Book Review (sort of): The Company Books as a Source of Reenacment Music

Musical Selections for Fife and Drum, Historical, Traditional, and Contemporary was published in two volumes by the Company of Fifers and Drummers in the mid 1970s.  Known simply as the “Company Books,” they were prepared by a specially appointed Music Committee, who faced a daunting task during the tumultuous years of the Bicentennial–how to standardize a largely aural body of music to accommodate an unprecedented swelling in the ranks of Ancient fifers and drummers.   The committee consisted of Arthur “Doc” Ferrante and “Duke” Terreri, who immediately set to work:

“The method for selecting the music was to conduct a survey of all the corps and individuals in the Company of Fifers and Drummers to determine which songs have survived over the years and which songs were most ‘favored.’ “

The Doc and The Duke in later years. Photo courtesy of Bob Castillo,

Each tune in the Company Books is matched with a drum beating collected from “men who have devoted a lifetime to the art of rudimental drumming.”  It is no wonder, then, that the Company Books are so popular as sources of music for musters, parades, and jollifications.  But what about the Revolutionary War reenactor?  Drummers frequently use Company selections without guilt, since a significant body of march beatings from the eighteenth century is presently unlocated.  But that is not the case with fife tunes.  How useful are the Company Books to fifers wishing to re-create music of the Revolution?

In order to answer this question, the music played by the fifers who served with the military during the Revolutionary War must first be identified in the extant literature.   This was gathered from Keller and Rabson’s The National Tune Index Part 1 (New York: University Music Editions, 1980), now updated as Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, (EASMES,  Of the several handwritten tune collections cited therein, seven are positively identified as fife tunebooks compiled during the years 1775-1783.  Two others were not included in the NTI , and three more were discovered subsequently (one each in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Tennessee) and are listed in EASMES.  If one also counts the flyleaf that survives from a Rhode Island fifer’s book and a published report (including photographs) of two tunes from a now-lost Connecticut manuscript, this brings the total to 13, collectively representing 468 different tunes.

Printed sources for Revolutionary War era music, unfortunately, are even more scarce.  We know of just one fife instruction book that was produced in America during the war, but a copy of it has not been found; musicologists, however, believe it closely approximates one printed in London in 1767.  By 1780 a total of seven fife method books had been published, all in London.  Some of these were advertised in American newspapers as imports for sale and thus available to American fifers, despite the hostilities with the mother country that began in the late 1760’s.

In determining which of these period fife tunes were captured by the Company Book compilers, I compared the music found in these printed and manuscript sources with the tunes contained in Volumes I and II.  Although I found many eighteenth-century melodies, only twenty-four were found in the fife literature described above and thus become candidates for the reenactment field.

Fife Tunes Found in Revolutionary War Sources and in the Company Books:

  • Chester
  • Road to Boston
  • White Cockade
  • Seven Stars
  • Baltimore
  • Stony Point
  • Welcome Here Again
  • Rakes of Mallow
  • Sailor’s Hornpipe
  • Successful Campaign
  • St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning
  • Paddy Whack
  • Haste to the Wedding
  • Essex March
  • Fifer’s Masterpiece
  • Duke of York’s March
  • Duke of York’s Favorite Troop
  • Fifer’s Delight
  • Janizarie’s March
  • Redcoat Fifer
  • Guilderoy
  • York Fusiliers
  • Over the Hills and Far Away
  • Soldier’s Joy

This short list raised some serious questions.  For instance, there were two “Yankee Doodle” tunes, one entitled “Ancient Yankee” and the other a more “modern” version.  The “Ancient Yankee” found in the Company Book I shows up only once in the fife literature, in a manuscript from Connecticut that was  written out between 1777 and 1780.  The tune, however, does not appear in print until the war had long been over, the Constitution had been adopted, and Washington had completed nearly two terms as president, when it is found in Benjamin Carr’s Evening Amusement (Baltimore, 1796).  Variants of the “modern” version, however, also appear in the period literature but only slightly more often (three of the 13 compilers wrote it down).   So, it would appear that both versions were circulating, largely by ear and less so in writing, at the time of the Revolution.

A landmark that once catered to Yalies but attracted lots of attention from the well-known and the unknown, The Doodle has been closed since 2008.

There is no doubt, though, that fifers played some version of “Yankee Doodle” throughout the Revolution.  A check of American colonial newspapers up to and including 1783 reveals reports of the tune starting in 1768; the frequency of the citations and indeed some of the reports themselves allude to a tune that was highly popular throughout the War.  Newspapers reported that, much to colonial delight, “Yankee Doodle” was played during the Yorktown surrender ceremonies in 1781, but one soldier, equally delighted, recalled hearing it years earlier during another surrender, that of the “Convention troops” at Saratoga in 1777:

The 17th of October a day never forgotten  by one present, the British army marched out of camp and surrendered themselves  as prisoners of war.  This was a glorious day to us.  The tories through the country had tauntingly told us for months before when Burgoynes army reached Albany they    would teach us to play Yankee Doodle in a way we should never forget — When all was arranged for Burgoynes surrender —our army in to lines that we might have a fine view   The music was ordered to strike up which began with Yankee Doodle: Gen. Gates could not refrain from smiling as he ordered a British march to be played.

Diary of Park Holland (Bangor [Me] Historical Society)

Another problem occurs with “British Grenadiers.”   Three fifers wrote it into their notebooks, and two examples are included in Volume I; unfortunately, only the first bears some resemblance to the Revolutionary War fifers’ versions. The second differs markedly (and actually turns up in the post war repertory of the 1790s).  The problem was solved, however, by searching the contents of The American Veteran Fifer; both Company versions are identical to the ones found in this early twentieth-century publication and were likely copied from there.

I also found some tunes with eighteenth-century titles that were coupled with much later melodies,  “Cuckoo’s Nest,” and “Hare in the Corn” being two such examples.

“Paddy on a Handcar” (p. 19, Volume I) presents still another problem.  The tune’s second strain is strikingly similar to that of “Fifer’s Masterpiece” (p. 6, Volume II), although the first strains of these tunes are different.  An earlier Company publication (1968) contains “Paddy” along with this note:  “Paddy on the Hand Car was also known as ‘The Fifers’ Masterpiece[‘] and was played at the time of Shea’s [Shays’] Rebellion in the late 18th Century,” but the Company version of “Paddy” can be traced only as far as Winner’s Primary School [for the Fife] (1874).  The “Masterpiece” tune found in Book I does indeed survive in a notebook kept by a Massachusetts fifer in 1778, but only further research will prove whether it can be connected to the western Massachusetts tax revolt led by Daniel Shays in 1787.

Perhaps the most difficult problem is posed by the tune “World Turned Upsidedown,” so commonly associated with the Yorktown surrender of Cornwallis in 1781.  Studies by the late Arthur Schrader have established that it was not.  The only tune associated with this title in the Revolutionary War fife literature was written down by a fife major serving in the New York Highlands with the 4th Connecticut Regiment in 1781; however, it bears no resemblance to the Company Book version.   Furthermore, while the 4th did send a contingent of soldiers to Yorktown, the writer was not among them, so there is nothing here to connect this tune, despite its tantalizing title, to the surrender ceremonies there.  Given all this, there is currently no indication that this tune or any other entitled “World Turned Upsidedown” was played at Yorktown or any other surrender during the Revolution.

In truth, the Company Book “World” turns out to be a much older tune known as “When the King Enjoys His Own Again.”  The ballad bearing this title was written, says Claude M. Simpson in The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music (New Jersey:  Rutgers University Press, 1966) in the 1640s by Martin Parker “to bolster the fortunes of Charles I and a Cavalier use that was seriously pressed in the several campaigns of 1643.”   Simpson describes several uses of the tune, none of which involve the events at Yorktown and only one of which invokes the “World” title.  A similar tune with a similar title “When the King Comes Home In Peace Again’ is one of several handwritten tunes bound behind a 1750 copy of Compleat Tutor for the Flute, but likely refers to the Jacobite Rebellion, not the American one (which, at that time, had yet to occur).  The tune is not found in the British-produced fife books, and none of the Revolutionary War fifers wrote it into their notebooks.  It was submitted to the Music Committee by a researcher who had included it in his own publication after mistakenly interpreting a discussion of the “King” tune found in William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859).

