An Oldie — But Not A Goodie

I’ve been away from eBay for a while, so I was a bit surprised to see this:



offered for sale on eBay, 12-25-2020, Merry Christmas!  Photo courtesy of generallee292.

I see the seller has learned his lesson and stopped fraudulently marking mid-twentieth-century Cloos fifes with “genuine Civil War” regimental imprints.  But now he is committing a different kind of fraud — marking what could very well be a genuine Civil-War-era fife with a fake “genuine Civil-War inscription” <<sigh>> To my mind, this is not only fraudulent, it is a mortal sin that distorts the historical record and ruins the value of what was, before he made his blocky incisions, true (and valuable) antiques. 

However, not all of us have learned to discourage this kind of historical destruction by scrolling past his eBay offerings, because with 4 days and 12 hours to go until this auction reaches its end, the bidding already exceeds $100.00 and dozens of bidders are watching.  


That’s the kind of patina that cannot be entirely scrubbed away. Photo courtesy of generallee292

The seller, identified only as generallee292, believes this instrument to be of museum quality, and he submits reasonably good photos as proof.  From these we can see that the gross characteristics point to a mid-19th-century origin for this instrument — even-size toneholes placed in 2 groups of 3, the oval-shaped embouchure with a slight swell, and a more-or-less straight body with cylindrical brass ferrules.  However, “mid-century” runs from  approximately 1840 to 1870, just sayin’. 

To me, this fife looks primarily machine-made, which would place it towards the end of that mid-century estimation and approach, if not fall right into, the 1870s.  However, the Civil War years cannot be entirely ruled out.  There is just enough gross evidence of handwork (in the application of the ferrule plus its decorative knurled-type strip) to indicate a careful attention to detail in performing tasks that machines could not yet perform, and I would further venture to guess that this was once a quality instrument.  I wonder, though, about the quality of the bore and whether the tone holes were undercut, but these are characteristics that demand personal inspection, which is obviously impossible here.  But one will never know unless one is the (lucky?) purchaser, because the seller has yet to answer my questions.   And he doesn’t accept returns, so. . .

He does, however, give an encouraging description of the fife:


This is not patina, this is polish. Photo courtesy of generallee292.

Unfortunately, generallee292 fails to disclose what to me is a glaring problem with his otherwise-detailed description:  Just when was “114TH PA INF  “carved” on the side near the finger holes”?

This had to have occurred relatively recently, such the day after the seller “purchased [it] from a private collection in Gettysburg, PA” or maybe the day after the day after that, simply because, if for no other reason, the instrument is too clean. 
The “outstanding rich patina throughout” should be a dark, subtle glow, but this fife actually shines as if it had been stripped, cleaned, and polished.  This kind of work, clearly, was done before the carving occurred; otherwise, traces of it would have remained within the exposed raw surfaces of the wood. 

This boxwood fife, ca 1850, retains its patina. #38779755,

By definition patina is “the sheen on a surface, such as one made of wood, produced by age and use.” There is no evidence of age or use in the finish of this instrument.   There are no wear patterns to indicate the countless number of times the fife had been inserted into and withdrawn from a pocket or a case, no wear or darkening to indicate the countless tunes that were fingered on its tone holes, no stains or spots to indicate where coffee spills, candle wax, tobacco juice, or dirt had been cleaned and re-cleaned from its surface.  There are no dings or gouges to indicate that this fife was ever dropped or knocked against a tin cup as it was stuffed into a knapsack — in fact, it looks as though it saw no use at all!  There is no evidence of the years of regular and repeated oiling that preserved this fife body from cracks and would have formed the “rich patina” he claims.  There is no accumulation of anything — dirt, oil, or cleaning agents — in the “carving” itself. 

And, speaking of “carving,” this particular example does not look like it was drawn freehand with a soldier’s penknife or bayonet tip.  It appears to have been “carved” by more sophisticated tooling — plus a template to ensure even height and depth of the lettering.

In my opinion, judging from evidence in the photos, the “carving” is new, period, and anyone from the 114th PA Inf who made it would have had to rise from his grave, sneak into generallee292’s workshop, plug in the router (or laser engraver), perform the dastardly deed, and then sneak back to his resting place.


This ferrule shows not only patina but also pincer marks. As the wood (naturally) shrunk with age, the ferrules would loosen. The pincer made sure they would remain securely in place. Photo courtesy of generallee292.

But there is some proof of age on this instrument that the General couldn’t destroy.  Take a close look at the ferrules, which the seller provides in two views.  There is patina evident in the dings and discolorations.  This is where the metal has resisted his efforts and thus remains as the sole sign of age.  Cleaning and polishing has diminished it, but neither effort could strip this patina away entirely.

