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Five weeks after Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter. The 1st Regiment of Artillery Band was present during the bombardment and surrender. This band was also known as Chandler's Band of Portland, Maine a civilian band volunteering its' service to the regiment.

The first band to suffer casualties during the Civil War was the 6th Massachusetts Regiment Band. On April 19, 1861, the band arrived by train in Baltimore, MD. As the band left the station a mob marching through the street attacked the band. The band fled, abandoning all equipment, as local Union sympathizers took bandmembers into their houses. The band suffered 4 deaths and 30 injured personnel.

As the war began, the military was as divided as the country. Many of the Army's finest officers resigned their commissions, returned home, and joined the Confederacy. Enlisted personnel from the southern states deserted the Union Army to fight for the South.

Faced with severe personnel shortages, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve three-month enlistments. Three weeks later, he realized that the shortages would continue and called for 40,000 three-year enlistees and 40 additional regiments to be recruited, organized, and equipped by the states.

The Federal government allowed the states to establish their own recruiting and organizational policies. Many volunteer regiments recruited bands. Civilian bands with such famous conductors as Patrick Gilmore (whose band served with the Massachusetts 24th Volunteer Regiment) volunteered their services to Union regiments. Band recruiting was so successful that, by the end of 1861, the Union Army had 618 bands and more than 28,000 musicians.

On July 22, 1861, Congress passed "An Act to Authorize the Employment of Volunteers to aid in Enforcing Laws and Protecting Public Property." Section 2 authorized each Regular Army regiment of infantry two principal musicians per company and 24 musicians for a band. Each cavalry and artillery regiment was authorized two musicians per company or battery. Each Artillery Band was permitted 24 musicians and each Cavalry Band was permitted 16 musicians. The Army was following the same practice as Weiprecht in Germany with distinct bands for each branch.

In response to a Congressional inquiry, the Paymaster General of the Army reported the following pay scales for musicians:

First-Class $ 34.00 per month
Second-Class $ 20.00 per month
Third-Class $ 17.00 per month
Drum Major $105.50 per month

The federal government assumed the cost of volunteer regiments during the Civil War. With the increase of the number of regiments, some members of Congress became cost conscious. The cost of maintaining bands for all regiments was a burden Congressmen did not want to bear. On January 31, 1862, Congress asked the Secretary of War, Simon Camero, to evaluate the cost of each band and could bands be dispensed without injury to the public service.

The Secretary of War reported the average cost of maintaining an artillery or cavalry band was $9,161.30 and the cost of maintaining the larger infantry band was $13,139.40. It was also reported 26 of 30 Regular Army regiments and 213 of 465 volunteer regiments had bands. The War Department spent $4,000,000.00 on bands with 618 bands in service, a ratio of one musician to every 41 soldiers. Congress concluded bands were too expensive and could be disposed without injury to the service. During the inquiry, 50 Union bands staged a Sunday concert at the White House. This concert undoubtedly added fuel to the debate about the cost of regimental Bands.

On July 17, 1862, Congress passed Public Law 165. Public Law 165 abolished regimental bands in the volunteer army and provided for the mustering out of all musicians within 30 days of passage. Public law only applied to bands in the volunteer service and not to bands in the Regular Army. Congress replaced the regimental bands with brigade bands (one band for every four regiments). Provisions were made allowing musicians in regimental bands to transfer to the brigade bands. The pay of the bandleader was reduced from $105.50 a month to $45.00 a month with the rank privileges of a quartermaster sergeant. Congress also reduced the authorized number of musicians in each band from 24 to 16. The Act reduced the number of bands to approximately 60 and the number of musicians to about 2500.

Militia units still remained under state control and were not affected by Congressional actions. Militia bands of 35 to 50 musicians were the rule, and the number of bands increased sharply as more militia units entered the war. The militia bands were far superior to the Federal bands. The majority of militia bands comprised of highly trained musicians augmented with some lesser trained performers to fill out the sound of the band.

Although Congress established no standard band instrumentation, most bands used all brass. Brass instruments withstood the rigors of the outdoors. Only the largest bands used woodwinds to complement the brasses.