The repertoire of the Company Books contains more eighteenth-century tunes than the twenty-four located in the Revolutionary War manuscripts, but many of these, like “Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Captain MacIntosh,” “Downfall of Paris,” and “Devil’s Dream,” do not show up until the 1790s, beyond our period of interest.  Others like the “World/King” melody and “Rondeau” predate the War but by that time had likely dropped out of popular musical memory, if indeed (as in the case of “Rondeau”) they had ever been a significant part of it (“Rondeau” was included because it was a personal favorite of the Doc, who heard it as the opening theme for PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre while watching the series “Upstairs Downstairs”).  Even if the later eighteenth-century examples were added to the list of known Revolutionary War fife tunes, the eighteenth-century content is 54 tunes, less than 25% of the total number in both Company Books.

Still, the Company Books are vital to Revolutionary War simulation for three important reasons:

  • They are inexpensive, easily obtained, and if not owned by nearly every fifer who participates in reenactment are otherwise available to them on the World Wide Web,
  • Although they offer only a limited selection of appropriate tunes, this situation may change as new information is obtained from the existing literature base and new resources are discovered that augment it.
  • “They ain’t that many and they ain’t that hard,” as Ed Classey used to say, so all fifers, no matter where they reside, should be able to master all twenty-four.

And that’s an impressive number of march tunes upon which to build a basic repertoire for Revolutionary War simulation.

The Company books are useful to the Civil War reenactor, too:

Fife Tunes Found in Civil War Sources and in the Company Books:

  • Rally ‘Round the Flag
  • Belle of the Mohawk Vale
  • Tramp, Tramp, Tramp
  • Strube’s 6/8
  • Red, White and Blue
  • Hell on the Wabash
  • Biddy Oats
  • Downfall of Paris
  • Hail to the Chief
  • Wrecker’s Daughter
  • Turkey in the Straw
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Colonel Robertson’s Welcome
  • Downshire
  • Kenderbeck’s
  • Just Before the Battle
  • Owl Creek
  • Marching through Georgia
  • Nellie Bly
  • Tenting Tonight
  • When this Cruel War is Over
  • Rory O’More
  • Sgt. O’Leary
  • House of Duncan
  • Tatterjack
  • Rochester Schottishe

This list, however, raises two issues of import to the Civil War reenactor.   The “penny press” was in full swing by the mid-nineteenth century, thanks to the combination of industrialism, urbanization, and consumerism that permeated society at this time.  Publishers intent on making maximal profit on minimal investment often recycled their printing plates, so that books for just about any treble instrument, such as violin, “clarionet,” flute, and fife, all featured the same repertory, making it difficult for us, 150 years later, to determine just which of these myriad tunes attracted the attention of fifers — something made even more difficult in the mammoth “omnibus” collections that contained hundreds of tunes drawn from innumerable repertories.  Since printing was so cheap and readily available, even to the most rural farmer, there was less reliance upon handwritten collections, which in the past had revealed so  much about regional preferences and which tunes were fifers’ favorites.   Although the listing above seems short, it is limited to what was most likely, by comparison with diaries, period fife music books, and other contemporary evidence, to have been played by fifers in a military context.

And what of the music that was not printed and sold?  This traditional music, which passed by rote from grandfather and father to son and grandson, comprised a large portion of the fifer’s repertory, despite the many modern compositions that also attracted his ear.   This was recognized by publishers who catered specifically to fifers, whose books contained a hefty dose of the old Rev War tunes — “Haste to the Wedding,” “St. Paddy’s Day in the Morning,” “Road to Boston,” and maybe even “Yankee Doodle” — and other favorites that emerged after the war — Jefferson and Liberty,” “1812,” or perhaps “Paddy on a Handcar” — among a lesser but important number of the latest minstrel tunes, patriotic songs, and operatic airs.   Civil War reenactors, therefore, should not ignore these older tunes as they thumb through The Company Books looking for something to play at their next reenactment.

Intentionally excluded are tunes copied from The American Veteran Fifer (1905, 1927).  While AVF does indeed contain some Civil War era tunes, it served another purpose for the GAR fifers for whom it was published (see “National Association of Civil War Musicians: American Veteran Fifers,” another posting on this blog, for more information).

Copyright 2001, 2011, 2012  HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

Civil War Fifing: Making It Better

A Patent Fife by John Pfaff

By 1864, the Civil War was nearly over, but neither the Federals nor Confederates could know that for certain. Both governments continued to recruit soldiers, and in the North the merchant mass scrambled to secure lucrative military contracts for the necessary clothing, arms, and accouterments as well as for drums and fifes.  Some makers, such as New York’s Firth and Pond and Philadelphia’s William H. Horstmann Co., filled governmental orders with standard instruments, but others responded to the increased demand by developing and patenting improvements, especially in fife design.  One such maker was Philadelphia’s John Pfaff.

Pfaff was one of 7 sons of Johann Pfaff of Kaiserlautern.   In Germany, Johann and 3 of his sons made woodwinds, a practice that John continued upon his arrival in the United States in 1842.  He worked a year in Baltimore, but then the 26-year-old Pfaff established a shop in Philadelphia, where he stayed until his death in 1887.

Patent submission, the vertically blown flute, by John Pfaff (1857).

John Pfaff produced flutes mostly but also clarinets.  He was not content to just make them, he also improved them.  In 1857 he invented (and patented) a flute that could be played vertically, because

In playing the ordinary flute it is necessary to turn the head partially to one side, and to maintain the arms in an unnatural position, causing distortions and strains which have been found to affect the chests of players, and more especially of beginners.  The fingers and wrist too have to be stretched to an inconvenient extent.

Health issues aside, Pfaff further believed that the unusual playing position of his newly designed flute “actually improves [the tone of the flute] both as regards clearness and volume.”

Filed with the Patent Office, 1864.

Turning his attention to fifers, Pfaff found different problems.  He saw that while the fifer was playing and marching, the instrument was in danger of “slipping from its position in front of the mouth when the body of the performer is constantly moving.”  He sought to correct this by placing a “ridge or protuberance” on either side of the embouchure, allowing the fifer “to draw the fife up without hesitancy or doubt as to proper placement against his lips.”

Pfaff submitted his written arguments along with a detailed drawing of his plan to officials in Washington, which was sufficient to convince them to issue a patent on November 29, 1864.

While a flute of the 1857 design is not known to this writer, two examples of the 1864 fife are.  These were not found in any major museum collections, though; both of them, surprisingly, turned up on the online auction Ebay, one in December 2001 and the other in April 2004, and I bought both.

The fifes are quite interesting.  Both are pitched in B flat and are straight-bore instruments with a tapered body.  One fife has ferrules made from thin brass, the other has none.  The tone holes are grossly equal in size and spaced more or less equidistant along the body.  Both fifes are made of bird’s-eye maple, although the figure is more pronounced in the unferruled one.  The lack of ferrules, by the way, appears to be intentional, as there were no insets spun to receive them; however, there are decorative lines scored at either end of the body in imitation of the lines customarily engraved on ferrules.

The embouchure on each fife is guarded  bilaterally with the patent-protected ridges, which are sufficiently high to fulfill their purpose.

The Tanner fife, also an ebay purchase. The mouthpiece (“cheater”) is early but is not original.

Pfaff wasn’t the only maker who sought to improve the military fife.  On July 5, 1864, John W. Tanner filed for a patent to protect his “convertible fife.”

His design would enable the player to change the pitch of his instrument simply by substituting a second, differently-sized foot joint.

However, fellow New Yorker A.H. Stratton had already produced an instrument that accomplished this without the inconvenience of carrying two foot joints around.  His patent, filed on May 2, 1856, described a fife made with a double tube.  The outer tube contained 2 sets of tone holes, each set strategically placed along the body.  By adjusting the inner tube, the fifer could access either set of tone holes and thus play in the desired key at will without the trouble of changing foot joints.  While patient monitoring of Ebay did indeed result in one of the Tanner fifes, I am still looking for a Stratton patent model, so if you see one, post a note here and don’t bid on it!

