Bully for the Band: The Civil War Letters and Diary of Four Brothers in the 10th Vermont Infantry Band. Edited by James G. Davis. Illustrated, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 290 pages, 2012. McFarland Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640, paperback, $49.95.
Put nine random men or women together, three abreast in three rows, and march them down Maine Street, and people will only notice them when an irate driver honks his horn to get them out of the way. But put them in uniform, add a drum and a bugle or fife, and suddenly you have a parade! And who doesn't love a parade?
In modern parlance, today's wars are fought with command and control provided by digital communications, usually encrypted, and musicians are normally relegated to ceremonial functions and for public relations purposes. But 150 years ago musicians were vital to the operations of units large and small. As the book's back cover puts it, "from the commanding call of the bugle at reveille to combat instructions … to reassuring songs around the campfire...," music was an omnipresent part of life in the Civil War.
Dr. James Davis, a musicology professor at the State University of New York, Fredonia, has compiled a compelling story, melding the letters and a diary of four brothers from rural central Vermont with the military history of one of the Green Mountain State's 17 infantry regiments to produce an intriguing look at one of the least heralded soldiers in the army.
James and Maria George, farmers in Newbury, Orange County, Vermont, had seven children. Four of them were boys, and all four enlisted at various times, in the volunteer service, with the same regiment, and all four were musicians. Charles, Herbert, Jere and Osman became the core of the 10th Vermont Regiment's band, and Herbert it's leader.
Dr. Davis' introduction starts with a brief history of military bands during the Civil War, from the beginning when almost every regiment had a band, to the realization that they were not only expensive, but diverting manpower from the fighting troops. He also explains his journey of discovery, finding the letters and diary and descendants who preserved them, as well as a description of family, including the correspondents and recipients and their relationships.
Using Chaplain Edwin Haynes' A History of the Tenth Regiment, Vt. Vols., and a variety of other sources, Davis includes commentary introducing every chapter, setting the scene for the letters and diary entries that follow, and explanatory comments are interspersed to explain the status of the war, the shifting geography and family situations.
The George brothers' letters and diary reflect their concern and care for each other, and their families back home. They also show their dedication to their craft. Charles told his parents he read his bible, but he had "to confess that I write, & read, & study music more than anything else" while in winter camp near Brandy Station in early 1864.
But during and after battles it was a different story. Towards the end of the battle in the Wilderness, in May 1864, Charles told his wife Ellie "after marching all day and being tired out, I sat up taking care of the wounded all night, all the next day, Friday night, and I still kept on."
When the war ended, only three brothers returned to the family. Osman had died in late 1863. Charles eventually moved out west to take advantage of land opportunities. Jere and Herbert moved to Boston, and Herbert later in life went to Minnesota. But they remembered their wartime experiences, and preserved the letters and diary, making it possible to tell their story.
The work is amply illustrated, with photographs of bands, members of their regiment, commanding officers, battlefields and towns they visited or passed through. In addition, a number of woodcuts and other drawings provide maps, battle scenes, etc.
Professor Davis has produced a critical piece of Civil War historiography. The only drawback is the price, a bit dear for a volume this size.
Tom Ledoux is the creator and webmaster of the Vermont in the Civil War web project, VermontCivilWar.org. He has an M.A. in military studies (Civil War studies) from American Military University.
McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers
Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640
Toll Free: 1-800-253-2187