How important was music during the Civil War? Drumbeats originally served two purposes: to tell soldiers what to do, and to keep them in step. Drum calls issued
commands to soldiers, while other drumbeats with fife accompaniments helped soldiers march. Fife music was popular during the war because the shrill tone of the fife carried well. Buglers were also crucial because they too were responsible for sounding out commands, particularly in the infantry and cavalry. Drum and bugle calls regulated the daily life of soldiers in camp and the field from reveille in the morning to tattoo at night. But musical instruments did more than issue commands and sound out the different activities of a soldier’s day. The music of fifes and drums or of a brigade band helped sustain morale and lifted the spirits of soldiers.
On August 19 and 20, 2011 period music will return to the Gettysburg battlefield with our annual Civil War Music Muster. This is the muster’s 16th year. It was the original idea of former Supervisory Park Ranger John Andrews who conceived the idea of bringing period music to the battlefield in 1995. Since I was responsible for year-long events to commemorate the Park’s 100th Birthday that year, he asked me to help him get the idea off the ground. It was an exciting event and it
began with three fife and drum groups, marching onto the lawn of the old Cyclorama Center to finally stop mid-grounds and play, surrounded by the visitors. We had a good crowd for that first event and we deemed it a success. The musicians played no small part in the event’s success. Besides bringing their talent to the park they all agreed to play for free. We would get a lunch for them and a performance site, but that was it. John worked his magic and convinced the Dobbin House Restuarant to be a part of the muster as well, and they agreed to let the Musicians sing for their supper. To this day, the musicians still play for free and we provide water, sodas and lunch. The musicians also still play or sing for their supper at the Dobbin House throughout the late morning and afternoon on Saturday.
The format of the muster has changed a bit since 1995. It has grown from fife and drum bands to also include Parlor Music, themed Irish Civil War Tunes and even Dancers of the 1800’s, who are able and willing teachers to our visitors. Though we haven’t expanded to become a Music Festival we have a large and loyal following of patrons who look forward to this free cultural event each year.
The groups and musicians for this year’s event include the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment
Band, who will play inspirational marching songs and the music written to boost the morale of soldiers on both sides. The Irish Volunteers and the Susquehanna Travelers will provide traditional popular music of the period. The Libby Prison Minstrels will include songs that soldiers sang when they were sad and thinking of home while the 77th New York Regimental Balladeers will play a heart-wrenching version of Amazing Grace while under the dome of the Pennsylvania Memorial. And there will be the upbeat songs that people would sing and dance to while they celebrated a victory or escaped into happier times, which the Victorian Dance Ensemble will demonstrate.
Join us for another warm afternoon of music this year on the afternoons of August 19 & 20 2011. Bring your lawn chairs, umbrellas, lunches and drinks, to enjoy this Civil War Period Concert. A schedule of events including where and when performances will take place is available on the park web site at: http://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=325357