Copyright 2006, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

Bruce And Emmett, The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide (1862, 1865, 1880, and 1885)


Many have called the era of the Civil War “the golden age of fifing and drumming.”  Certainly the war inspired a large number of publications (and re-publications) of music for fifers and/or drummers, even as the improved technology of warfare would soon eliminate the fife and drum from the field music and eventually from military use altogether.  One handbook in particular, The Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide by George B. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett, is often cited as the best example of military music of the period.  But was it?  And if so, why?  What made this book different from other period publications?  What does it reveal about contemporary repertory and performance practice?  And, most importantly, how does it help present-day musicians understand fifing and drumming as it was practiced in during the Civil War?  Comparison of the Guide with 13 other instruction books dating from 1851 to about 1865 goes beyond “golden age”  rhetoric and gives some surprising answers to these questions.  What we find is that Bruce and Emmett’s music was more singular than it was representative and that a substantial portion of the arrangements do not address the functional requirements of military musicians.  In fact, the reasons that made it largely unsuitable for the mid-century military market were the ones that attracted a substantial civilian-based market long after the war was over.  Therefore, we must appreciate the music collected by Bruce and Emmett for its own sake and not as a representative example of the music and practices of Civil War-era fifers and drummers.

George Bruce Barrett signed for his second enlistment as George Bruce, the name by which he would be known for the rest of his life. Old-time Ancients from the 1920s knew nothing of Bruce’s sordid military past and instead speculated that he had been running from an irate wife. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

The two compilers were unlikely affiliates. George B. Bruce, whose real name was George B. Barrett, was born about 1815-16 in (or near) Baltimore, MD.  He was taught by “Drum Major George Riggs,” who later recalled Bruce as the best of his students.  Bruce’s skill as a drummer is further revealed in his prewar service with New York’s 69th Regiment (“Fighting Irish”), but these activities far overshadow his otherwise dubious military accomplishments.  A printer by trade, the 21-year-old Barrett enlisted in Maryland’s 2nd Regiment of Dragoons on November 18, 1836.  Within seven months, however, he had deserted.  Two years later, this time as “George Bruce, silversmith,” he enlisted once more.  He managed to serve for nearly 4 years before he was recognized as a deserter from the Dragoons and summarily discharged.  Bruce made no mention of these unhappy events in his prefatory remarks in the Guide, nor did he cite a short but legitimate enlistment as a drummer in the 22nd NYSM.   Instead, he claimed service as “late principal instructor at the army music schools on Bedloe’s and Governor’s Islands,” even though it is highly unlikely that a known deserter would be chosen to fill this (or any other military) post.  Besides, that position had been held continuously since 1841 by somebody else, who would continue to hold it until his retirement in 1869.  More reliable is Bruce’s claimed connection with the 7th New York regimental band.  This is indeed confirmed in surviving records, albeit for only a brief, six-week enlistment.

Dan Emmett in blackface, ca. 1860. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Daniel Emmett, who assembled the fife portion of the Guide, enjoyed an equally brief but somewhat more illustrious military career.  At age 15 he had enlisted in the army as a fifer, only to be discharged the following year “by reason of minority.”  Emmett worked as a printer for a while in Cincinnati, but he much preferred playing the fiddle for traveling circuses, something he was doing full time by at least 1840.  He retained his fondness for fifing, though, and at one time aspired to publish an instruction book, Emmett’s Standard Drummer; however, this endeavor was either unsuccessful or abandoned, and no copies exist beyond a single manuscript prototype.  In 1843 he founded the Virginia Minstrels, whose musical sketches performed in blackface spawned a popular and long-lasting entertainment genre.  His many original minstrel tunes, especially “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land” (1859), earned him international fame as a composer.

What was the catalyst for the unlikely pairing of Bruce and Emmett?  We don’t know for sure.  It is possible that Bruce, a printer, might have worked at the trade while in New York, where his affinity for drumming may have attracted the attention of music publishers,  but it may have been through the efforts of William Hall.   Years earlier Hall had partnered with his brother-in-law, John Firth, and they with a third man, hymnist Sylvanus Pond, in a highly successful music publishing/retailing venture, but he left in 1847 to establish his own firm, Hall & Son, nearby.  Over the years the multifaceted Hall sponsored local musical events, was active in Fifth Ward politics, and also served as an officer in the state militia.  As such, he had not only the occasion to hear regimental music but also had the ability to anticipate and supply its musical needs.  It is possible, then, that he recognized a lucrative publishing opportunity when he saw one and may have put Bruce in touch with his former partners, who were still profiting from their association with Dan Emmett.  In any event, the two-part Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide was issued by Firth, Pond & Co. in 1862 and subsequently reissued by  its successor, Wm A. Pond (1865, 1880, and1885).

The differing musical background of the compilers is evident throughout the book.  A former soldier, Bruce recognized the significance of an uncluttered downbeat in maintaining march cadence, but as a band drummer he also recognized the value of creativity and challenge in application and performance.  The result is an organized eclecticism, mixing such straightforward pieces as “Quick Steps for Drum Corps” and “Army 2/4” with more complicated ones such as “Seely Simpkins,” “Girl I Left Behind Me,” and “Governor’s Island.”  These latter beatings feature syncopation and embellishments that challenge the performer and rival the fifer’s tune for musical dominance.

A memorial issue of “Dixie,” showing Emmett in old age. Author’s Collection.

Emmett drew upon his unconventional musical background for the tunes he selected for the fife portion of the Guide. A few were chosen from the familiar fife repertory that had developed from eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century practices, such as “British Grenadiers,” “Duke of York’s,” and “Lamplighter’s.”  The overwhelming majority, however, do not appear in other fife publications or in oral tradition, and one has to ask, did he compose them?  Examination of the Guide itself plus ongoing research so far answers “no.”  For example, Emmett was careful to identify the composers of several tunes, ascribing four to “Walch,” two to “Ned” Kendall (the famous bugler who, during their circus days, had improved Emmett’s drumming), and one each to “Jacobs” and Bruce.  Emmett claimed authorship of only two tunes, “Dixie” and “Seely Simpkins.”  It is not unreasonable, then, to assume that had he composed others they would be similarly noted.  Instead, Emmett adopted and at times adapted tunes from the prevailing non-fife repertory, such as the dance “Speed the Plough,” the theater song “Trust to Luck,” and the marches “Downshire” and “Larry O’Brien” (“General Wayne’s March”).  “Ethiopian” (minstrel) tunes are represented by selections such as “Sugar in the Gourd” and his own contribution, “Dixie.”

An entrance to Governor’s Island, shown here in 1923. Despite Bruce’s claims, there is no evidence that he ever served there as instructor; for that matter, neither did Emmett. Author’s Collection.

Emmett’s personal touch is obvious throughout the fife section of the Guide.  Some of the tune titles reflect his Ohio heritage, such as “Cincinnati,” “Owl Creek” (a stream running through Mount Vernon, Emmett’s birthplace), and “Seely Simpkins” (a colorful local character from Emmett’s youth). Other titles refer to his early musical experiences, such as “Circus Rider,” “Sandy McGregor,” and “Newport” (the latter two referring to Emmett’s army fife instructor and the old Kentucky army barracks).  “Miss Brown’s Fancy,” a traditional dance tune, became “Governor’s Island,” memorializing the army’s New York training school for its musicians.

Perhaps the factor that earns the Guide so much praise is its intricate and detailed indications of performance practice.  This is evident in both the drum beats and the fife tunes.  Bruce indicates specific crescendos, decrescendos, and other dynamics as well as unusual sticking patterns and syncopations in many of the drum beats.  Tune embellishments include the usual trills and grace notes in addition to a large number of difficult-to-execute turns.  While these in themselves are not innovations (we find turns in handwritten American fife notation as early as 1781), their placement and prevalence here are more indicative of banjo and fiddle performance practices and hence require special skill from the fifer.

The most striking musical changes, however, are those that occurred within the tunes themselves.  For example, “Hell on the Wabash” stripped of its grace notes and sixteenth note/rest combinations was recognized by Emmett’s biographer as “The Night We Made the Match,”  a traditional Irish air printed some years later in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903).  The trills, syncopation, and runs in Emmett’s “Girl I Left Behind Me” leave only the ending phrase of the first strain to remind us of the 1790s origin of the tune.  “Fort McHenry Quickstep” (formerly “Virginia March” in The Village Fifer [1808]) underwent similar but less drastic modifications.  More remarkable are the changes wrought in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” formerly “The Nightingale” in Patterson’s  A New Preceptor for the German Flute (1834). “The Nightingale” is a pleasant, undemanding melody accompanied by an equally pleasant harmony.  As “Cuckoo’s Nest,” though, both parts are forged into a single and dramatic melody line.   Emmett’s rendition of “Cuckoo’s Nest” requires a great deal of virtuosity from its single performer, more so than the original “Nightingale” does from its duetting musicians.

