels before speaking, or when spoken to, invariably take the position of “arms port,” except when challenging.

To #5-This paragraph has no reference to calling the hour at night.  In repeating  calls, sentinels repeat word for word.  When No. 5 calls:  “Corporal of the guard, No. 5,” the sentinels between No. 5 and the guardhouse repeat, one after the other, “Corporal of the guard, No. 5.” When No. 6 calls, “Fire, No. 6” the sentinels between No. 6 and the guardhouse repeat, one after the other, “Fire No. 6,” &c.  When any sentinel whose duty it is to repeat fails to do so, the next in order repeats notwithstanding.  This does not apply in calling the hour at night.

To #6-In case of a dangerous fire, or disturbance, the sentinel near whose post it originates, or the sentinel who discovers it, will fire his piece once and call out.  The sentinel nearest him, in the direction of the guardhouse, will repeat, once, by firing his piece and calling out, and so on to the guard house.  In no case will a sentinel fire his piece or repeat the call more than once, except when the alarm fails to reach the guard house.  No sentinel posted in a direction from the guardhouse opposite to that in which the alarm originates (except No. 1, when so posted) will fire off his piece, or repeat the alarm.

To #7-When an officer crosses a sentinel’s post, the sentinel will stand “attention” when the officer is within fifteen paces of his post, salute as the officer crosses his post, and continue to stand “attention” until the officer is fifteen paces beyond.  When the officer passes along the sentinel’s post, or parallel to and in front of it, the sentinel will stand “attention” when the officer has approached to within fifteen paces of him, or to within that distance of a point in front of him, salute as the officer passes, and continue to stand “attention” until the officer is fifteen paces beyond.  When the officer passes in rear of the sentinel’s post without crossing it, the sentinel will stand “attention,” facing to the front, and salute as before.

To #s 8 & 9.-The commanding officer, who designates the hour when sentinels shall commence challenging, may designate some hour other than that for taps.  Sentinels stand “attention” up to the designated hour, and afterwards only after receiving the countersign.

To #10-A sentinel will challenge by calling out:  “Who comes there?”  If answered “Friend” or “Friend with the countersign,” he will reply “Advance, friend with the countersign.”  If answered “Friend,” or “Friends, with the countersign,” he will reply, “Halt, friends, advance one with the countersign;” when the countersign is given, the sentinel will add, “Advance, friends.”  If “relief.”  “Halt, relief, advance corporal with the countersign:” when the corporal has given the countersign, the sentinel will add, “Advance relief.”  If “Grand rounds,” “Halt, grand rounds, advance sergeant with the countersign;” when the countersign is given, the sentinel will add, “Advance, rounds,” and stand “attention.”  If answered “Patrol.” He will reply, “Halt, patrol, advance non-commissioned with the countersign,” and add “Advance, patrol,” when the countersign is given.  Generally, the sentinel will advance any single person with the countersign, but if he knows the person answering his challenge to be not entitled to the countersign, he will halt him and call for the corporal of the guard.  He will never allow more than one person to advance until he has received the countersign.  He will not allow any person to advance with a drawn sword, nor with any other weapon in such a position as to be able to take him at disadvantage.  When a mounted man approaches his post, the sentinel will require him to dismount before advancing to give the countersign.  When a mounted party, the sentinel will require the one who advances to give the countersign to dismount, for instance:  when the answer to the challenge is “Friends,” and the sentinel sees that they are mounted, he will reply “Halt, friends; dismount and advance one with the countersign.”

When the answer to the challenge indicates more than one person of the same party entitled to the countersign, the sentinel will advance the junior of those so entitled, for instance: when the answer is “Officer of the day, and corporal of the guard,” the sentinel will reply “Halt officer of the day, advance corporal of the guard with the countersign,” and after receiving the countersign, “Advance officer of the day;” the officer of the day then advances without giving the countersign.  When two persons, or parties, approach from different directions, and both answer to the same challenge, then the senior, or the party to which the senior belongs, will be advanced first, the countersign being required from both.  When a second party approaches before the countersign is received from one already challenged, it will be halted until the countersign is received from the first.

Privates of the guard are not permitted to use the countersign when off post.

To #12.-No. 1, during the day, turns out the guard by crying:  “Turn out the guard, armed party;” “Turn out the guard, general officer United States Army;” “Turn out the guard, commanding officer;” “Turn out the guard, officer of the day.”  After guard mounting No. 1 turns out the guard for the officer of the day, should he approach the guardhouse before the new guard.  Should the new guard approach first, No. 1 turns out the guard for armed party.


A member of the guard, guarding prisoners at work, or marching from place to place, but having no defined post, does not salute as a sentinel, but as an enlisted man under arms, (see Tactics, #Ill2) He does not allow the prisoners under his charge to leave his sight, nor gain a distance from him greater than ten yards.  Nor, when on foot, does he allow a prisoner under his charge to ride.  In standing “attention” to officers, he will never so face as to lose sight of the prisoners under his charge.


Credits:  “Instructions for Sentinels” from the collection of Captain Robert G. Smither, Troop B, 10th Cavalry.  His handwritten note reads, “Put in force 1882 at Fort Davis, Texas.



Notes about Fort Davis, Texas – By “Top Kick Ken” Kenneth A. Erichsen

Fort Davis, Texas:  is possibly the best preserved of all the 19th Century frontier forts and one of the best preserved "Buffalo Soldier" forts in the west.  Twenty five restored buildings and nearly fifty partially restored buildings and foundations are scattered throughout the 474 acre grounds.  The fort is well maintained and restored with many interpretive and historical displays.

Originally built and manned in 1854, and named after the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, (he later became the president of the Confederacy).  With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Union Army abandoned Fort Davis. The Confederate Army briefly occupied Fort Davis, but after this brief occupancy, Fort Davis lay abandoned for the next five years. 

After the Civil War, bandit, Apache and Comanche raids along the Overland Trail increased until in 1867, the Army was forced to reestablish the post.  Fort Davis was then re-constructed by African American troops of the Ninth U.S. Cavalry, one of two all black cavalry regiments organized in 1866 (later to be known by their designation by the Indians as "Buffalo Soldiers").  This newly constructed post was built just east of the original site.  During the 1880’s, Ft. Davis was home to the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry.  The military post of Fort Davis was closed in 1891 and remained in private hands until it was designated a National Historic Site in 1961.  Operated by the National Park Service, the Fort Davis National Historic Site opened to the public in 1963.  It is open year round except for on Christmas Day.

In 1881, Fort Davis was the scene of a very unique court martial.   The court martial of Second Lieutenant Henry 0. Flipper was unique for several reasons.  He was the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and he was serving as the post commissary officer.  Graduating from the academy in 1877, Flipper had served at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, under the future Fort Davis commander, Colonel Benjamin Grierson. Arriving in 1880, Lt. Flipper faced charges of mismanagement of post funds in 1881. His books were poorly kept, and he could not account for $2,400 in receipts. He sought to cover the shortfall with royalty payments pending from his upcoming autobiography.  Post gossip held that Flipper had been too bold with the sister of one of the white officers at the fort, escorting her on buggy rides on Sunday afternoons that scandalized other officers and white citizens in town. At his court-martial hearing, held in the post chapel, other residents of Fort Davis collected over $1,700 in one day to help Flipper meet his expenses.  Notwithstanding the support of some local residents, the military tribunal stripped him of his commission for "conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman."  The former lieutenant then left the service and moved to El Paso.  He started a second career in the Southwest and Mexico working as a mining engineer and translator of Spanish.

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