Civil War Field Drum with Regimental Designation Painted on the Shell Exterior
Civil War Field Drum with Regimental Designation Painted on the Shell Exterior – Excellent example of a definitively, Civil War period, field drum, in overall very good condition. This drum remains at its original, period measurements and was never cut down, as many war period drums were, to allow the usually diminutive drummers carry and play them, when in service. Generally, war period drums (those retaining their original size) were approximately 16”-17” in height and about 16”-17” in diameter; this drum measures 16” in height and 16.5” in diameter. The tension to the drumheads on this drum, was achieved by a rope, threaded through holes in the rims, with leather tension “ears”. The roping on this drum is old, but probably a later replacement; only two of the original, leather tension ears remain. The shell is constructed of a two- or three-ply maple and held together with several, original brass, round-headed tacks, in a nice, decorative tack pattern. Peering through the brass, sound hole, located in the middle of the tack pattern, no maker’s label is visible. Both sheepskin drumheads are original, with a split, from period use and age, on the bottom or snare side. All of the original, gut snares remain in place, as is the rarely found, brass, snare tension adjuster or “strainer”. The rims, which exhibit period stick impact, retain their original, faux grain paint. The drum’s body or shell is also painted, in a brownish red color. Painted on the shell, is a large, blue shield, possibly a Federal Ninth Corps designation, with the following, painted, on a gold field, within the shield:
Additionally, there are two, blue stars painted on either side of the painted shield. We will supply the buyer of the drum, with a pair of period, walnut drumsticks.
Article from Drum Magazine by Chet Falzerano – https://drummagazine.com/historic-collectible-civil-war-drums/ – Unlike WWII, when, by that time, most Americans believed that war was an unpleasant and remote tragedy, the Civil War was initially embraced with an inexperienced, intense, sometimes romantic interest. It was your basic, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm?” The Civil War offered bored young men toiling in the fields the adventure and excitement they yearned for.
Though the legal enlistment/conscription age at that time was 16 years old, younger boys often falsified birth certificates or simply lied about their age to recruiting officers with a less than discernable eye. Those who couldn’t pass as 16 did, however, have a recourse: they could enlist as drummer boys. “I wanted to fight the Rebs,” a 12-year-old boy wrote, “but I was very small and they would not give me a musket. The next day I went back and the man behind the desk said I looked as if I could hold a drum and if I wanted I could join that way. I did, but I was not happy to change a musket for a stick.”
Charles W. Bonner carried a drum (pictured in this posting) from April 20, 1861, until November 23, 1862, in Company A, 11th Regiment, Missouri Volunteers, Union Army. At 19 years of age, Charles Bonner was probably one of the oldest drummer boys in the army.
Able-bodied men were desperately needed in the front lines, so the position of drummer was often filled by slight young men or very young boys, some as young as eight years old – absurd as that may sound, unlike the drummers in today’s modern army, Civil War drummer boys were an integral part of the war machine.
The role of a Civil War drummer boy went far beyond a ceremonial accoutrement, as they were responsible for troop movement. “Drum Calls” were a means of communicating the commands of officers to their men. You may be familiar with some of these calls: “Three Camps” was reveille, “Tattoo” meant bedtime, “Commence Firing,” “Quick Step,” “Advance” and “Retreat” were all part of the repertoire of the well-trained drummer boy. Drummer boys controlled virtually every daily activity of the infantry soldier. With this responsibility, it was not surprising that the drummer boy’s training was rigorous. Of course, there were formal schools of instruction, like the Schools of Practice at Governor’s Island, New York Harbor, and Newport Barracks, Kentucky, but most drummer boys learned by “on the job” training. Some were aided by texts; the most popular by far was Bruce and Emmettt’s The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide.
It was the drumbeat that told the soldiers how and when to maneuver as smoke poured over the battlefield. Small boys carrying huge field drums could be heard above the roar of a battle. The sight of a drummer boy also provided a visual location for a soldiers’ unit, helping to keep them close together. This placed drummer boys at high risk. The enemy knew that if he took out the drummer boy, the commanders lost contact with their troops. “A ball hit my drum and it bounced off and I fell over,” a Confederate drummer at the Battle of Ceder Creek recalled. “When I got up, another ball tore a hole in the drum and another came so close to my ear that I heard it sing.” Supply met demand though, as over 32,000 regulation drums were manufactured from 1861 to 1865 for the Union Army alone.
Drums were made primarily in the important industrialized centers of the Northeast: Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Though there were no governmental standards for drum construction, snare drums were generally 15″ to 16″ in diameter and 10″ to 12″ deep. Shells were made of ash, maple, white holly, or similar types of pliable wood. Like modern day drums, shells were strengthened with reinforcement rings at the top and bottom. However, glue not being what it is today, the lap or seam of the shell required nails. The nail pattern was sometimes very elaborate, utilizing circles, triangles, diamonds, and/or vertical and horizontal lines. Often a manufacturer can be identified by their particular nail pattern, though a company’s paper label was usually placed inside the shell, opposite the air vent hole. Calfskin or sheepskin heads were tensioned by rope, laced either through holes in the wood hoops or through cast hooks clasped over the hoops. Tension was applied by sliding the tugs or braces down. The decorative braid also provided an extra supply of rope should it break. Snares were usually made of catgut, though rawhide was sometimes used.
The crowning glory of many of these drums was their hand painted decorations. The painting on Charles Bonner’s drum is on the batter head of his drum, probably in commemoration of his service during the Civil War. Normally the drummer boy would receive his drum with the painting on the shell of the drum. Again, although there were no standards, a blue background was designated for an infantry unit, while a red background signified artillery. An American bald eagle most commonly emblazoned the Federal Army drums but sometimes the Confederates used it as well. Federal issue drums were also decorated with 13 stars for each of their 13 states. Confederate states were represented with 11 stars. With these beautiful decorations, it is no wonder that these drums were treasured long after the passionate sentiment of America’s bloodiest battle had abated.