Cover of the Broome Street edition of Hart’s Instructor, containing author’s handwritten notes for a future edition. Acton Ostling Collection, The Museum of Fife and Drum, Ivoryton, CT.

Other contemporary fife and fife-and-drum books are not quite so descriptive or innovative.  They relied on a more familiar traditional repertory, both in style and selection, than did Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide.  This tried-and-true formula was essentially a mix of old favorites, some dating from around the Revolution, with a few newer selections culled from the then-current repertory of song, dance, and stage tunes.  For example, Col. H.C. Hart advanced a repertory of traditional, minstrel, and popular tunes and beatings that he encountered in his pre-war work as an organizer and instructor of military drum bands.  His New and Improved Instructor for the Drum was published at least four times during and shortly after the Civil War. While one of these issues was dedicated solely to the camp duty, the other three concentrated on a traditional repertory that survives nearly intact in Connecticut ancient music today.  Tunes that were (or became) longstanding favorites, such as “Downfall of Paris,” “Frog in the Well,” “Old Zip Coon,” and “Le Petit Tambour” (“General Time”) appear in their vernacular forms as do beatings such as “Plain 6/8” and another subsequently known as “Connecticut Halftime.”  Hart advocated the eighteenth-century practice, still followed by ancient-style drummers today, of applying a single drum beat to several tunes, so that, for example, “Rickett’s Hornpipe,” “Guilderoy,” and “Rolling Hornpipe” were all suggested as suitable accompaniments to the same beating used for “Beaux of Oak Hill.”  The last, postwar issue of Hart’s book explained the use of bass drums and offered several bass drum beatings, something that other compilers from this period, including Bruce and Emmett, failed to mention at all.

Other period manuals, while not as explicit as Bruce and Emmett’s or as enticing as Hart’s, followed the prescribed model because it worked so well, both for the publisher and the military fifers and drummers who made up their market.  Both Elias Howe (Boston) and Septimus Winner (Philadelphia) drew upon their extensive personal knowledge of traditional and modern musical trends when preparing publications for specific woodwinds, brasswinds, and stringed instruments (including the “accordeon” and “clarionet”) as well as for the fife.  Others utilized much the same repertory while focusing specifically on the unique needs of military musicians.  Thus Keach, Burdett & Cassidy’s Modern Drum School (1861) included such classic fare as “Yankee Doodle” along with the more contemporary “Red, White and Blue” and “Wood-Up Quickstep,” a pattern echoed by Simpson & Canterbury in their Union Drum and Fife Book (1862).  Of course, these and other publications by Klinehanse, Leighton, and Nevins as well as Bruce and Emmett, included the more-or-less standard camp duty, so vital to the repertory of the Civil War field musician.

This traditional approach was highly successful–so successful, in fact, that attempts to supplement the established repertory with original compositions were doomed to fail.  One such entrepreneur was Boston’s talented Alonzo Draper, whose entirely original Fife Melodies was self-published in 1855.  Evidently this effort did not attract much market, although it did catch the eye of the prolific Boston music publisher, Oliver Ditson.  Perhaps it was Ditson himself who attempted to improve salability by adding a series of “Lessons”and two pages of camp duties when he re-issued Draper’s collection in 1857 as Fife without a Master.  This time Draper was cited as compiler, not composer.  However, this venture, too, proved unsuccessful, if surviving evidence has any value.  The two Draper imprints exist today in three known copies, and none of his original music survives in any other source, including traditional aural repertory.

“Downfall of Paris,” fife, from Col. H.C. Hart’s Instructor (1862). While this version is more vernacular, it was the Emmett version that was ultimately adopted into the postwar Ancient repertory. Courtesy The Museum of Fife and Drum, Ivoryton, CT.

Just how widely the Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide was distributed during the Civil War is uncertain.  What is certain, however, is its postwar use by ancient fife and drum corps.  Specific pieces, especially the camp duty, were adopted by competitive associations as judging standards for their field days and contests.  Other selections, including “Army 2/4,” “Downshire” and “Dixie,” were assimilated into the largely traditional repertory of the early ancients and survive to this day.  Emmett’s unique version of “Downfall of Paris” ultimately became the non plus ultra of the ancient repertory.  These selections notwithstanding, it was the more vernacular music presented in several contemporary manuals (most notably those of Col. Hart ) that likely enjoyed a greater prominence in the repertory of the typical Civil War field musician, simply because the music they contained conformed to and supported the military practices of the time.  In short, the average Civil War field musician, subjected to the stress of long marches and hard duty, probably did not have the incentive or stamina dictated by much of the music as written in the Guide.  Its more complex fife tunes required a skill level (and sustained breathing patterns) that were not conducive to protracted performance in rough conditions.  Only the less complicated of Bruce’s beatings, those that emphasized the downbeat and thus coordinated placement of left foot, and the less-ornamented Emmett tunes would be useful in organizing and moving large groups of men over rutted dirt roads or through unfamiliar territory.

This is not to minimize the significance of the Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide or to suggest that mid-century musicians were not talented enough to perform its music.  Rather, the problem lay with the conflict between the Guide’s emphasis on music and the army’s emphasis on function.  By necessity, military music at this time was subservient to its function of regulating both the soldier’s workday in camp and his cadence on the march.   Here is where musical elegance failed, because march music required a predictably repetitive downbeat, plainly discernible by men with varying degrees of musical sophistication.   It was this very important element, however, that was obscured rather than promoted by the highly stylized ornamentation of much of the music in the Guide. More accommodating to these purposes were the neat and orderly marches and quicksteps established during the Revolution and which, by the time of the Civil War, had been indelibly incorporated into the field musician’s repertory with surprisingly few changes.

The more traditional repertory of Civil war musicians was perpetuated after the war.  Fueled by a nostalgic secular society that had romanticized the “boys in blue” as saviors of the union, the veteran musicians belonging to such commemorative hereditary groups as the GAR played the old-fashioned music with vigor at local and national encampments, Memorial Day ceremonies, and various political rallies and other events.  As the years went by, it continued to be played by their sons and grandsons, who formed hereditary groups of their own.  Meanwhile, in Connecticut, a similar repertory had been handed down from father to son ever since the Revolution, resulting in the quasi-military fife and drum corps indigenous to Valley Shore region.  These corps, called “ancient” to distinguish them from their modern musical cousins, nonetheless participated with them in field days, conventions, and exhibitions, first in Connecticut and later in New York, where the music of Bruce and Emmett had become standard fare.  This intermingling created a demand that kept the heirs of the old Firth and Pond shop busy in the 1880s churning out reissues of Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide to satisfy the new civilian market for the music of Bruce and Emmett, a demand that likely far exceeded that of the original military one.

Copyright 2011, HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps — An Excursion? or the First Ancient Muster?

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps Takes a Trip to Rocky Point

The year 1953 heralded a new era of Ancient history when, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ed Olsen and Carl Emmanuelson, the Deep River Drum Corps hosted the first ancient muster.   At the event they conceptualized, music would be the feature of the day and “no trophies, no prizes, and no unkind words” would be tolerated.   And, with 10 corps in attendance, the first Ancient muster was indeed a grand success.  But was DRAM 1953 the first of its kind?  One candidate for that honor might be the long-defunct Hammond Silver Drum Corps of Rockville, CT.  Their 1878 excursion to Rocky Point, Rhode Island was an event that offered neither prize-winning contests nor the ill will they could sometimes produce but instead featured a parade, libations, stand pieces, a commemorative button, and many other characteristics of our now well-established practice of Ancient mustering.

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps posing for newspaper reporters below St. Bernard’s Terrace in Rockville, Connecticut. Led by Rockville’s much-liked and “tallest colored man,” William Nelson (left), they are carrying their signature metal drums with silver-colored shells. Willie, leftmost in the drum line, eventually became a church organist of some renown. Detail from 1877 photo.

