How important was music during the Civil War? Fife music was popular because the shrill tone of the fife could be heard well above the rumbling of cannon and the other noises on the battlefield. Buglers were crucial on the battlefield because they were responsible for sounding out commands that could be clearly heard. These commands included reveille in the morning, tattoo at night, and numerous calls in between as well as field commands such as advance and retreat. The loud field drum was also a popular instrument in camp and on the battlefield where every soldier knew the dreaded “long roll” that signaled fall in for battle. But the drum might also be accompanied by other instruments of a band to entertain the men. After the terrible losses his brigade suffered on July 1, Confederate General James Pettigrew had the band of the 26th North Carolina play all day on July 2 to raise his men’s spirits. Music played a crucial role in the American Civil War.
Civil War Music continues to be important today on the battlefield. The dedication inside the Program of the Annual Gettysburg National Military Park Music Muster reads “The
Music Muster is dedicated to the better understanding that the International language of music helps to educate and inspire the visiting public, and only through that understanding, can support for the preservation of all historic places and National parks be realized.”
The Gettysburg Music Muster has been around since 1995. Former Supervisory Park Ranger John Andrews had a great idea to bring music to the battlefield. 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 Cyclorama to finally stop mid-grounds and play, surrounded by the visitors. We had a good crowd for that first event and so we deemed it a success. We certainly had a little help with that success. All the musicians 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 to be a part of the muster as well, and they agreed to let the Musicians “sing for their supper.” For performing on the Dobbin House patio they were served a sumptuous meal. All agreed to this arrangement and to this day the musicians still play for free and we provide water, sodas and lunch, and the Dobbin House continues to provide an amazing dinner for all musicians for their performance outside to their courtyard diners. The relationship is a strong one for us and the Musicians really appreciate relaxing at this historic restaurant after a long, warm day of performances.
In 1995, we could not foresee how popular this event would become. The format has changed a bit since 1995. We still try to have fife and drum bands, but we have added Parlor Music, brass bands, themed Irish Civil War Tunes and even Dancers of the 1800’s, who get our visitors involved. And though we haven’t expanded to become a Music Festival per se, we have gained a large following of loyal patrons, who still enjoy this free cultural event.
The musicians that we have lined up so far for the 2012 Music Muster offer a good representation of the music of the era. The war’s music can be divided into several
categories. There were inspirational marching songs and tunes written to boost the morale of soldiers, music that the 5th Michigan Regiment Band and the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment Band will present. There were Negro spirituals, other traditional slave songs, folk music and traditional music of the period which The Irish Volunteers and the Susquehanna Travellers will present a sampling of. There were the songs that soldiers sang when they were sad and thinking of home, perhaps like the music the Libby Prison Minstrels will share. Thousands of soldiers north and south came from Ireland, and their participation in the war generated its own unique music which the talented Irish Balladeer David Kincaid will share. And
there were the upbeat songs that people would sing and dance to while they celebrated a victory or thought of happier times as the Victorian Dance Ensemble will demonstrate.
Join us for another wonderful afternoon of music. This year the muster will begin Friday afternoon August 17 at 2:30 p.m. and continue throughout the day on Saturday August 18. For more information and a full schedule of performers and performances go to the Gettysburg NMP website at – http://www.nps.gov/gett/parknews/upload/Music-Muster-2012-Final-Schedule.pdf. Friday’s music will be indoors in the Ford Education Center of the National Park Visitor Center. Saturday’s music will be under a large tent outside the Visitor Center. Bring your lawn chairs if you plan on staying throughout the afternoon, as well as umbrellas for the sun (in case you sit outside the tent), lunch and water, and enjoy this outstanding event.
— Evangelina Rubalcava-Joyce