Another glaring problem is this:  Why do all of the “army-carved” fifes I’ve seen on eBay sales come from Maryland?   Every one I’ve seen has a different regimental marking. . .and they’ve all been from Yankee regiments.  Of course I haven’t seen them all, and in truth I haven’t even been looking all that hard, so there may be others from other areas of the US; whether they (if they exist) and/or this seller has produced some Confederate marks, I don’t know.  All I know is that the ones I’ve seen are all from Maryland.  The clean, even block-type script seen here is a definite change — and an upgrade from the sans serif font he once imprinted on Cloos fakes — I mean fifes.
Just asking the questions here, because contacting the seller through eBay has still produced no response. 
So, while we await generallee292’s replies, let’s investigate the 114th PA Inf.  There is a great resource right here on WordPress, in this blog:
Here’s a photo of Company F reproduced on that blog, original at the Library of Congress. 

I see a single drum but no fifes.


Company H

Company H with no drums or fifes


No fifes in this company, either.

Of course, a single photo of a few companies of the 114th PA Inf doesn’t supplant a detailed review of the enlistment rolls, pay receipts, pension records, and the like, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are names of fifers listed therein. But even if the 114th had filled-up quotas of fifers all through the war, that would not excuse the historical exploitation that *someone* in Maryland has been getting away with for years.

Let’s not encourage it by sending him money.

Addendum:  Well, it might or might not be true that a sucker is born every minute, but I do believe that 21 of them bid on this fife, thus putting the tidy sum of $750.00 securely into generallee292’s pocket. 

Not bad for a few minutes’ work with a router (or a laser engraver), eh?


The famous showman, Phineas T. Barnum. Courtesy WikiImages.

And, no, while those words have often been associated with him, P.T. Barnum never really said them. . . or if he did, nobody actually heard him. 

In truth, it was the rather inglorious and previously unknown David Hannum, a banker from nearby Syracuse, who said it, and this after he himself had proved his own sucker propensities by purchasing the Cardiff Giant in 1869. 

Scott Tribble tells the story in A Colossal Hoax, the Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America (2008).  It’s a delightful read that is a whole lot cheaper than the musical hoax that prompted this discussion and much more entertaining (and much less disturbing) than any of the political hoaxes we’ve been warned about over the last 4 years. 


Two Drummers, Two Legacies


The Percival certificate, 1821. Note the second rule, which confirmed that old drummers’ joke “It starts with a seven…everything starts with a seven… Courtesy David Pear, Colchester, CT

On May 15, 1821, Hezekiah Percival of Moodus, Connecticut, was issued a certificate attesting to his proficiency on “the different Beats above named on the drum.” On it, his teacher, Samuel G. Willcox of Middletown’s Upper Houses [present-day Cromwell, CT], declared that the 20-year-old Percival “has been very diligent” and thereby “merits the approbation of his friends, and the recommendation of his Teacher.” Willcox had purchased the certificate from a local printer — a more or less generic form with blank spaces that allowed him to personalize it with date, name, and signature. Despite its fairly commonplace nature and easy availability, only one other such certificate has been discovered. It was prepared some 31 years later by another printer for another teacher who used a similar certificate and similar language to confirm the competence of his own student:

This is to certify that H.J.H. Thompson has been very diligent in attaining a knowledge of the above Rules and Beats, for which he merits the approbation of his friends and the public, and the recommendations of his teacher.

thompson cert

Courtesy the Connecticut Historical Society,

The certificates are quite similar, even though one is dated 1821 and the other 1852. Both were professionally and attractively printed, the latter by Patten’s Job Press in New Haven, CT. They clearly outline a basic and rather traditional repertory that any 19th-century student of military drumming would be expected to master; many of the rules and beats listed thereon are included in the teaching repertory of Massachusetts drummer Benjamin Clark (1797) and are found in a variety of early-to-mid 19th-century American drum instruction publications.

The rules (rudiments) are listed on both certificates in much the same order: Long Roll, Seven Roll, Double Dragg, Single Dragg, Flam, and Flam and a Half. Also included are the Compound dragg, Firing Strokes, Cease Firing Strokes, and Perediddle Strokes as well as the three, five, and eleven-stroke rolls. However, in 1852, Thompson was taught five rudimental combinations that Percival was not: the perididdle drag, 7 roll and 4 singles, 7 roll and 6 singles, the 3 roll and compound drag, and the 3 with 6 singles. He was also expected to master the Paying [poing] Stroke. These additional rudiments were not unknown in the 1820s; indeed, the poing stroke has a long albeit unclear history that was clarified and taught in the American repertory at least by 1810. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain why they are missing from the 1821 certificate. It is entirely possible that the combination rudiments could represent developments that occurred in military drumming over time, but another likely hypothesis is that Percival, learning to drum in a small Connecticut village, did not need to master everything expected from a city drummer like Thompson. It might also be speculated that he already knew them or learned them by necessity later on in his career. This latter interpretation becomes more viable when perusing the list of Beats, three of which (British Grenadiers, Hail Columbia, and American Eagle) appear on the Thompson certificate but not on Percival’s, even though two of them are readily found in the 1820 military march repertory and one of them, British Grenadiers, has long been a continuous staple in the core Ancient repertory in general and in the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps specifically.