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps began in the late 1860s with Joe C. Hammond, a leading citizen of Rockville, Connecticut.  With Joe on fife, wife Catherine on bass drum, and their two sons on snares, the family entertained their friends and neighbors with patriotic music whenever the occasional arose.  At first they played informally, sometimes as the Elm Street Drum Corps and at least once as the Lilliputian Drum Corps, no doubt in deference to the youthful snare line consisting of 12-year-old Willie and 9-year-old Charles.  By 1876, however, Joe was busy with another group, the Veteran Field Music of Tolland County, and the Hammond Silver Drum Corps officially became a junior (“juvenile”) corps.

It was at the great Jubilee held in Rockville in 1877 that a trip to the Rocky Point was discussed.  At that time the Hammond corps consisted of 10 boys led by the well-known William Nelson.  Among their duties that day was greeting the visiting corps at the train station as they arrived to participate in the festivities.  Moodus won the prize that day for best drumming, a silk banner made by the ladies of Rockville, but the performances by all the corps, including Hammond’s, were impressive.  By day’s end, all agreed that another event should be held the following year, and the date was set for Friday, August 30, 1878, at the Rocky Point amusement park, Rhode Island’s premier tourist attraction.  The Hammond corps made plans to be there, too.

Several newspapers memorialized the Rocky Point affair, including The Rockville Journal and The Providence Evening Press. Undeterred by the 4-hour train ride to Providence, the Connecticut contingent filled 19 cars with musicians, spectators, and newspaper reporters, some of whom sported what might be considered the first “muster button” in the form of a wooden nutmeg set off with a red ribbon, “an emblem of times past,” according to one reporter.   The trip was completed by steamer, which brought them from Providence to Rocky Point.  Following a dinner of Rhode Island clams (a  Rocky Point specialty) and fueled by an enthusiastic throng of onlookers, the corps paraded to the bandstand where the festivities commenced in earnest.

The Crystal Wave was one of many steamers running passengers to and from Rocky Point during the summer season. The park buildings are seen in the background. Detail of albumin print, 1878.

The stand pieces began with the Tolland County Veterans, who received “hearty applause” for their efforts.  They were followed by the “excellent music” of Suffield’s Remington Drum Band.  Next, the Tunxis Valley Band played with “much spirit and vigor,” followed by the well-known and much-admired “gentleman drummers of Moodus,” who were “handsomely attired in red jackets barred with white.”  The Mansfield Drum Corps played “creditably,” given that they were “a country band and have not the opportunity for practice which city bands have.”  Polite encouragement returned to enthusiastic applause with the “the careful practice and confidence” exhibited by the St. James Band of Manchester.

It seems the best performances were saved for last.  The Hammond Silver Drum Corps “played with self possession and vigor, and were very heartily applauded.”  Next came the G.L. Belden [Bolden] Drum Corps of Hartford, “composed of colored youths” whose expert drummers would grow into adulthood and dominate the competition circuit.  Last but far from least was Steele’s Independent Fife and Drum Corps, also from Hartford.  We are told by the observers that this “very excellent band had some of the best performers in the State including Joseph Heck.”  Two years earlier, it was Heck, “the boss fifer of Connecticut,” who had won the coveted gold-tipped fife as “Best Fifer” at a contest held in Rockville.

The G.L. Bolden [Drum Corps, ca. 1906, a participant in the Excursion to Rocky Point some 30 years earlier. Author’s Collection.

True to a tradition that cannot be improved, the festivities concluded with—what else—a jollification.  It was reported that the music, which had kept up until the steamers arrived, continued for the entire 45-minute boat trip back to Providence.   While one reporter feared that “to those whose nerves were weak, the noise must have been very annoying” another worried not a bit.  Speaking of the Hammond Silver Drum Corps specifically, his words might have applied to all.  “The boys found admirers wherever they had listeners,” he bragged, “nor were the words of praise in any sense unworthily bestowed.

Copyright 2001, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

The National Association of Civil War Musicians: American Veteran Fifers

Getting ready to parade, ca 1910-1918. Author’s Collection.

Running a good drum corps is hard.  It was even harder early in the twentieth century when not everybody owned cars or could afford train fare and the only way to share music over long distances was to send handmade copies through the mail.  It was this environment that prompted formation of the National Association of Civil War Musicians, a little-known subgroup of the Grand Army of the Republic.  The NACWM would organize G.A.R. fifers and drummers into a National Drum Corps to provide martial music at encampments and other events; to accomplish this, they devised a small tune-book called American Veteran Fifer.    While there are several period publications still extant that preserve the fife music of the Civil War, this book is unique in that it preserves the fife music of the Civil War veteran.


Second edition dated 1926 (bottom). The leatherbound copy (top) was the personal copy of J.N. Bogart, ca. 1906. Author’s collection.

The origins of the NACWM are and likely will remain unknown, since records prior to 1926 have been destroyed.  We thus know very little of the veteran fifers and drummers who met at the earliest encampments of the GAR.  With the music of the war still fresh in the collective memory, one might assume that there was no need to standardize the music; indeed, as late as 1897, no musical interest group was listed in the Manual of the Civil War and Key to the Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies (Revised Edition).  However, conditions were ripe for change.  G.A.R. membership peaked in 1890, and by that time the Civil War music, although endeared to all, had become old-fashioned.  What was remembered had no doubt been diluted over time and by the regional isolation that occurred once the veterans had returned to their respective homes across the country and stayed there.  As a result, a fifer from Michigan who might remember “Old Rosin the Beau” from his wartime service would play it differently in 1893 than he had in 1863 and differently still than the fifer from Maine, or Oregon, or Pennsylvania, or Nevada.  While one version might vary only slightly from another, playing ensemble might produce multiple variants, resulting in more cacophony than melody.  This problem compounded when membership rules were relaxed to admit the Sons of Union Veterans to G.A.R. events.  The older folks welcomed their assistance, but it nonetheless introduced more confusion into the field music as they pondered what to play and how to play it.  Something had to be done. Something was.

The arrangement of attendance dates would suggest the official formation of the NACWM was a 5-year process that wasn't formalized until 1906.  Image from author's collection, location of original unknown.

The arrangement of attendance dates would suggest the official formation of the NACWM was a 5-year process. Image from author’s collection, location of original unknown.

Exactly when the National Association of Civil War Musicians was formed is unknown.  However, its leaders attended the annual G.A.R. convention in Cleveland (1901), something they continued to do for the next 5 years.  It wasn’t until 1906 that the National Association, not just its leaders, attended its first G.A.R. convention which was held in Minneapolis. That’s when the entire second floor of the Jefferson school building was reserved for NACWM meetings and its members asked to attend in “full G.A.R. uniform,” ready to address the “great things that are expected of us.”  We might speculate, then, that the National Association of Civil War Musicians was officially established in 1906.

The process of forming a national music committee might have been similar to the departmental process of forming a drum corps:  the matter was simply “brought before the Encampment in session,” and once authorized, the new group would be entitled to “a place on the regular program of the encampments.”

The Oregon Drum Corps received its official G.A.R. sanction in 1912. Author’s collection.

It was the “National Fife Major,” A.F. Hopkins of Yellow Springs, Ohio, who sought to coordinate the GAR field music.  He did this by assembling 139 tunes, which were arranged on a single 80-page signature measuring 2.75 x 7 inches—large enough for aging eyes to read but small enough to slip inside a pocket.   Whether the American Veteran Fifer was given or sold to G.A.R. fifers is unclear, but it proved so successful that even as the first edition was completed, another was “in preparation.” The American Veteran Fifer was issued without apology or explanation.  While much of the music has been traced to the war, a careful examination of the tunes, both individually and collectively, demonstrates more of a traditional military repertory that predictably mixes older, familiar marches and quicksteps with more recent ones.  The result was a body of popular songs, dances, and other melodies surrounding a stable nucleus of time-honored marches, some dating to the Civil War but others even further back to the War of 1812 and the Revolution.  This kind of eclecticism is inherent to an aurally-based traditional repertory, and as such Hopkins made no fuss about it.  In fact, he identified only 2 “Civil War” and 3 “historical” tunes, and one of these erroneously.  More important to him and his comrades was the emotional investment that rendered each tune meaningful and therefore memorable.  Thus, he solicited music directly from those who had played and would be playing it, identifying the contributor (not the tune) by carefully enumerating his Civil War service.

