Musicians at war: Infantry Company Drummers, 1775-1865


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Summary of the role of field musicians from 1775 to 1865 in the British and American armies.

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Musicians at war: Infantry Company Drummers, 1775-1865

  1. 1. Interpreting the Infantry Company Drummer
  2. 2. Defining the Role  Drummers  Fifers  Bandsmen  Buglers
  3. 3. Field Musicians v. Bandsmen Drummers Members of the Band  Assigned to companies  Bands were regimental or  Paid by regulation  Dictated routine by “camp duties”  Set cadence on the march  Instruments were drum, fife and/or bugle      brigade level assignments after 1862 Referred to as musicians or bandsmen prior to 1820s Referred to as bandsmen after 1820s Were often carried as privates or drummers on the roster Sometimes civilians not enlisted but paid for by officers Instruments were woodwinds and later brass
  4. 4. Titles / Ranks 1775 1812 Drummer Fifer 1820s 1850s Drummer Fifer Private Musician Musician Drummer Fifer
  5. 5. Buglers, th 10 US Infantry, 1858
  6. 6. Musicians Assigned to an Infantry Company  1771 – British Army – 1 drummer     per company, plus 2 fifers in the grenadier company 1775 – British Army – 2 drummers per company plus 2 fifers in the grenadier company 1780 – Continental Army – 1 drummer and 1 fifer per company 1812 – US Army – 1 drummer and 1 fifer per company 1861 – US Army – 1 drummer and 1 fifer OR 1 bugler (if riflemen)
  7. 7. In Reality:  1770s – nearly always, at least, one drummer     per company 1843 – 1st Infantry was short drummers, a private was assigned to the role as an extra duty (with extra pay) 1846 – 1st Infantry had 15 officers, 8 musicians and 155 bayonets 1861 – about 80% of companies had a drummer 104th Illinois ~ 10 musicians in rosters, however, 2 companies have two (E & H) and two have none (B &C)
  8. 8. Duties  Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution, (University of North Carolina Press, 1976), p. 188. The primary beats and calls included, The General, The March, The Reveille, The Troop, The Retreat, The Tattoo, To Arms, The Parley or Church Call, Roast Beef, The Drummers Call, The Pioneers March, Three Cheers, The Grenadiers March, and The Rogues March. No period manual identified by Camus, includes all of the above, but many include other beats as well as drum signals to call corporals, sergeants, send for wood or water, etc  Drummer of the Guard ~  (Fifers were normally assigned as orderlies to officers of the guard ~ See RO 18th Foot 28 December 1774, fifers to mount guard with LTC Bruce )
  9. 9. Duties of the Drummer  Beat the fifteen or so identified beats and calls and an additional number of signals that regulated the movements of an eighteenthcentury infantry regiment.  Provide cadence on the march. Two orderly drummers were to attend the colonel or commander of the regiment to beat the necessary signals to communicate the colonel’s intentions to the company commanders. Whether or not marching commands were to be given by drumbeat is unclear during the American War. By the mid-1770s, the regiments trained with cadences from the drums and fifes, but did not rely on those cadences in the field. By 1778, regulations clearly promulgated ‘Drums should be used as little as possible in maneuvering of Regiments & Musik [sic] never.’  Flog soldiers ordered punished by regimental or general courts martial under the supervision of the drum major.
  10. 10. More on Duties of Drummers  In action, save the two orderly drummers, drummers and fifers were to ‘stay with their respective companies, and to assist the wounded.’  Williamson (1781) suggested that the drummers and fifers were to practice at least ‘once a day, when the duty of the regiment will permit it.’ Simes (1776) suggested that they practice together at least twice a week. In the detachment of the 18th and 65th Foot in Boston in 1775, the order was ‘Whenever the Weather will permit, the Serjeant Major will see that the Drummers off duty go out to practice every day and that they stay out a proper time practicing.’ 18th Foot, RO 23 February 1775
  11. 11. Non-musical Duties  Clean the guardroom or guardhouse when drummer of the guard. Simes (1776) also states that the drummers were to sweep out the officers’ and men’s necessary houses each morning.  Drummers on guard duty were also commonly responsible for serving as an orderly to the officer(s) of the guard. At least one period text, articulates that if bottles or even silverware were left on the table by the officers, the drummer should feel free to help himself. Drummers on guard were also apparently responsible for keeping the fireplace stoked with coals or wood. In general, it appears as if the housekeeping chores of the guard detail were to be carried out by the drummer of the guard.
  12. 12. Age of Drummers, American Revolution  22nd Regiment of Foot, 1778 average age 34 ¾ years old youngest 26 years old oldest 44 years old Youngest enlisted at 12, next youngest 18 years old Oldest served till 45 years old
  13. 13. Age of Drummers, Civil War • 1st Iowa Inf Regt. average age 20.6 years old • 4th Iowa Band average age 29 years old • 4th Iowa Inf Regt. average age 21.4 years old • 104th ILL Inf Regt. average age 23 years old Youngest drummer from Iowa, 12 year old Commodore P. Byam, the son of the 24th Iowa regiment’s colonel
  14. 14. Arming Drummers  Most British drummers were armed with a “short sword with a scimitar blade”  Return of 6 coys the 55th Foot Drummers, Fifers & Musicians (January 1776) — 12 Drums, 12 Drum Cases, 12 Drum carriages, 12 Pairs of Drum Sticks, 12 Caps, 2 Fifes, 2 Fife Cases, 22 Swords, 22 Sword Belts  American musicians were less likely to be properly armed early in the war
  15. 15. Musicians were authorized to carry swords, but…..          8th Ill – 1 for 1 qtr 10th Ill – had 5 in early 1863 13th Ill had 2 16th Ill had 9 only 1 by 1864 22nd Ill had 21 in 1863 74th Ill had 25 for 1 qtr 104th Ill had none 107th Ill had 7 Iowa had 2 musician’s swords in 1861
  16. 16. Drummers under Arms A variety of period sources articulate that drummers and fifers were to be thoroughly schooled in the manual of arms and be able to serve in the ranks when necessary. In Boston, a 9 March 1776 order makes it apparent that some drummers were under arms as privates. On 13 March 1776, General Howe further ordered all drummers unable to carry arms to be put aboard ship. It is unclear if he armed the drummers and fifers at that point. Some of the drummers of the 17th Foot appear to have served as privates in the ranks during the 1776 campaign but were returned to functioning as drummers in winter quarters.
  17. 17. An act to increase the pay of soldiers in the United States Army, and for other purposes. June 20, 1864  1775 – Privates 8d/day Drummer 10d/day Corporal 10d/day  1841 – Privates $7 Musician $8 Corporal $9 1861  Musicians $12/month  Privates $13/ month  Musicians & Privates increased to $16/month in June 1864
  18. 18. Equipment  Drummers were issued the same equipment as privates excepting firearms and bayonets  Knapsacks, haversacks and canteens  Prior to the Civil War drummers almost always were issued swords
  19. 19. Summary  Drummers tended to be as old, if not      older, than the average private Drummers carried the same equipment as privates save for weapons Drummers were not normally assigned to fatigue duty Drummers of the Guard had housekeeping duties; Fifers served as orderlies on Guard Drummers should be able to familiar with the manual of arms Drummers often could play the bugle and/or the fife as well