The lists of rules on each certificate would be unremarkable were it not for the annotation Willcox inserted regarding their performance.  He labeled every rule (except the Compound Dragg Strokes) with either “hand to hand,” “change,” or “change hands,”  emphasizing the importance of playing the rudiments “hand to hand.” That is, the drummer should begin the first rudiment with the right hand but should start the second with the left, the third with the right, and so on.  Thus, in executing the string of rudiments that comprise a beat, the drummer will play hand-to-hand,  starting with the right hand and alternating with the left as the beat continues (except, according to Willcox, when playing the compound dragg and, in practice, when performing the single stroke roll).  This is the basic tenet of rudimental drumming, so important that Willcox dared not leave it out of his written instructions but so common that Beach did not bother to write it into his.


Percussionist Robin Engleman writes that this is the earliest known drumming for the Reveille [Three Camps]. George Winters, 1777, Courtesy Robin Engleman,


Both Percival and Thompson were taught to beat Reveille in the sequence prescribed by their teachers:

Percival, 1821 Thompson, 1852
Three camps Three Camps
Hussion Hessian
French French
Double Dragg Compound drag
Single Dragg quick
    6 rolls
Scotch slow Scotch
    Three rolls
Scotch quick
    Three rolls
 Three Camps  Revelly [Three Camps]

Of note are the rolls that define the divisions in Percival’s Reveille, which are lacking in the 1852 certificate. Percival’s reveille also features a Single Dragg played quick as well as two versions of the Scotch. Even though both drummers learned their craft in Connecticut, these differences likely represent regional rather than chronological variations, especially when one realizes that it is the Percival version of the reveille, not Thompson’s, that more closely resembles what was in the mid-19th century air. (As an aside, the reveille was not standardized until 1869, when Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor was officially recognized by the United States Army; even so, regional differences persisted beyond that date.)

ny militia 1812

Reenactors at Genessee Country Village (2006) dressed in uniforms of the NY State Militia, c, 1812. Their “tall hats” are called shakos.  Courtesy of the Village,

The 1820s-30’s did not offer much occasion for Percival to practice his craft. The federal army remained small following the War of 1812; however, enrollment in Connecticut’s militia companies was strong, thriving, and required. Training days, mandated by Connecticut law, were welcomed venues for the military drummer (and fifer) to demonstrate their skills:

In 1816, there was a general re-organization of the militia throughout the State, which was preserved till within a few years [of 1884]. It is within the memory of our young men that “Training Days” were great events in the history of the town, from which all other events were dated. Soldiers with their tall hats and taller plumes, dressed in showy uniforms, met in companies in the different societies in town, once a year, where they were drilled in the manual of arms-marched in sections, platoons, and by company, and dismissed after several general discharges of musketry. How the boys reverenced these famous soldiers! The greatest scalawag in town, upon these occasions, was transformed into a hero, in their eyes, as long as he wore the regimentals.

Indeed, it was in the militia that Percival’s teacher, Samuel Willcox, found opportunity to drum. He was so good at it that he was elected drum major in 1819, two years before he taught young Hezekiah.

I have yet to find Hezekiah Percival’s name listed as a member of the local militia; however, it would be an interesting but immaterial fact if it was. Regardless of where Percival practiced his craft, his unique and lasting contribution was made in what is known as “Ancient” (rudimental), not military drumming. That occurred in 1860, when he co-founded the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps. This was – and remains — significant in many ways. Moodus is not the earliest drum corps – there are several other candidates for that, most notably the long-defunct West Granby Fife and Drum Corps. However, it is the earliest drum corps to survive continuously (it is still active today) and, more importantly, it is the earliest drum corps to survive with its primary written documentation. Furthermore, its members retain a respect for the founders bordering on reverence; therefore, very little has changed over the years in the Moodus style of tempo, performance, dress, and drill. In fact, Moodus drumming is easily traced in a continuous line from the 1821 certificate right up until today, 2018.

6-First Uniforms, Moodus

Studio shot of the early Moodus Drum and Fife Corps sometime after acquiring their first uniforms. According to one old-timer, they marched in street clothes until they could afford to purchase uniforms. Original unlocated, copy from Author’s Collection.

