10 Rules For A Soldier

In 1898 Charles Swett of Vicksburg, Mississippi, faced the prospect of watching his son, Louie Chase Swett, go off to fight in the Spanish American War. The elder Swett knew from first hand experience the horrors of war. A veteran of the Civil War, Charles Swett had raised an artillery company in 1861, the Warren Light Artillery (Better known as Swett’s Battery), and served with it until promoted to adjutant and inspector general of artillery for the Army of Tennessee in the spring of 1864.

To try and prepare his son for military service, Swett sent the boy a letter in which he laid down his “Rules for Government of a Soldier’s Action.” The following are the 10 rules that Swett counseled his son to follow while serving in the military:

1st. Always obey every command, and show at all times, proper respect for your officers, from the President down to the lowest Corporal in the company. No one can ever know how to command, until he knows how to obey.

2nd. Always be ‘slow to anger’, and ever be cheerful and considerate for the feelings of others; remembering that a company ‘divided against itself’ like a house mentioned in the bible, cannot stand.

3rd. Never turn your back on an enemy unless you are ordered to do so, and in that case give a parting shot if you can, as it may put someone out of the ranks.

4th. Never complain if it can possibly be avoided; and should you have to eat rations cooked 24 hours before, remember that your father, during four years of war, often had to eat corn bread that had been cooked for three days, and at times, beef without bread or salt, and was glad to get it.

5th. Never fire your gun without being satisfied your shot will effect, and not for the purpose of scaring someone, as the Chinese do. The stocks of all army guns [are] nearer straight than the guns you have used, therefore [have] the liability to shoot high.

6th. The primary object is not to kill in war, but to disable; the reason being, if a man is badly wounded, two will be required to carry him off; whereas, if he is killed, you get rid of only one man.

7th. Always aim low, as it will be better for your shot to strike the ground in front of an enemy, than to pass over his head. a ball striking the ground twenty yards in front of the line-of-battle will ricochet and may hit someone not above his shoulders, because of the fact that the angles of incidence and reflection are equal.

8th. When an order is given to you, never reply in order to discuss the case, but go, making every effort to succeed; dying in the effort if necessary.

9th. Never unnecessarily expose yourself, as it would be foolish to do so. If you are ordered to an exposed position, and one of great danger, go in your entire strength, and go in to win, without thinking of the consequences.

10th. Always ‘do unto others as you would that others should do unto you’ in your association with comrades, and be sure to do your duty to your God, your country, and your name, never failing as you go into battle, to invoke Divine protection in the little prayer I used on many fields of blood – ‘HEAVENLY FATHER, WATCH OVER, BLESS AND PRESERVE US FROM HARM, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, Amen.’ Then go in, not only believing but knowing you are under the protection of ‘One who doeth all things well’.


To Louie Chase Swett

Postwar picture of Charles Swett wearing his United Confederate Veterans Uniform

Note: The information for this article came from “A Brief Narrative of Warren Light Artillery,” written by Charles Swett. It can be found online here: http://www.genealogy.com/users/s/w/e/Mike-Sweet-/

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