During the war, the duties of Union bands varied. They performed concerts, parades, reviews, and guard mount ceremonies for encamped troops. They also drummed soldiers out of the Army and performed for funerals and executions. The bands played for troops marching into battle, actually performing concerts in forward positions during the fighting. The martial and patriotic music the bands performed frightened the enemy and rallied soldiers to victory. Bands were stationed at major military hospitals lifting the morale of suffering soldiers. Bandsman day's were busy. Buglers sounded calls throughout the day. The musicians sounded the call for guard mounting at 0800 each day. Some regiments held dress parades twice a day, but most staged these events in conjunction with retreat ceremonies when regimental or brigade bands provided the music.

Performing under fire became commonplace for bands under the command of General Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan loved music and took a personal interest in his bands. This was shown in the equipment, mounts, and uniforms he accorded his bandsmen. To pay for these privileges, his bands performed at the front during battle playing the liveliest airs in their repertory.

At Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan massed all his musicians on the firing line with the order to "play the gayest tunes in their books .... Play them loud and keep on playing them, and never mind if a bullet goes through a trombone, or even a trombonist, now and then." General Sheridan paid tribute to Army bands when he remarked, "Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war."

On another occasion, General Horace Porter turned the corner of the Brooks cross-road and the Five Forks road and "encountered one of Sheridan's bands, under heavy fire, playing Nellie Bly as cheerily as if it were furnishing music for a country picnic."

Another commander who took his bands into combat was General George Armstrong Custer. The band spearheaded his famous cavalry charge at Columbia Furnace. Years later, when he organized the Seventh Cavalry for the Indian Wars, Custer insisted on a mounted band. This band led the charge at the Battle of Washita in 1868.

Between battles, Union and Confederate troops showed little animosity toward one another. Union soldiers often traded coffee for southern-grown tobacco. From behind earthworks, bands often played concerts, including the other side's favorite songs. On occasion, Confederate and Union bands would join in concerts when camped close together. A Union band gave a concert for the troops stationed at Fredericksburg, VA. After a playing a few favorite selections of the troops, a voice called from the Confederate positions across the river, "Now give us some of ours." The band played "Dixie," a favorite of both sides, "My Maryland" and "Bonnie Blue Flag."

The non-musical duties of bandsmen were primarily medical. Before battles, bandsmen gathered wood for splints and helped set up field hospitals. During and after the fighting, they carried the wounded to hospitals, helped surgeons perform amputations, and discarded limbs.

In addition to the bands of the Regular Army and the volunteer militias, there were field musicians. Field musicians, comprising of drummers and buglers, sounded camp calls and battlefield signals. They were not part of the band, and few could read music. Field musicians learned by rote the calls sounded at specific times in camp or upon command in battle.

Army regulations of 1863 allowed the superintendent of recruiting depots to enlist, as field musicians, boys of twelve years of age and upward who had a natural talent for music. After enlisting, field musicians of the Regular Army could be sent to the School of Practice on Governor's Island, New York. They were billeted opposite from Brooklyn, at the Old South Battery.

Army bandsmen's pay was substantially higher during the Civil War than previous years. The chief musician received $45.00 per month, one-fourth of the bandsmen received $35.00, another fourth received $20.00, and the remaining half received $17.00. The drum major also received $17.00. Fifers, drummers, and buglers were paid $12.00 per month. Musicians were by no means overpaid when their high casualty rate is taken into account. A reference to the record of the 125th Ohio Regimental Band (known as the Tiger Band) shows that only 10 of the original 36 members of this organization could still be accounted for at the end of the war in 1865.

The bands were well thought of by the soldiers. A soldier of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment wrote in 1862, "I don't know what we should have done without our band. It is acknowledged by everyone to be the best in the division. Every night about sundown Gilmore gives us a splendid concert, playing selections from the operas and some very pretty marches, quicksteps, waltzes and the like."

Source: U.S. Army Bands in History (The Civil War)

See also the Music Room in the Virtual Museum
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