The Moodus corps is in truth a sort of musical invention. The Percivals – and maybe the West Granby men – were among the very few who could envision music of the fife and drum outside their historically traditional military confines. The sheer volume of the drums coupled with the shrill, unrefined pitch of the even-hole, straight-bore fifes precluded their use as parlor instruments, but these same features made them perfect for transmitting military commands over the din of large groups of men, ordering their marching, and regulating the functions of the military camp. In fact, the general 19th century public did not regard either the fife or the snare drum as true musical instruments at all; to them, they were simply military signal instruments that belonged outdoors. And outdoors is exactly where the Moodus corps originated in 1860, at a picnic attended by Percival, his brother Orville, and a few family members and friends. However, it wasn’t until 1861, when these same participants began to gather on occasion at the local train station to provide a patriotic musical send-off to Civil War enlistees, that the concept of a marching band comprised solely of civilian fifers and drummers, unsupported by and disconnected from the military, jelled into reality. It took only a few years for the corps to become the pride of Moodus, as this confused but essentially correct memoir relates:

The band was organized in the autumn of 1864, under the tuition of the veteran drummer [Hezekiah] W. Percival. . .many changes have occurred during the 20 years existence of the corps, yet a goodly number of of the original members remain, and the leader, Mr. PERCIVAL, though he has long since laid aside the drum and sticks, finds pleasure, in his 85th summer, in listening to the practice of his boy[s].

The author of these words, who included them in a town history published in 1884, went on to say:

The style of their playing is that of the days when their teacher was in his prime, and their costume is of the old continental fashion. Their drums, too, are of the old style, and several are now more than 100 years old yet in a perfect state of preservation.

While not a perfectly accurate memory (the corps was founded before 1864, and the “several drums” would not approach 100 years of age until about 1920-25), the author did aptly describe what the Moodus corps so admirably did and continues to do today.

Percival died in 1888 but his legacy, embodied in the certificate of merit he earned in 1821, lives on not only in the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, but also in the many other Ancient corps it inspired. His certificate of merit remains in private hands.

The course followed by Henry James H. Thompson differs markedly from Percival’s. He, too, was 20 years old when he successfully completed his course of drum instruction, but this was during the tumultuous antebellum years that would soon culminate in the War Between the States. While Percival and his musical companions were busy inventing the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, Thompson was serving in the fife and drum corps of the 15th Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers. The letters he wrote to his wife, Lucretia, have been preserved along with many of her replies; while these don’t reveal much about Henry Thompson the drummer, they do teach us a lot about Henry Thompson the man.

Civil War Thief

A thief in the 55th Masschusetts is paraded out of camp in 1863 to the tune of The Rogue’s March. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

The letters are chatty and loving, albeit not necessarily grammatical. Thompson describes the weather, the countryside, and camp life to Lucretia; at one point she learns about the discovery and punishment of a camp thief, the musical ceremony for which her husband was well prepared. He writes of his hopes (although a strong “McClellan man,” he hoped that the election of 1864 would bring peace), and he writes of his disdain for the south (New Bern was a diseased city full of loose women), but mostly he writes of his worries, especially about the progression of the war. He was one of many who believed, in the words of historian Randall C. Jimerson, that the Civil War was a “white man’s war” fought to preserve the Union; to Thompson, slavery was an increasingly bothersome nonissue. Thompson took a dim view of the African American soldier and worried about recruiting them for the war effort. He was certain that they would be undependable in the field, and in May 1863 he told his wife, “they are all for getting out of the way when there is a battle afoot.” His negative suppositions turned into anger as the war dragged on into the summer of 1864, when his view of slaves and slavery worsened. Every freed slave, he complained, has “cost 4 thousand dollars & 1 white mans life thus far.” He fumed that, at that rate, “we shall loose 1 million of lives” and “4 million of dollars” to free a thousand slaves and concluded his rant with a dismal estimation of “3 million [slaves] yet to free.”

His opinion of white southerners was hardly better. Jimerson notes an incident that occurred in October 1862:

After returning from a raid into eastern North Carolina, [Thompson] reported that the inhabitants ‘dont know that there side have ever fired on Fort Sumpter we asked them if they didnt read it in the papers they said they never had any. they eat with their hands they have no knives & forks.’

He continued, “I dont know what you think about such an ignorant class of people in the United States but I know what I think And I am surprised & astonished!” He further assured a possibly incredulous Lucretia that “all I have wrote is true.”


Group of freed slaves in Richmond, VA. Copied from an 1865 stereocard. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress,

The brutality of the war, though, was what shocked Thompson the most. This is what echoes throughout the letters they wrote and saved. Early in his enlistment he confided that, “I have seen horible sights men with their heads blowed off and legs and armes and shot through the body.” It’s little wonder that he wrote even more somber thoughts to Lucretia only two days later, “We are all tired of the war the whole army we never shall whip them.” To him, the war was nothing but “a great slaughter of lives.”

Lucretia agreed. She missed her husband terribly and several of her letters urge him to “take a long step” and “return home to comfort and protect his family.” Jimerson, though, discovered that Lucretia lured her husband with more than just her desire for protection and comfort:

In closing one letter, Lucretia added. “3000 kisses PS if you was at home the[re] would [be] something done besides sending kisses.” Henry felt the same. “I shant tell you what I dreamed last night olney I was 2 home and we was 2 bed.”

