Reviewed November 2015
This page is to help troopers familiarize themselves with bugle calls. In the 1860's, and during today's reenactments, knowing the calls helps to organize camp routine and to guide troopers through mounted drill and battle.
The 2nd US/9th VA Cavalry use the Federal bugle calls of the Cavalry during the American Civil War. Below are the calls heard most often during events. For a more information on Civil War bugle calls, see American Civil War Cavalry Bugle Signals for Non-Buglers, written with the cavalry re-enactor in mind, by Richard D. Lynch, Captain, 1st New Hampshire Cavalry and edited by R.J. Samp, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1999.
Possessing the ability to rise above the deafening sounds of battle, or to rouse exhausted soldiers from their sleep, the bugle call was an essential aspect of the Civil War. The bugle call determined when a solider woke up, went to bed, retreated, or charged on the enemy. Until its displacement by electronics, the bugle was essential to military communication. The primary bugler was assigned to the headquarters staff and kept close to the senior commander on the field. Soldiers were quick to learn the calls of the bugle.
The bugle was first used as a signaling instrument in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Its use evolved from the Colonials' contact with France and England, the two countries that have had the greatest impact on our present system of calls. In the early years of U.S. independence, each arm and branch of the Army developed its own set of "sound signals" - drum beats in the Infantry and bugle calls in the Cavalry and Artillery. The enlisted soldiers life was regulated by bugle calls: the daily routine included breakfast, dinner, and supper calls; fatigue call, drill call, stable and water calls, sick call, and taps. On Sundays, the church call was added to the daily schedule.
By the end of the Civil War, the artillery, cavalry, and infantry were sounding their own bugle calls. In 1867, General Emory Upton, author of the 1867 Army manual Infantry Tactics and one of the few U.S. Army officers in history to lead Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry, directed Major Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, to prepare a definitive system of bugle calls with the object of eliminating the confusion evident during the Civil War. Major Seymour reviewed all calls then in use in the Army. He discarded some, revised others, and finally fashioned a set of calls that were standardized for all branches of the Army. These have remained in use to the present day.
First Call: Assembly of Trumpeters for Reveille. Sound as a warning that personnel will prepare to assemble for a formation.
Reveille: One of the longest calls heard in camp. Before the last note is played, troopers are to be dressed and in formation for role call and to hear the days events.
Stable Call: Calls troopers to the picket line to muck the picket area and to feed, hay and groom their mount. Usually called just before or just after breakfast. This call was repeated in the afternoon.
Water Call: Calls troopers to water their horses. Repeated in the afternoon.
Breakfast Call: Calls troopers to breakfast.
Officers Call: Assembly of all unit officers at a designated place; used for the senior commander to disseminate the orders of the day or other information.
Boots and Saddles: Calls troopers to horse to saddle up in preparation for drill practice. Played twice a day for morning and afternoon drill.
Dinner Call: Noon mealtime was the main meal of the day. It usually consisted of beef, potatoes, limited vegetables, soup, plus coffee and bread. Since potatoes often spoiled, beans were the most common vegetable ration. During the summer the soldiers planted company gardens for fresh vegetables.
Retreat: Signals the end of the official day.
Tattoo: Signal for the men to prepare for bed and to secure the post. All lights in squad rooms to be extinguished and all loud talking and other disturbances to be discontinued within 15 minutes.
Taps: End of the day, a call for lights out or to retire.
General: Time to break camp and move out.
To Arms: Called when troopers need to get ready to fight without delay.
Stand to Horse: Called when troopers need to get on horseback without delay. “Form Ranks with Horse in Hand!” Ditty: “Go get your horses now and form on line, if you do we’ll mount up right-on time.”
Gait and Directional Calls
Forward Walk: “At the walk…march!” Ditty: “We’re ma-ar-ching forward and moving ahead!”
Trot: Move to trot. "At a Trot!" Ditty: “Trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trot-ah trahht!”
Gallop: Move to gallop. "At the Gallop!" Ditty: “Gal-up-ing, gal-up-ing, gal-up-ing, boys!”
To the Left: “Left into line!” or “By fours to the left…march!” This is a change of formation as well as a change of direction. Ditty: “To – the – left!”
To the Right: “Right on into line!” or “By fours to the right…march!” This is a change of formation as well as a change of direction. Ditty: “Turning – to – the – right!"
Left Turn Wheel: “Left Wheel!” Ditty: “A whe-el, a whe-el, time to turn another wa-ay, turn – to the left, turn – to the left!” This is a change of direction and the beginning is often omitted for time sake.
Right Turn Wheel: "Right Wheel!" Ditty: “A whe-el, a whe-el, time to turn another wa-ay, to the right, to the right!” This is a change of direction and the beginning is often omitted for time sake.
Come About: Call used to direct the mounted formation to turn 180 degrees.
Halt: Stops the mounted formation.
Fight and Rally Calls
Disperse: This call is used to disperse troopers into a skirmish line. Used both for mounted and dismounted skirmishing.
Commence Firing: This call is used both for mounted and dismounted formations.
Cease Fire: This call is used both for mounted and dismounted formations.
Rally on the Officer: This call recalls troopers from action to reform their ranks on the the commander or designate. In the 2nd U.S., we rally on our guidon. Rally comes most often after a charge or other combat maneuver, and reorganizes and prepares troopers for another charge or to form a line of defense.
Charge: The ultimate mounted bugle call!