The Boston convention was an obvious source of pride, even though the NACWM had yet to be made official.  Author's collection.

The Boston convention was an obvious source of pride, even though the NACWM had yet to be made official. Author’s collection.

To this music he added a few of his own choices, some of which he claimed as original compositions, and then some camp duties and selections from a well-established repertory of fondly remembered favorites that the others were bound to recognize.  He further personalized the music by writing dedications to specific comrades and by devising alliterative tune titles, such as “J.L. Blatchley’s Banter,” “C.E. Larrabee’s Lark,” and “George Brown’s Bonvivant [Pig Town Fling].”  Even the “historical” tunes were personalized, so that “Road To Boston,” is described not as a Revolutionary War survival but “as played by The N.A. of C.W.M. leading the G.A.R. Parade at Boston August 16th 1904.” All of this suggests that American Veteran Fifer sought to musically unite G.A.R. fifers through a selection of well-known music drawn from a largely traditional but turn-of-the-century repertory.  Historical overlap was nothing more than a happy accident that was briefly noted, if known or suspected.

Like the organization that produced it, The American Veteran Fifer was evidently a several-year effort.  Author's collection.

Like the organization that produced it, The American Veteran Fifer was evidently a several-year effort. Author’s collection.

Evidently, American Veteran Fifer was a several-year effort—although the book is dated 1905, internal evidence suggests that it was not published until at least 1909, more likely 1910.  The NACWM lost no time, however, in putting it to its intended use, and in 1911 comrades were advised by postal card of the title, time signature, and page number of the ten selections to be featured at the upcoming national encampment in Rochester, New York.

Postmarked August 1, 1911, this card was sent to Comrade Walter Sarvier in Goldfield, Iowa, advising him of the musical itinerary for the upcoming convention in Rochester, NY. Author's Collection.

Postmarked August 1, 1911, this card was sent to Comrade Walter Sarvier in Goldfield, Iowa, advising him of the musical itinerary for the upcoming convention in Rochester, NY. Author’s Collection.

This encampment exposed another problem, one that had been simmering since at least 1904 and which would ultimately prove fatal.  “Comrades of the Civil War Musicians,” another postal card proclaimed, “Its Up To You’uns:”

Real-photo post card showing ladies dressed in white leading the NACWM contingent. Must have been a long day:  “Feed came at last,” J.N. Bogart advised his sister, “Great chef.” Author’s Collection.

Say boys it’s up to you’uns to settle this dispute
‘Bout marchin’ at Encampments and all the “GUSH” refute.
Who’s getting’ old and feeble an’ totter as they walk;
Say wouldn’t that jar yer pension, an’ cause a vet to balk?
Just as lief attend camp meetin’ without the prayer an’ shout
As to mix in a Reunion with the marchin’ all left out.
So we’ll just keep on a marchin’ an’ a passin’ in Review
Cause we’ve earned the right to do so ALL IN OUR UNION BLUE.
The NACWM/SUV booklet from the 1931 encampment listing MacKinlay Kantor as member in good standing. His name also appears in the 1938 booklet (top). Author's Collection.

The NACWM/SUV booklet from the 1931 encampment listing MacKinlay Kantor as member in good standing. His name also appears in the 1938 booklet (top). Author’s Collection.

“The boys” were successful in this endeavor, and the grand parade of veterans remained on the program for this and subsequent encampments despite the yearly thinning of the ranks as the veterans succumbed, one by one, to age and infirmity.   However, they were feisty old men and did not go down without a fight.  In 1926 the short-term future of the NACWM was ensured when the name was officially changed to the National Association of Civil War Musicians and Sons of Union Veterans.  This allowed the younger fifers and drummers to enjoy full membership in the organization founded by their fathers and grandfathers.  Author MacKinlay Kantor, who some years later would write the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Andersonville, was one of many Sons who paid the annual $1.00 dues for the privilege of mingling with the old soldiers at encampments and marching with them on parade.

Billy Tidswell, who dance a jig while playing the Long Roll, seen here at the Boston GAR parade and encampment, 1904.  Author's Collection.

Billy Tidswell, who danced a jig while playing the Long Roll, seen here at the Boston GAR parade and encampment, 1904. Author’s Collection.

Kantor described the 1922 encampment in an essay entitled “Assembly of the Saints.”  Among the hundreds who descended upon Des Moines, Iowa for the event was a non-G.A.R. corps from California who managed to annoy a few old timers (Kantor called them “snobs”) with “those blame fifes in the key of C!”  (“Everybody else has got B-flat!”)  The snobs were mollified, though, by the extraordinary drumming of Billy Tidswell, a fixture at reunions such as these.  Billy was “…a squat, solemn, bearded man—who can beat the Long Roll for a full three minutes without tiring.”  Predictably, “[Once] the little bearded man from Michigan has finished his Long Roll, and finished the jig he does along with it[, the] street is resounding with shouted requests from the thickening crowds. “Play Yankee Doodle.”  “Hey, mister!  Play The Girl I Left Behind Me!” “Play Marching Through Georgia!”  “Marching through Georgia,” says one gray-haired raw-boned fifer to another.  “They don’t seem to realize that wasn’t written ’till after the War.”

This homemade manuscript tune-book, ca 1890, was made from a cut-down blank book. The nature of the tunes therein suggests that it belonged to an aspiring G.A.R. fifer. ‘Marching Through Georgia’ was indeed a “must-learn.” Author’s Collection.

Girl’s all right, and so’s Yankee Doodle, but they’re chestnuts.  Let’s give ’em something regular.  Eighteen Twelve or Gilderoy.” But— “Village Quickstep,” calls the Fife Major, and holds his instrument aloft in signal.  The music begins. . .” All but one of the tunes mentioned above are in American Veteran Fifer.  Although “Marching through Georgia” was indeed “Civil War,”  having been filed for copyright on January 9, 1865, to include it would have been superfluous.  Whatever its provenance, the G.A.R. realized early on that its stirring words would both excite and incite.  By the 1880s, then, it had become its signature tune, well-known to every comrade, and used to promote various G.A.R. political causes.

Handbill.  Author's Collection.

Handbill. Author’s Collection.

The expanded NACWM/SUV continued for several years under the leadership of “fat” Bert Child, but by 1936, too old to beat his drum, he led the NACWM at the Washington, D.C. parade as its “National Secretary.”  He also served as Secretary-Treasurer and then as “Hon. General Manager.” Child was one of many second-generation NACWM officials who were too young to have ever served in the Civil War but had nonetheless embraced its veterans’ ideals as their own and carried them on. In 1942 there were not enough NACWM members at the national encampment to hold a meeting.  The following year Child reported that several state associations had disbanded:  “There is now (1943) one Civil War veteran musician in Portland, Oregon. . . the ranks today are made up of sons and grandsons of Civil War Veterans.”  With this assistance and with a new name (National Association of Civil War Veterans), the group persisted through the ’40s, even as the parent G.A.R. unofficially folded with its last encampment in 1949.  (Of interest to us, Oregon’s lone musical veteran was none other than Comrade Hopkins, who nearly 40 years earlier had worked so hard to preserve G.A.R. music in the American Veteran Fifer.) The revised NACWM continued to exist into the mid-1950s as The National Association of Fife and Drum Corps.  Now it was the second- and third-generation friends of veterans such as Bert Child who were the old-timers revered by a younger crowd, and new names appeared as officers, James Diehl as president, and then R. G. Landis.  Landis, once vice-president of the Tri-State Association of Martial Bands (a Pennsylvania group founded in 1932), continued with the NAFDC as long as he could, but in 1954 he, too, was elderly, and with his eventual passing so went the hands that had held the hands of America’s veteran fifers, leaving us with a few papers and a small book of tunes as delightful reminders of their glory days.

Real photo post card showing leaders of the NACWM in 1911. Hopkins is the fifer on the left. The lower vignette is J.N. Bogart, whose personal copy of American Veteran Fifer is bound in leather and stamped in gold. Author’s Collection.

Copyright 2011, HistoryoftheAncients Dot Org.  All rights reserved.