They would have to wait until the summer of 1865 for Henry to complete his three-year enlistment and lawfully head home. The reunited family lived unpretentiously in the New Haven area for many years. In 1885 Thompson was awarded a pension for his wartime services, and by 1900 his name appears on the roster of the Admiral Foote Post No. 17 in New Haven, Department of Connecticut, G.A.R. But not for long. Thompson died in 1901 at the age of 69. His certificate is preserved in the archives of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.



Copyright January 2018, History of the Ancients Dot Org.  All rights reserved.

Book Review: Field Music Revisited, Ten Years in the Ranks and Drum Taps in Dixie

Delevan S. Miller, author of Drum Taps in Dixie (1905)  Fontispiece, "A Wartime Photograph."  Author's collection.

Delevan S. Miller, author of Drum Taps in Dixie (1905) Frontispiece, “A Wartime Photograph.” Author’s collection.

Although contemporary first-person accounts are preferred over memoirs when it comes to accuracy, detail, and reliability, Ten Years in the Ranks U.S. Army and Drum Taps in Dixie are two candidates for the exception to this rule.  The authors, Augustus Meyers and Delavan Miller respectively, penned their memoirs early in the twentieth century, when leaders of the Grand Army of the Republic thought it wise to preserve memories of the Civil War by encouraging veterans to publish them.  Miller, himself a G.A.R. official who had served in the New York Second Heavy Artillery, was 55 when he authored Drum Taps in 1904.  He also wrote A Drum’s Story and Other Tales (1909), a lesser-known series of anecdotes that, while interesting, lack the charm of his earlier work.  Meyers’ Civil War experiences were predated by several years of service on the western frontier, but the most fascinating part of the story he told in Ten Years (1914) is of his antebellum training at the army’s music school on Governor’s Island.  He wrote about this at age 72, some 60 years after the fact, but did so with amazing clarity nonetheless.


Augustus Meyers, author of Ten Years in the Ranks (1914).  Image taken in 1856 _war_02_001.jpg

The appeal of both Ten Years and Drum Taps arises from the candid recounting of what it was like for a couple of boys from New York to train for and serve in the Yankee army — not so much as fighting men but as musicians.  Because of their youth (they were just over 12 years old), both Meyers and Miller ended up in the field music.  Since fifers and drummers seldom saw actual field service (they had “nothing to shoot back with,” Drum Taps p. 83), musicians were seldom on the field, although there was the occasional “fight in which it was all “front” and no chance for the musicians to get to the rear”(Drum Taps, p. 142).  In any event, immediately upon enlisting Meyers was directed to the music school:

We reported to Sergeant Hanke, who was in charge of all the non-commissioned offices and music boys in that battery. . .Sergeant Hanke, after looking me over, asked whether I desired to be a drummer or a fifer. When I expressed a preference for the former, he made some remarks about my slim and very youthful appearance and advised me to think it over for a day or two (Ten Years, p. 1).

This proved to be sage advice:

I watched the boys practicing and noted how difficult it seemed to be for some to hold the drum-sticks properly and beat the first exercise, called “Mammy-Daddy,” without hitting the rim of the drum as often as the drum-head, which would bring down upon them a reprimand from the instructor or in some cases a rap across the knuckles of some persistently awkward boy. When I took note of the exceeding large and heavy drums used in the service at that time, which the drummers were obliged to carry, I resolved to become a fifer. . . (Ten Years, p. 6).


The training Meyers received utilized both note reading (he reports struggling to “understand the meaning of the notes in my music book”) as well as rote learning.  He found that Sergeant Henke

had a habit of taking a boy’s fife out of his hands and playing part of the piece for him to show him how it should be done. As he was an inveterate tobacco-chewer this was very disagreeable. Wiping the fife on the sleeve of the jacket did not remove the strong odor. In my case I used soap and water as soon as I had the opportunity to do so (Ten Years, p. 11).


accessed from http://www.nationalcivilwar

Otherwise, Meyers remembered his instructor fondly, “He often listened painstakingly to our complaints and forgave us for many minor transgressions,” such as when he noticed “a pipe stem protruding between the buttons of [Meyers’s] jacket” (Ten Years, pp. 11, 14).  He had no such memories, unfortunately, of Michael “Daddy” Moore, the drum instructor:

I once threw a basin full of dirty water out of a window and inadvertently dashed it over Sergeant Moore, who was passing. He saw me and immediately got his rattan and gave me a good whipping (Ten Years, p. 14).


