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In military terminology, a picket (archaically, picquet [variant form piquet], not to be confused with the punishment picquet) refers to soldiers or troops placed on a line forward of a position to warn against an enemy advance. It can also refer to any unit (for example, an aircraft or ship) performing a similar function. The term is from the British, dating from before 1735 and probably much earlier.
In modern military terms it refers to a soldier or small group of soldiers maintaining a watch. This may mean a watch for the enemy, or other types of watch i.e. "fire picket". This can be likened to the art of sentry keeping.
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. Staggered pickets are consequently more difficult to plan than standard pickets.
- Matthews, Poems of American Patriotism, p. 90.
- Gittins, A Compleat System of Military Discipline, p. 165: "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."
- Compact Oxford English Dictionary Picket, noun
- Gittins, John. A Compleat System of Military Discipline, As it is now Used in the British Foot. London: J. Humfreys (1735).
- Matthews, Bander (ed.); N.C. Wyeth (illus.) Poems of American Patriotism. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (1922).
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