What is the difference between skirmisher and picket?
Civil War Skirmisher and Picket
What is the difference between the American Civil War picket and
skirmisher? What is a picket? What is the definition of skirmisher? What is a skirmish line? These are some common questions
for those studying the Civil War, a conflict that often mentions pickets and skirmishers. While infantry manuals give
specifics, there is a rather simple way to remember the difference between the picket and skirmisher.
To simplify or make it easier to understand
the terms, try to recall the difference between the tornado watch and warning. The picket is like the person who just
heard a tornado watch, meaning conditions are favorable for a tornado (enemy), although no tornado (enemy) has
been seen. The skirmisher is more like the individual who gets a tornado warning, meaning the tornado (enemy) has
been spotted and is expected to hit in your area. So while skirmishers skirmish and pickets picket, a more detailed explanation
Pickets are an outpost or guard for a large force. Ordered to form a scattered
line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant,
2 sergeants, 4 corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen
in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or
captured. And he most likely targets of snipers. Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment.
Skirmishers are light infantry or cavalry soldiers stationed to act as a
vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard, screening a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances.
They are usually deployed in a skirmish line — an irregular open formation much more spread out in depth and breadth
than a traditional line formation. Their purpose is to harass the enemy — engaging them in only light or sporadic combat
in order to delay their movement, disrupt their attack, or weaken their morale. Skirmishers' open formations and smaller numbers
can give them superior mobility over the regular forces, allowing them to fight on more favorable terms, taking advantage
of better position or terrain and quickly withdrawing from any threat of superior enemy forces.
Skirmishers can be either regular army units temporarily detached to
perform skirmishing, or specialty units specifically armed and trained for such low-level irregular warfare tactics. Light
infantry, light cavalry, and irregular units often specialize in skirmishing. Though
often critical in screening the main army from sudden enemy attacks, skirmishers are poor at taking and defending ground from
heavy infantry or heavy cavalry. In modern times, following the obsolescence of such heavy troops, all infantry has become
indistinguishable from skirmishers, and the term has lost military meaning. Those acting as skirmishers are said to skirmish.
A battle with only light, relatively indecisive combat is often called a skirmish.