Miller, too, was destined for the field music.  His enlistment in New York’s Second Heavy occurred at a pivotal time:

. . .only one company [had] got their guns and horses when it was decided that no more light batteries were wanted.  So the balance of the regiment was turned into heavy artillery (heavy infantry). This change called for fifers and drummers. . . (Drum Taps, p. 19).

from Drum Taps in Dixie (Author's collection)

Illustration of the drum corps of NY 2nd Heavy, from Drum Taps in Dixie (Author’s Collection)

Miller “was the first drummer the regiment had” and recalled with pride how his drum was “a present from the officers at Forth Worth” (Drum Taps, p. 19).

Evidently Miller was already a proficient drummer, since his first assignment, participating in dress parade, occurred the day after he received his instrument.  Not so for Meyers, however.  His first dress parade was still weeks away while he toiled with the other “music boys” at the Island in learning the basics:

I was handed a “B” fife, the kind that was used at that time, and was shown how to hold it and place my fingers over the holes and my lips over the embouchure. I found it difficult to make a sound at first, but after a time I managed to produce some noise. I struggled with the gamut for a week or more and spent another in trying to play a bar or two of music correctly. After that I got along faster and commenced to learn some of the more simple calls and to understand the meaning of the notes in my music book. . .after about two months I had made sufficient progress to take my part in playing the reveille, retreat and tattoo. After that, I learned to play marches and other pieces  (Ten Years, p. 11).


Both authors recounted the particulars of their military service, which extended beyond learning and playing music.  Meyers’s 10-year career began in 1854 with his assignment to Carlisle Barracks.  This was followed by several stints at various forts on the western frontier before the outbreak of the Civil War forced his unit’s return to the east.  They were attached to the Army of the Potomac, where Meyers set aside his fife to serve in the commissary department.  He described either witnessing or participating in a number of battles including the bloody Seven Days of the Peninsula Campaign.  One instance in particular “made such an impression. . .that I had no difficulty in recognizing it many years afterward when I revisited the scene.”  We can almost feel his terror as he recalled that day.

I noticed a great cloud of dust which seemed to be approaching, and when it neared the gap I could make out that there were horses, but was not sure whether it was cavalry or artillery. . . My doubts about this were dispelled in a few minutes when I saw a sudden puff of smoke and heard the familiar sound of a shell passing over our heads.  We heard the command to lie down and obeyed it promptly. . . Each time I heard the scream of a shell coming our way, I hugged the ground so close that I broke the crystal and hands of an open-faced watch which I carried in my pocket. . . (Ten Years, pp. 228-229).

Miller’s record with the Second Heavy is less clear as he wrote in a more random, spontaneous fashion.  His story is admittedly anecdotal (“[m]emory awakened furnished material. . .each article recalling faces, forms, scenes and incidents from out of the misty past” Drum Taps, p. vi).  He remained a musician throughout his service with Grant’s army at Fredericksburg (1862), Cold Harbor (1864), and during the Petersburg siege (1864-65).  The carnage of war so clearly described by Meyers is sometimes lost, since Miller recalled soldiering as a secondary duty.  He was, first and foremost, a musician.

. . .my precious drum was put out of action by a piece of a rebel shell at Bull Run and was among the trophies gathered up by the Confederates in the stampede that followed.  Its loss I regretted exceedingly, for its equal in tone and other good qualities I never tapped the sticks to again.  It was a beauty, too, and was my first drum (Drum Taps, p. 20).


Card found in Author's copy of A Drum's Tale and Other Stories (1909).

Card found in Author’s copy of A Drum’s Tale and Other Stories (1909).

These memoirs are important for several reasons.  The historian can rely upon them because so much of what the authors remembered is confirmed by genealogy, military records, and published chronologies.  Additionally, both the academic and amateur scholar of historic military studies, especially those interested in field music, will find an accounting of just how the fifes, drums, and those who played them related to the overall function of the mid-nineteenth century army, proving how closely the dictates of the period military manuals were followed — or not.  Using standard music bibliographies, they can prove that tunes cited by Miller, such as “Yankee Doodle,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Rory O’More,” and “The Campbells Are Coming,” remain part and parcel of the Ancient core repertory. It is perhaps these latter interests that resulted in both Drum Taps and Ten Years being reissued by modern presses long after they had been out of print.

What this writer found most important, though, is their empiricism.  The authors clearly define an additional, emotional connection to the music.  This is not something that can be easily detected, much less verified, in other historical sources, and it takes a close reading of both Drum Taps and Ten Years to discover it as an underlying theme. It is more obvious perhaps in Miller’s work — it is, in this writer’s opinion, what makes Drum Taps so charismatic.  Both Miller and Meyers internalized the music they played, making it a part of their own personal identity.  Because other fifers and drummers did the same, the field music was more than a functional military necessity; it was also a social community, binding its members together with an affinity for the music that rose above its physical nature and thereby enabled its survival long after it had been deemed old-fashioned by others.  A like assimilation occurs with Ancient fifers and drummers; maybe that is why so many remain in the community lifelong.  It also accounts for why the core repertory, although old, is never stale.  It is a bit surprising to discover, via Meyers and Miller, that this identity was not created by the Ancients but was inherited by them.