Hammet Achmet, Middletown’s Not-So-Famous Drum Maker

In the early 1800s, Middletown hosted a sizable free black population, a byproduct of the slave trade of the late eighteenth century. “Plan of Main Street, Middletown,” from “Connecticut’s Historical Collections,” Durrie & Peck and J.W. Barber (1836).

On March 17, 1824, the Middlesex Gazette advised “By order of the Court of Probate for the District of Middletown, will be sold at public vendue, (if not previously disposed of by private sale,) all the estate of David Churchill, late of Chatham deceased.  Said vendue will be held at the late dwelling house of said deceased, on Monday the 20th inst. at 10 o’clock, A.M. at the beat of drum.”

The drummer who summoned bidders to this auction and others like it in Middletown was probably Hammet Achmet.   A former slave who sought day-to-day labor to supplement his modest military pension, Achmet was well known to the upper strata of Middletown, Connecticut society and even to such national celebrities as P.T. Barnum, Senator John C. Calhoun, and George Washington.

Hammet Achmet was born in Africa, probably in 1759.  As a young boy he was “captured and shipped to Virginia,” the further specifics of which are unknown.  While still a child he became a servant of George Washington, first tending his horse and later waiting on the General himself.  Achmet never forgot these years and “continually talk[ed] about Massa Washington;” as an old man he would tell “. . . many long stories . . . of the fine dinners and grand company” he witnessed during his service and would display to anyone interested the sword and lock of hair given to him by the General himself.  Achmet had no kind words for Mrs. Washington, though, and “. . . used to call [her] hard names and find fault with her treatment of him which caused him to run away.

Return Jonathan Meigs, a Middletown native, served with distinction during the Revolution. He went west, served in the Indian Wars, and eventually became governor of Ohio . Courtesy Google Images

Perhaps Achmet ran to Middletown, because in 1777 he enlisted there as a drummer in Captain Benjamin Throop’s Company, Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs’ Regiment of the First (later the Fourth) Connecticut Regiment.  He was a member of the party that stormed Stoney Point and was wounded during the battle of Germantown.  Achmet was also present at the Yorktown surrender in 1783.  Earlier, he had been at Valley Forge, as another soldier named Samuel Fayerweather told pension officials in 1819.  Achmet, he testified, was “among the crowd assembled around the waggons” which brought specie from France to pay the army.  He also remembered seeing “the little black drummer” in 1779, “ . . .the spring of the year after the army quitted Valley Forge,” when Achmet’s attempts to hoard his allotment of rum had amused Fayerweather and his comrades—but not so Achmet.  In anger, Hammet attacked him with the butt of his head, only to “receive upon it,” Fayerweather recalled, “several strokes of my heel” in return.

After the war, Achmet resided in Middletown with his wife Jane and his daughters.  He eked out a living tending his garden and doing odd jobs about town, such as drumming for the vendue and selling old shoes to the local gun factory (these would be made into polishing leather).

Drumming was important to Achmet, and he drummed not only for the auctions but also at various military events held in town.  More importantly, he began making and selling drums, “large and small,” which he advised were “made and sold by General Washington’s Waiter.”  To Middletown citizenry, he was a favorite son, “held in great respect by the community,” as one resident recalled, “Often did I meet him in his rounds, or proudly performing his office at the head of a military company. . .he might be seen any day marching the streets with a string of little drums over his shoulder, he himself dressed in quaint regimentals.”

Here Hammet is paid for goods or services supplied to the town poorhouse. Courtesy Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown, CT.

To out-of-towners, though, he was a “strange mortal” who walked around town “with a blue jacket trimmed in decayed military trappings.”  His ever-present drum, which had served him so well during the war and helped him earn a living long after it was over, was to them “almost a nuisance.”

Though poor, Achmet had friends in high places.  One was Jonathan Barnes, a local attorney, who oversaw the distribution of Achmet’s military pension.  Obtaining the pension had been a two-year process that Achmet himself, hindered by his thick African accent and “rapidity of speech,” could not accomplish, but he was successful following intervention by District Court Judge Pierpont Edwards of Bridgeport.  Edwards, son of the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, solicited the aid of none other than John C. Calhoun on Achmet’s behalf, reminding him that Achmet had served in the regiment commanded by the father of current Postmaster General and pointing out that Achmet still had his drum and leather cap from the war, “with the distinctive mark of the United States” still on them.   Other friends included the cadets at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy run by Captain Alden Partridge, an institution that continues

Achmet’s first marriage was also rocky at times, as this notice from the “Middlesex Gazette” attests. Still, Achmet was so devastated by Jane’s death in 1827 that he tenderly crafted a wooden gravemarker that he labored upon until it “shone like marble.”

today as Norwich [VT] University.  At one point in 1827, the cadets collected a subscription of ten cents each to give to Hammet, this following the deaths, in close succession, of his wife and daughter.

Hammet soon remarried, this time to a white woman who is reported to have “washed her face and hands in a decoction of mahogany chips” in order to avoid the stigma of a “mixed marriage.”  The marriage was not a happy one:

“Mr. and Mrs. Achmet quarreled sometimes, and once she cut off Hammet’s ringlets as he lay asleep. They were his especial pride . . . , so poor Achmet hid himself til the curls grew again.”

It was Achmet’s service to George Washington that nearly earned him national fame.  According to Emily Stedman, granddaughter of Achmet’s benefactor,

One time when grandfather was attending court in New Haven, a man came to the [Barnes] residence and inquired for grandfather. . . the man. . . was Phineas T. Barnum, and that he was trying to get Hammett Achmet to travel with his “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Judge Pierpont Edwards (b. 1750, d. 1826), one of Achmet’s many friends. He was the younger son of Rev. Jonathan Edwards but nonetheless founded the Toleration Party in 1816. He had the political clout to ensure that Achmet got his military pension.

At that time Barnum was in the midst of the Joyce Heth affair. Heth, an elderly colored woman, had been exhibited in Barnum’s traveling show as the reputed 161-year-old former “servant-woman” who in youth had nursed the infant George Washington.  Heth was a charming addition to Barnum’s show–knarled with arthritis, she delighted audiences by singing hymns–but her death in 1836 sparked a frenzied newspaper scandal accusing Barnum of exploitation and fraud.  Perhaps Barnum sought to downplay the Heth affair by replacing his star exhibition with the more credible Hammet Achmet, but to no avail.  Stedman continues:

Hammet had refused to go unless ‘Massa B—-‘ should say he must.  Not finding it possible to persuade old Achmet, and lawyer B—- not being at home, Barnum hired a horse and carriage (there was no railroad to New Haven then, and the stage went there only every other day), and drove to New Haven to interview ‘Massa B—-.”  Grandfather said he would advise with Hammet, the result being that ‘General Washington’s waiter’ concluded he did not want to be exhibited as one of Barnum’s curiosities; and remained at home.

“Massa B–” took care of Achmet’s finances. Achmet, who could barely write his name, acknowledged his debts by drawing the amounts due, using full circles to represent dollar coins and partial circles to represent portions thereof. Courtesy Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown, CT

Stedman believed that Achmet lived to be 114, but more likely he was around 83 when he died in 1842.  Within a month his wife “became white again” and was married, this time to “an old sailor and bird fancier” named Andrew P. Folio.  None of Achmet’s drums have been identified, if any have survived, and we don’t know how pervasive his influence was on drumming in Middletown–did he teach drumming, formally or informally?  Was he associated with the “drum school of some celebrity” once located in Middletown Upper Houses?  What were his connections with the A.L.S. & M. Academy?  All we have is the recollection of the old-timers, who agreed in 1893 that “there was real music in old Achmet’s drum.”

Copyright 2011, HistoryoftheAncientDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

Turkey In the Straw, A Poem by MacKinlay Kantor

Courtesy Denver Public Library, Accessed September 12, 2012

It was some years ago that I last spoke with Willie, bass drummer for the Charles W. Dickerson Field Music.  Even then Willie was an old-timer, a Jaybird in Ancient parlance.  As we walked off the field at the Westbrook Muster with the robust strains of the Dickerson standpiece still ringing in our ears, we discussed just what makes Ancients tick.  We agreed that it wasn’t being born into the hobby, and it wasn’t necessarily talent or skill, but neither of us could come up with much else—that is, not until Willie put down his drum, clasped his hands to his heart, and said, “It’s right here.  To be a good Ancient, you have to feel it right here.”

