Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Nathan Rice, and William S. Smith, 18 March 1800

To Charles Cotesworth Pinckney,
Nathan Rice, and William S. Smith

New York March 18. 1800


The proper measure of the pace is a matter of primary importance in the Tactics of the Infantry. The establishments of different Nations differ in this particular.1 For example—Our pace is two feet English measure. That of the French is two feet French or about 26 Inches English. That of the English is 30 of their Inches, measuring in each case from heel to heel. This is rather capricious. The true standard should be found in nature. The natural pace of a man of medium height say 5 feet Eight Inches would seem to me to be the true rule. And this will be best ascertained by numerous experiments; encouraging the Individuals to move with their common step and to discard every thing artificial which may have been acquired in practice. Luckily at least for this experiment, there are few of our soldiers who have any inveterate habit to conquer.

While I point to the medium size, I wish not to confine the experiment to men of this description, but to extend it to the different sizes, noting the result as to each. The aggregate of these results will serve for illustration.

Connected with this is the number of paces in a minute which ought to constitute the velocity of the different Steps.

There are two kinds of the direct Step known in our service—the common of which there are seventy five in a minute, the quick of which there are 120 in a minute. In some foreign services there are three kinds—the common the quick and the more quick or quickest. In the English as well as in our service the common step is 75 in a minute, in the French it is 76. The quick Step in the French service is 100 in a minute in the English 108, in ours there is no corresponding step. The quickest step is 120 both in the English and French service. This agrees with our quick step.2

This last step is appropriate to wheelings charges and to cases which require rapid movements.

The second kind is employed in the English system in the filings of Divisions from line into column and from column into line, and occasionally in the wheelings with large fronts. In the French system it seems to be contemplated as the ordinary standard of the quick step, liable to be occasionally increased to the velocity of the quickest.

Experiments on this subject will likewise be useful.

I request that you will without delay have a competent number of Experiments made in relation to both objects, and that you will accompany the report of them with your opinion and observations.

The utility of the intermediate step appears to me at present somewhat questionable. This is a point to which I would call your attention.

With great consideration & esteem   I am Sir   Yr Obedt ser

Major General Pinckney
Col Smith
Col Rice

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1The official manual for the United States Army was Baron von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (Philadelphia: Printed by Styner and Cist, in Second Street, 1779), which included two paces: the common step of two feet marched at seventy-five per minute and the quick step of equal length marched at one hundred and twenty per minute (Steuben, Regulations description begins Baron von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (Philadelphia: Printed by Styner and Cist, in Second Street, 1779). description ends , 13). The English system for the movement of troops was based on David Dundas, Principles of Military Movements, Chiefly applied to Infantry. Illustrated by manoeuvres, of the Prussian troops and by an outline of the British campaigns in Germany during the war of 1757 (London: T. Cadell, 1788), which was adopted as the official drill of the British Army in 1792. Although an earlier British military manual specified three steps, Dundas recognized only two (Thomas Simes, The Military Guide for Young Officers, containing A System of the Art of War [London: Printed for J. Millan, near Whitehall, 1781], 145–56). The English step measured thirty inches and could be performed at the ordinary march of eighty per minute or the quick march of one hundred and twenty. In certain cases the length of the pace could be reduced to twenty-four inches, and, if necessary, the march increased to one hundred and fifty per minute (Dundas, Principles of Military Movements, 42–43). The French pace, as regulated by the ordinance of August 1, 1791, measured two French feet or two feet one and five-tenth inches in English measurements and was marched either at the ordinary rate of seventy-six per minute or the accelerated march of one hundred per minute (MacDonald, French Infantry description begins France, Ministere de la guerre, Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manœuvres of the French Infantry. Issued August 1, 1791. Translated from the French. In Two Volumes. With Explanatory Notes and Illustrative References to the British, and Prussian Systems of Tactics, &c. &c. Volume I. By John MacDonald (2nd ed., London: Printed for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall, 1806). description ends , 17; Vicomte de Noailles to H, May 9, 1800). In the Prussian infantry the step measured two Rhenish feet four inches and was marched at the ordinary rate of seventy-five per minute or the quick rate of one hundred and eight (Max Jähns, Geschichte der Kriegswissenschaften vornehmlich in Deutschland [München und Leipzig, 1891], 2544, 2553). According to Dundas, the ordinary or slow march was appropriate for parades and common marching, while the quick march was the proper pace in wheelings, filings of divisions, and quick movements (Dundas, Principles of Military Movements, 42).

2H’s information in this paragraph is not entirely accurate. See note 1.

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