Souvenir pinback from G.A.R. convention held in Buffalo, NY (1892).  For sale by Military Antiques and Memorabilia, September 7, 2014,

Souvenir pinback from G.A.R. convention held in Buffalo, NY (1892). For sale by Military Antiques and Memorabilia, September 7, 2014,

This phenomenon might be partly explained by the power that music attains from its emotional baggage.  Briefly, “emotional baggage” is what the late music historian Arthur Schrader identified as “a nonmusical factor in our perception of songs or melodies that consciously or unconsciously affects our thinking and rhetoric about them.”[2]  Certainly Miller recognized the intensely patriotic baggage carried by the old military music when he declared, “there is nothing like martial music of the good old-fashioned kind, such as inspired the continental heroes at Lexington, Yorktown and Bunker Hill, and rallied the boys of ’61, and later led them in all the marches through the South” (Drum Taps, p. 23).  Emotional baggage is what makes parade-goers “go wild” whenever the Ancients play “Yankee Doodle” while marching up Monument Street in Boston toward the Bunker Hill Memorial on the Fourth of July, much as the old veterans did when they heard it played by a continental-styled drum corps at the 1892 G.A.R. convention (Drum Taps, p. 24)

Drum Corps Family (and Friend) at Deep River Ancient Muster, 2012.  Author's Collection.

Drum Corps Family (and Friend) at Deep River Ancient Muster, 2012. Author’s Collection.

Emotional baggage notwithstanding, there are other ways that Ancients “feel” the music just as Miller and Meyers did.  Much of this is an unconscious process that is seldom articulated, only sensed.  However, it is the reason Ancients plan weddings and vacations so as not to interfere with muster season.  It explains the communal satisfaction of playing music together, which allows for friendships to develop while new players improve their skills and more experienced players indulge in theirs.  It also explains the muster etiquette that demands, as a mark of respect, no spontaneous playing while others are “on stand” and mandates enthusiastic applause for both the experienced player and the newbie, simply because both are fellow Ancients who deserve accolades for doing what they can to perpetuate the craft.  It is why Ancients preface their signatures with the phrase, “In the Ancient Spirit.”

"My drummer was a tall, haggard man with a sallow face.  I was still a few inches short of attaining five feet, and when my tall drummer and I marched at the head of our company we were called the "long and the short of it," which greatly annoyed me. . . (p. 38).  Apparently the old joke stuck around for many years, judging from this whimsical postcard dated 1905.  Author's Collection.

“My drummer was a tall, haggard man with a sallow face. I was still a few inches short of attaining five feet, and when my tall drummer and I marched at the head of the company we were called the “long and the short of it,” which greatly annoyed me. . . (Ten Years, p. 38). Apparently the old joke stuck around for many years, judging from this whimsical postcard dated 1905. Author’s Collection.


Meyers demonstrates this kind of feeling but with subtle understatement.  He laments that his first companion was not “a drummer-boy of about my own age, with whom I could chum” (Ten Years, p. 38).  Worse, he could hardly hope to enjoy sharing music with him since “he was not a very good drummer, and would not take the trouble to learn any new and fancy pieces” (ibid.).  Like the Ancient who suspends his-or-her own musical interests in favor of playing pieces that all can enjoy, Meyers’ drumming companion forced him to “content myself with the old repertoire” (Ten Years, p. 39).  Later, while serving on the frontier, Meyers found other ways to share music with others of like abilities, such as when he

. . . bought a flute from a member of the band, and took lessons from him. As I understood something about music and played on the fife, I made rapid progress on the flute and had become a fair player when Lieutenant Curtis asked me to come to his lonely cabin and play duets with him. He was an excellent player, and had a lot of music books. . .[and oftentimes] we played music until tattoo. . . (Ten Years, pp. 101-102).

The East Hampton Ancients, [ca. 1922?]  Author's Collection.

The East Hampton Ancients, [ca. 1922?] Author’s Collection.

Meyers also encountered what would become an Ancient custom — but in reverse. He relished how, as a fifer, he called the musical shots, since “the fifer was considered to [out]rank the drummer and in the absence of special instructions could order the drummer to play such tunes or marches as he chose” (Ten Years, p. 38).  This would change in Ancient practice, as tune control was, in the absence of the drum major, relegated to the drummer, who now was considered to outrank the fifer.  So it was that the fifers remained silent while old Ed Palmer, drummer and then drum major of Connecticut’s East Hampton Ancients called the tunes, something he was overheard to do at a field day in 1946 in his inimical, “swamp Yankee” way:

Drummahs play Golden Slippahs, Fifahs play whut ye hev a mind to.[3]


Miller was much more ebullient than Meyers in his recollections, perhaps feeling the musical emotional connection more keenly.  His fondness for the old-fashioned military drum corps of his youth jaded his later view of anything contemporary:

 Martial music seems to have gone out of fashion in these up-to-date days, and what little there is, is but a poor apology, with the bugle blasts interjected between the rub-a-dub-dubs of the drummers who hardly know their a b c’s about snare drumming (Drum Taps, p. 23).

