Why Are There Drummers In War

Posted by Mike Schumacher

This article will discuss why there were drummers in the civil war. As these may sound like a straightforward question for the unwary, first consider this fact: there were many other high calibers, experienced snipers for the Confederate army.

In fact, because there were many hard-pressed brigades, some leaders of these brigades would issue themselves a bayonet on a rope and have their snipers sit on top of the bayonet wielding the bayonet and hitting the enemy.

These bayonet-equipped snipers would have been the second greatest threat to the Union troops. If there were many qualified snipers, the question becomes why would there be a need for so many riflemen?

Now consider this question: why would you need a drummer in a civil war battle? The answer is simple.

If you are going to fight a war for three years, in close quarters, with hundreds of other members of your unit, where your individual survival may be a challenge, the drummers provide a measure of protection from artillery fire and the flying bullets and shrapnel that can cause serious injuries and even death.

Artillery shells and bullets would land right on top of the drummer’s head and someone would have to hit that drum to get the attention of the other soldiers.

In this article we will explore the role of the musical instruments in the war, the way that drummers protected their fellow soldiers, the role of the drum in the Civil War, and how that led to the popularity of marching bands in modern culture.

Music, percussion, military

King George VI, Able Seaman David Ralph Goodwin, circa 1950

To understand the role of the drums in the Civil War, it is important to understand what music was in the middle of the 19th century.

Military bands at the time were, to put it frankly, barbaric. The musicians wore over-sized uniforms and carried large heavy military drums that had no cymbals.

These drums served the purpose of entertainment only.

To be accepted into a band, musicians had to perform in public at a formal dres’s parade, with a ban on the playing of music.

For marching music, the musicians would carry only a wooden slat drum, a spanking new type of drum that had a metal string stretched between the two sides of the drum to provide the rhythmic sound.

There was no cymbal, and there were no strings or bells. It is not too difficult to imagine what an audience would have thought when they arrived at a rehearsal to find a band of little more than a drummer.

The military bands of the middle of the 19th century were no more than the closest thing to drummers during the Civil War as they would have been in the middle ages of the Roman Empire.

Following the Civil War, drums disappeared from the bands as marching bands became a staple of most modern armies.

Several factors have contributed to the decline of the military band, but one was the invention of the piano. There was a noticeable drop in interest in military band instruments after the invention of the piano.

One of the many fascinating reasons for this is that you can play the piano on a battlefield without having to carry a huge drum, a trumpeter, a timpanist, or an alto sax player.

Musicians also desired to have a more personal connection with their audience. Before the advent of the piano, musicians stood on a bandstand stage and played for the audience, moving around so they were facing them.

But the audience never saw them, just heard them play. This direct connection to the public was lost with the piano, making the audience feel that they were being served by the performers.

Music During the Civil War

grayscale photo of army

The musical instrument during the Civil War was a wooden lap drum, also called a shaker.

The shaker was more popular for all-around entertainment and could be played by a single person at the same time. It was used for marches, hymns, and the accompaniment of certain pieces.

The average shaker was around five inches in diameter and made of red oak or walnut. It had a metal strap on one end for carrying and was normally not given to a musician until after they completed their basic training.

It would be given to them to play while the rest of their troops marched, and was considered a right of passage.

A shaker or shaker of the period was the closest thing to a marching drum that the military had ever produced.

To make a shaker one would take a piece of wood and split it in half and then make a bowl on the inside of the wood.

They would then drill four holes at each end of the bowl and let a strip of metal slide through each hole. This strip of metal was called a pendulum or guitar.

The piece of wood and pendulum would be placed into a pot of boiling water and the piece of metal would be shaved off of it to create a nice long shaker.

Once the piece of metal was cut and dried, they would paint it black.

These shakers were also used to signal commands in the field. An officer would signal by banging on a shaker, and other officers would respond by drumming.

If a soldier needed something, he would knock on a shaker to call the attention of the nearest officer to that soldier’s immediate needs.

While in the field, the shaker was often the music for the campfire and was occasionally played when they held dances.

Soldiers would perform songs with their shakers, and often this was the only music that they ever heard on the battlefield.

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