Picket (military)

A picket (archaically, picquet [variant form piquet]) is a soldier, or small unit of soldiers, placed on a line forward of a position to provide warning of an enemy advance. It can also refer to any unit (for example, an aircraft or ship) performing a similar function.

The Picket GuardN.C. Wyeth, illustration for poem of the same name.[1]


Picket (Fr. piquet, a pointed stake or peg, from piquer, to point or pierce), is thought to have originated in the French army about 1690, from the circumstance that an infantry company on outpost duty dispersed its musketeers to watch, the small group of pikemen called piquet remaining in reserve.[2] It was in use in the British Army before 1735 and probably much earlier.[3]


Picket now refers to a soldier or small unit of soldiers maintaining a watch. This may mean a watch for the enemy,[4] or other types of watch e.g. "fire picket". This can be likened to the art of sentry keeping.[5]

A staggered picket consists of, for example, two soldiers where one soldier is relieved at a time. This is so that on any given picket one soldier is fresh, having just started the picket, while the other is ready to be relieved. Although each soldier is required to maintain watch for the full duration of a shift, halfway through each shift a new soldier is put on watch.

See also

Winslow Homer - The Army of the Potomac--A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty - Google Art Project
The Army of the Potomac—A Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, by Winslow Homer, 1862


  1. ^ Matthews 1922, p. 90.
  2. ^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work now in the public domain: Chisholm 1911, p. 584
  3. ^ "The Picket Guard is a Body of Men always to be ready, lying with their Arms in their Hands, to turn out in case of an Alarm; but are not commanded by the next Officer on Detail, but such as are appointed by the Picket; but must march either faster or slower, to sustain Out-posts, Foraging, Escourts, or any other Service; and it shall be allowed them in their Tour of Duty" (Gittins 1735, p. 165).
  4. ^ "Picket, noun", Compact Oxford English Dictionary
  5. ^ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sentry


  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911), "Picket" , Encyclopædia Britannica, 21 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 584
  • Gittins, John (1735), A Compleat System of Military Discipline, As it is now Used in the British Foot, London: J. Humfreys
  • Matthews, Bander, ed. (1922), Poems of American Patriotism, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons

Picket may refer to:

Snow picket, a climbing tool

Picket fence, a type of fence

Screw picket, a tethering device

Picket line, to tether horses

Picket (military), a small temporary military post closer to the enemy than the main formation

Radar picket, a variation of the above

Picket boat, a small military boat

Picket (punishment), a 16th and 17th century military punishment

Picket, a fairy chess piece

Picketing, a form of protest

The Flying Pickets, a British a cappella vocal group

Picket (climbing)

Radar picket

A radar picket is a radar-equipped station, ship, submarine, aircraft, or vehicle used to increase the radar detection range around a force to protect it from surprise attack, typically air attack. Radar picket vessels may also be equipped to direct friendly fighters to intercept the enemy. In British terminology the radar picket function is called aircraft direction. Often several detached radar units encircle a force to provide increased cover in all directions. Airborne radar pickets are generally referred to as airborne early warning.


Skirmishers are light infantry or cavalry soldiers deployed as a vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard to screen 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.

A battle with only light, relatively indecisive combat is often called a skirmish.

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. 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.

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 effectively lost its original military meaning as a distinct class of soldier, although skirmishing as a combat role is commonplace.

Snyder v. Phelps

Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443 (2011), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case where the Supreme Court ruled that speech on a matter of public concern, on a public street, cannot be the basis of liability for a tort of emotional distress, even in the circumstances that the speech is viewed or interpreted as "offensive" or "outrageous".

The case brought up the issue of whether or not the First Amendment protected public protestors at a funeral against claims of emotional distress, better known as tort liability. It involved a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, claimed by Albert Snyder, a gay man whose son Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine, was killed during the Iraq War. The claim was made in response to the actions of the Phelps family as well as the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) who were also present at the picketing of the funeral. The Court ruled in favor of Phelps in an 8-1 decision, determining that their speech related to a public issue was completely protected, and could not be prevented as it was on public property.

The Most Hated Family in America

The Most Hated Family in America is a 2007 BBC documentary film written and presented by Louis Theroux about the family at the core of the Westboro Baptist Church. The organization was led by Fred Phelps (who has since died) and located in Topeka, Kansas. Westboro Baptist Church members believe that the United States government is immoral due to its tolerance of homosexuality; in addition, they protest at funerals of U.S. military killed in action with signs that display text such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers". With a BBC film crew, Theroux travelled to Kansas to spend time with members of the church and interview its leadership. In the documentary, church members are shown protesting at funerals of U.S. soldiers. Theroux interviews church leadership including Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper.

The documentary first aired on BBC Two in the United Kingdom in April 2007. The documentary was a ratings success in its initial airing, beating simultaneous programming for BBC One for the 9pm hour. It was broadcast again on BBC Two later that month, and Seven Network purchased the programme for airing in Australia in August 2007 and again in April 2008. It aired in May 2008 on TV3 and Seven Network, and multiple times in June 2008 on the television channel Dave. It aired again on BBC Two in December 2008 and in February 2010 in Ireland on 3e. A DVD-box-set including the documentary and other Theroux programmes was released in January 2009; The Independent placed the DVD release as number eight among its list of "The 50 Best DVD boxsets".The Most Hated Family in America received a positive reception, with four-star ratings from publications The Daily Record and The Mail on Sunday. It was recommended in reviews as a critic's choice by The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Times, Financial Times, The Age, and the Herald Sun. A review in the Leicester Mercury noted of Theroux's interview techniques, "His subtle interviewing style was perfect for showing off the crazy views of the members." The documentary was highlighted in The Sydney Morning Herald among "The week's best", and characterised as, "Disturbing, perplexing and very entertaining."A follow-up documentary by Theroux, America's Most Hated Family in Crisis, was first broadcast on BBC Two on 3 April 2011. In 2019, a Theroux made another follow-up, Surviving America's Most Hated Family, essentially creating a trilogy of documentaries based on the church.


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