Comrade Rowley, Department of Iowa G.A.R.

William Smyth, Colonel, 31st Iowa Infantry Regiment, 1862-1865,

Col William Smyth, commander of the 31st Iowa Inf Regt, 1862-1865

Comrade Rowley’s story actually begins with someone else’s, that of Josephus White Benadom.  Benadom, known as “Seph” to family and friends, was 19 years old when he enlisted in the Iowa 31st Infantry, Company E as a fifer.  The 31st was a volunteer regiment raised in and around Davenport, Iowa and participated in several major engagements, including (among others) Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge as well as the Battle of Atlanta and Sherman’s March.  It was mustered out shortly after the war was over, on June 27, 1865.

Benadom’s Civil War experiences entitled him to membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization founded in 1866 and comprised of Civil War veterans who had worn the Union blue.  Benadom, who at this time resided in Maquoketa, Iowa, joined the Ben Paul Post in nearby Wyoming [IA].  The post had been established February 15, 1883.  However, Benadom’s name is not among its charter members or even its early members; in fact, his name does not appear in the rosters until 1915. There he would have remained, unnoticed and unknown among the nameless faces peering at us from old photographs, had it not been for Comrade Rowley, who had never served a day in the war but whose Post “membership” nonetheless earned him and his companion instant fame.

Courtesy National Park Service,

Vicksburg site marker for the 31st Regt.  Courtesy National Park Service,

Rowley was an unlikely candidate for G.A.R. membership. He was a young robin with a broken wing that Seph Benadom discovered in 1926.  Benadom, who by that time had been practicing medicine for decades, set the wing, named the bird Rowley, and kept him as a lifelong companion.  Thereafter, bird and savior were connected by mutual affection as well as a string affixed to both Rowley’s leg and a convenient button on Dr. Benadom’s coat. Legend has it that Rowley was fairly content despite being so confined, making only a few feeble attempts at escape. He thrived on a meat-and-fruit diet and accompanied Dr. Benadom wherever he pleased, including the 1926 G.A.R. encampment held in Des Moines, Iowa, where an alert news photographer captured and preserved for posterity a glimpse of Rowley the robin sitting atop his homemade perch stuck into the cork end of Dr. Benadom’s fife. This photograph catapulted Comrade Rowley (and Comrade Benadom) onto the front pages of many a midwestern newspaper and even one as far away as Canandaigua, New York.

"Seph" Benadom, MD with Rouwley, 1927.  Author's Collection.

“Seph” Benadom, MD with Rowley at the 60th GAR encampment in Des Moines, 1926. Author’s Collection.

If Rowley and Dr. Benadom were to be friends, though, the bird had no choice but to tolerate if not enjoy fife music. The doctor treasured the fife he had made in 1862 from “fine boxwood and brass” and played the old military tunes upon it on many occasions throughout his life.  It was, he said, “the best instrument in the whole G.A.R.” It had seen much wartime use, even when the young Benadom and his regiment “marched with Sherman to the sea.” Undoubtedly, it was the same instrument he used at the Great Jones County [Iowa] Fair in 1927, during a truly unforgettable musical performance that also featured Rowley the Robin:

Dr. J. W. Benadom’s Fife and Drum Corp[s], assisted by his sons, and Charles Clark of Maquoketa and Frank Byerly of Anamosa, appeared that year and are still recalled by many. Benadom had trained a Robin, caught the previous spring, to sit quietly on his fife as he played. The two were a familiar sight on Monticello streets for several years.

Rowley The Second enjoys the 67th Annual Encampment of the GAR.  Unidentified newspaper clipping, Author's Collection.

Rowley The Second enjoys the 67th Annual Encampment of the GAR. Unidentified newspaper clipping, Author’s Collection.

Rowley lived the good life from 1926 until his demise sometime before or during 1933, since that year Dr. Benadom attended the 67th G.A.R. National Encampment in St. Paul with an eight-week-old successor, another robin named Rowley the Second. Apparently Rowley the Second had inherited the amiable characteristics of the original Rowley, among which were stoicism and a fondness for fife music. Benadom explained to a reporter how he had whittled Rowley’s perch himself. Still, he had worried about bringing him to encampments, “I was kind of afraid he’d get scared of all the noise — these drums and bugles,” but there was no need to fret. Rowley the Second behaved as courteously as did his predecessor. Benadom claimed that Rowley the Second was so talented that he could “chirp a few bars” of his favorite tune, “The Girl I Left Behind.”

Both Rowleys proved perfect companions for the old doctor. For 7 years, first the one robin and then the other had posed contentedly on his perch as the duo’s fame spread in newspaper stories published from within and beyond Iowa. But all good things must come to an end, which they did in 1933, only weeks after Benadom and Rowley the Second had returned from the St. Paul G.A.R. encampment.  That’s when Dr. Benadom was murdered:

He was known to take walks in the park in the afternoon near his home at 639 N. Sycamore St, in Monticello, IA. It was on one of these walks that he reported to have been robbed by two thugs in the vicinity of the amphitheater ticket office. The men alleged to have taken $30 to $40. These circumstances of his confrontation frightened him and caused a sinking spell. He laid down on the couch in his reception room and became unconscious and continued so until his death an hour later.

ad for benadom sanitarium 1905

Ad for one of the five Benadom Sanitariums. Featured is Dr. J.A. Benadom, Dr. Seph’s strong-willed son. Item sold by,

This wasn’t the first time Dr. Benadom was mugged. In September 1902, he had been “waylaid, beaten, and robbed of $42, while walking near his home in Maquoketa. But he was a young, strong 59 years old then, and in 1933 he was 90 and unable to recover from the heart attack induced by the shock of his encounter with two burly thugs. Dr. Benadom was buried on December 9, 1933 in the Mt. Joy Cemetery near Davenport. What became of Rowley the Second is at this point unknown.  




(c)  2015.  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.

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.