I was struck by his statement.  Willie was right.  In fact, that’s exactly how the Ancients came to be.  Those who fifed and drummed in the American Revolution felt a similar sentiment as they passed down a large body of emotionally charged marches and quicksteps to their sons and grandsons and they in turn to theirs, so much so that Civil War fifers played many of the same tunes with the same vigor during that conflict as well.  And because they, too, felt it “right here,” the music persisted long after that war, both in the GAR field music and in the repertory and performance practices of Connecticut’s Ancient fifes and drums.

MacKinlay Kantor, while never an Ancient, nonetheless knew that feeling.  Born in Webster City, Iowa in 1904, he developed an interest in the Civil War.  “As a boy and teenager in Iowa,” his Wiki biographer tells us, “Kantor had spent hours listening to the stories of Civil War veterans, and he was an avid collector of first-hand narratives.”  As a young man, he joined the local Sons of Union Veterans and then the National Association of Civil War Musicians (but not until its hereditary requirement was relaxed, thus extending NACWM membership to qualified Sons).  Kantor attended GAR encampments, listened to even more stories of the old-timers, fifed with them at parades, and eventually wrote about his experiences in several novels and poems.

Turkey-In-The-Straw (1935), a self-described anthology of “American ballads and primitive verse,” consists of a series of poems that Kantor had submitted to various newspapers and magazines over the previous decade.  None of the 35 entries rise to the level of literary greatness, but all reveal how intensely the old veterans’ stories had affected the author.  There are 8 poems that deal with the Civil War; this one, entitled “The Twenty-Ninth of May,” presents a poignant juxtaposition of mortality and immortality.

Tomorrow, "The Jaybird" would clatter and cry
Like the echo of cannister cleaving the sky. . .
And he knew that thin hands with their stiffness and pain
Would prod the bull-drums to a battered refrain.
Ah, boot-toes were bright, and the faded eyes glared
Up at heaven,
 Tomorrow, my music is blared. 

Blue elves, army elves in a frenzy of age
Tore the grace-notes from bars on a rheumatic page. . .
O, pin me my ribbons and fetch me my drums,
I'm ninety years old, and my fingers are thumbs. 
And it's "Hell on the Wabash" or Kellogg's Q.S."
I'm the last of my line--and the bravest, I guess. 

"He's sleepin'," they murmured.  "Let's git him away,"
And, Jesus! They guided him into a day
Where the burnt banners brushed him as lips of the gods.
The Seventh Wisconsin!  Up, up through the sods
They were springing like birds in the haunt of a dream.
         Still linger the eagles.  Tomorrow, they scream.

However, this one about another otherwise forgotten Memorial Day is my favorite.  (For the uninitiated, it was and remains customary to play a dirge when entering a cemetery;  a quickstep would be in bad taste, hence Judge Wright’s complaint).

Judge Wright said, "It's contrary to law.
They shouldn't be playin' Turkey-in-the-straw!"

But all the old vets in the Potters' field
Mumbled and laughed as our bad hands wheeled
Through the powdered smoke, the muttering stammer—
Talking so fierce in 'Sixty-one grammar!"

And Perc Knowles nodded in his deep grave:
"The best martial tune those boys ever gave."

And Park Banks stirred in his old blue coat,
Close by the field of budding oat—
"The boys are beating.  I hear—I see. . .
Next tune they play'll be 'Jefferson and Liberty.'"

Clatter-patter, clatter-patter, crowds went by
And they only saw a mild May sky.
With us standing under it, beating like hell
A maudlin chorus the graves knew well.

Joe Mead whispered up through the sod,
"Hope they play 'Tallewan' too, by God!
Hope their fingers are wire and steel;
Hope they make the cedar trees kneel."

And unseen eagles yelled on a ridge
Over beyond the Deer Creek bridge.

Clatter-clack-clack.  The crowds went past. . .
And we were tired and done, at last.
But the cedars whistled that dancing sound
In the slow night breeze of the burying-ground.

And some say the little flags snapped like stars
To the drum, drum, drum of those redskin bars;
And I saw Yankee men pushing up their stones,
And dancing to our fifes on splinter-new bones!

It’s possible Kantor was working with a copy of American Veteran Fifer on his desk; more likely, it was his memories of any number of its contributors that enabled him to write with such simple elegance.

Kantor attended the Deep River Ancient Muster in 1959, coming up to Connecticut from his home in Sarasota, Florida.  He died in 1977, having immortalized the Civil War veteran in several of his many novels, anthologies, and film scripts and no doubt comforted by the realization that the legacy of the Civil War fifer and drummer will be carried on by the Ancient community for years to come.

Copyright 2011, HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

Alonzo Draper’s Fife Melodies, 1855

Draper’s son, General Alonzo Draper, killed by friendly fire in Texas at the close of the Civil War. Courtesy Google Images

Alonzo Draper . . . to most of us, the name doesn’t ring a bell, although for Civil War aficionados it conjures images of the youthful, dynamic military hero who, before his tragic death in 1865, had earned the rank of Brigadier General.  Equally interesting to us as fifers and drummers, though, is Alonzo’s father, also Alonzo, whose self-published Draper’s Fife Melodies appeared in 1855.

The Draper family in America descended from Samuel of Yorkshire, England.  An 1892 history compiled in part by General Alonzo’s sister, Adelaide, describes him thus, “He is supposed to have been the wild son of a Church of England clergyman, one Thomas Draper of Halifax.”  “The young man ran away to sea,” she reported, “and never thereafter returned home.”  Later, we are told that Samuel “took a wife who accompanied him on several voyages,” but more careful research reveals the shameful truth hidden behind her carefully chosen words.  Great-Grandpa roamed the seas as a pirate, and his “wife” had been pillaged during a raid on a Spanish port.  Nonetheless, she proved his life’s consort and bore him several children including three sons, each of whom was named for an American seaport–Boston, New York, and Newburyport. (A fourth son, James, was spared a similar fate by his father’s fondness for an uncle or brother so named.)   It is from Boston Draper that the two Alonzos descended and the history of Draper’s Melodies begins.

Draper was evidently a pleasant man and a good musician.  His daughter recalled that he was a music teacher specializing in piano and woodwinds.  He “had a lovable disposition,” she recalled, “which attracted children to him very greatly.”  She indicated that he also composed and arranged music for military bands, although she never acknowledged his dabblings in fife music per se.

The Melodies was unusual for its time.  The 50-year-old Draper shunned the practices of other mid-century fife book compilers, whose works relied upon the tried-and-true formula of mixing several old favorites with newer selections from the dances and songs currently in the air.  Instead, the title-page advises that he composed each of the 148 tunes himself.

Title-page, original edition (from private collection)

What he wrote for Draper’s Fife Melodies is bright and lively.  Some of the the tunes push the limitations of the traditional fife, but they all reveal that their composer was familiar with the style, form, and construction of the quicksteps, jigs, hornpipes, and marches that dominated the contemporary fife repertory.  The book soon caught the eye of Boston’s music publishing mogul, Oliver Ditson, who reissued it in 1857, this time as Draper’s Fife without a Master.  Perhaps it was Ditson who suggested that Draper increase the market appeal and practicality of his book by dropping his claims of original composition and enlarging it to include a series of lessons, an “Explanation of Musical Terms” and a few camp duties.

Unfortunately, it appears that none of these marketing ploys worked.  Had either Draper’s Fife Melodies or Fife without a Master enjoyed a significant distribution, some fragment of that popularity might be evident today, either in the number of extant issues or by any number of these tunes published in competing fife tutors, copied by fifers into their personal tune books, or surviving in today’s traditional “ancient” repertory.   None of this occurred, and we are left to speculate that Draper’s talent attracted little interest and few dollars.  It is much more likely that fifers marching off to the Civil war stuffed copies of Howe’s Army and Navy Instructor or Winner’s Perfect Guide into their haversacks, leaving the Draper books on the shelves at Oliver Ditson’s store on Washington Street in Boston.

If Draper produced any other fife books before his death in 1862, they remain to be found.  His association with Boston-area military bands is yet to be explored.  We are fortunate, though, to have the opportunity to revitalize these otherwise-lost tunes through the few copies of his books that have survived.

Copyright 2008, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.