Perhaps what was missing was as much psychological as it was musical:

[R]ight here it may be proper to say that an old army drum corps in the sixties could make music.  A boy would not “pass muster” in those days unless he could do the double and single drag with variations, execute the “long roll,” imitate the rattle of musketry, besides various other accomplishments with the sticks.  And when a dozen or more of the lads, with their caps set saucily on the sides of their heads, led a regiment in a review with their get-out-of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tuckerish style of music, it made the men in the ranks step off as though they were bound for Donnybrook fair or some other pleasure excursion (Drum Taps, p. 19).

Miller, too, experienced a musical custom that was destined for the Ancient community:

The first two years of the war we were brigaded with a certain Massachusetts regiment…Their drum corps was a good one, too, but of course the boys of the Second New York thought they were a little better than the Bay State fellows, consequently quite a little rivalry existed between the organizations, and when the regiments were out for a review or brigade drill the stalwart drummers from down East would always try to drown out the lads of the Second Heavy (Drum Taps, p. 26).

Camp Grant, Portland [ME] G.A.R. Convention, 1885.  Accessed from

Camp Grant, Portland [ME] G.A.R. Convention, 1885. Accessed from

What the Massachusetts men were doing became, in Ancient parlance, “bearing on.”  The purpose of bearing on was to play with enough vigor and volume to confuse the target corps until their music became disorganized, forcing them to stop.  Bearing on continued in Ancient practice until at least 1885, when one newspaper reported an incident that occurred between the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps and the Portland Regimental Band, both of whom had attended a G.A.R. event in Maine.  “The keen rivalry [that] existed between each organization” resulted in a contest from which only a skilled and enthusiastic Ancient drummer could emerge triumphant:

It was considered great sport to attempt to drown out all other opposition bands or drum corps.  The Moodus Corps were overwhelmingly victorious upon this occasion.  It appears that the Portland Regimental Band was playing before General Headquarters as the Moodus Corps arrived and marched alongside of them.  With their big powerful instruments the Moodus Corps were so dominant that the Portland Band was unable to hear themselves play.[4]

The losers did not take their “derision and defeat” lightly.  They protested with “one blast with their horns in the ears of the Moodus players” before breaking ranks.[5]

The antique drums (and drummers!) of the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, 2009 (Author's Collection).

The antique drums (and drummers!) of the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, 2009 (Author’s Collection).

The Moodus Drum and Fife Corps continue to carry the “big powerful instruments” that they did in both 1885 and 1935, when the incident was reported.  Nearly all of these, which date between 1818 and 1846, were produced by the Brown family of Bloomfield, Connecticut.  They are “square” drums; that is, their width equals or nearly equals their length, and are perfect for performing in the thunderous, slow-tempoed manner that was once common throughout New England but is now uniquely preserved by Moodus drummers.  Miller referred to this style as “chunks of pudding and pieces of pie” but attributed it to age, not region:

[The Massachusetts regimental drum corps] were all full grown men while our drum corps was made up of boys all under eighteen years of age.  Their music was always of the “When the Springtime Comes, Gentle Annie,” and “Chunks of Pudding and Pieces of Pie,” style, played in 6/8 time, just suited to the stalwart men in their ranks; while ours was more of the “Rory OMore,” “Garry Owen,” and “Get-out-of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tucker” sort, which we played 2-4 time, better adapted to the quick-stepping New Yorkers behind us (Drum Taps, p. 26).

At the time of this writing, an online search yielded no findings for Ten Years and only two copies of Drum Taps in original issue.  However, inexpensive modern reprints were located in quantity.   Drum Taps in Dixie is also available through several online book sites, including the Smithsonian ( and The Gutenberg Project (, as is Ten Years in the Ranks U.S. Army ( and

[1] Augustus Meyers, Ten Years in the Ranks U. S. Army.  New York:  The Stirling Press, 1914.  Hereinafter Ten Years.  Delavan S. Miller, Drum Taps in Dixie.  Watertown [NY]:  Hungerford-Holbrook Co., 1905.  Hereinafter Drum Taps.
[2]Arthur Schrader, “Emotional Baggage and Two National Anthems,” The Bulletin of the Society of American Music Founded in Honor of Oscar G.T. Sonneck.  Vol 28, No 2, Spring 2002, p.17.
[3] Edmond Palmer, “Interview with Ed Palmer,” Edward Olsen, ed.  Collected September 24, 1952.
[4] “New England Traditions Fostered by Village Drum Corps.”  New Haven Register, September 17, 1935.
[5] Ibid.


Copyright, History of the Ancient, 2014.  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.

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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.

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