Rising of the People
Excerpts from "Civil War Music History and Songs"
Each company in an infantry regiment had a musician who was usually a drummer. They were relied upon to play drum beats to call the soldiers into formation and for other events. Drums got the soldiers up in the morning, signaled them to report for morning roll call, sick call, and guard duty. Drummers also played at night to signal lights out or "taps". The most important use of drums was on the battlefield where they were used to communicate orders from the commanding officers and signal troop movement. Civil War drums were made of wood that had been cut into thin layers, steamed, and formed into a round shell. The outside of a Union drum was often painted and featured a large eagle displaying its wings with the stars and stripes flowing around it. Confederate drums were not quite as fancy, many just having a plain wood finish. The heads of the drum were made from calfskin and stretched tight by ropes.
Drummers were often accompanied by a fifer. The fife was a high-pitched instrument, similar to a piccolo, and usually made of rosewood. This hollow wooden instrument was played by blowing wind over one hole and controlling the pitch with fingers placed over other holes along the length of the tube. Fancier fifes had brass fittings and engravings on them. Like drummers, the fifers were also part of the regiment's band who were detailed as musicians.
Not all drummers, fifers and bandsmen were allowed to go into battle. When fighting appeared imminent, musicians were often ordered to the rear to assist surgeons and care for the wounded. Some brigade bands did accompany their commanders onto the field and played patriotic songs while under the battle raged all around them. Can you imagine the type of courage it took to play your instrument while bullets and shells flew thick and fast all around you?
Source: "Civil War Music History and Songs", National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park
Link to the full article: http://americancivilwar.com/Civil_War_Music/civil_war_music.html
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