Musics, beat off! Oh, grow up!

93rd NY Drum Corps, Bealton VA 1863
(click image to enlarge)

Drum Corps, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry, Bealeton VA, 1863

Sorry, not to be crude, but that is the official command once a tune has been given prior to marching to the beat, is to beat off. It never fails at a reenactment to hear titters of laughter in the background and it may have elicited like responses back then.

The command sequence going something like this: prior to parade and assembly of the companies in the company streets the Adjutant or the Colonel would give the command for the start of parade and trooping the colors (color guard with national and regimental standards assembled to give honors) whereas the drum corps would follow “Musicians, beat off!” and begin the drum and fife to morning parade. For a nice discussion of the use of these calls see The Authentic Campaigner: Drill vs Assembly.

Civil War Musicians dress uniformNote the lack of uniformity. We put more emphasis on being uniform today than the volunteer units did in the war; perhaps less than the regular army did at the same time. Only a few of these men and boys are wearing the regulation musicians uniform for whatever reason; original issue was disposed of and only thing on hand at the quarter master was the regulation sack coat (according to regulations, musicians were relieved from fatigue duty save for normal mess duty), regulation uniform coat is lost and only the sack coat is available, the soldier was mustered as an infantryman but is able to play a fife or the drums and is assigned to the drum corps, any one of these could be a valid reason for the disparity of uniformness.

These are men from the 93rd NY, (see earlier post of the 93rd NY) and a few of these drummers are wearing the frock coat that I surmised was a hold over or part of clothing issued by the State of New York to its volunteers. It is hard for us sometimes to get out of our heads as we evaluate living history displays and look at uniforms and not make judgements based on modern military doctrine and discipline. But, there are areas of study that are so esoteric, as in the quarter master returns for specific units, to give us an operating idea of why federal regiments had so much variety in uniform use that they are seldom if ever brought to light. We are used to seeing this in the Confederate ranks. As images like these come to light we can get a better glimpse of daily life of the Federal soldier.

There is also a stereotype of the drummer boy and here we see several younger boys but they are the minority as there are also grown men in evidence. It is no easy feat to drum a cadence call and these men would have been doing plenty of it on a daily basis. The need for a regimented life driven by drum rolls and bugle calls meant these men were constantly in use. Every military call required a drum cadence and bugle: sick call, morning formation, parade, drill, fatigue, etc. These men were professionals at what they did and the requirement to have some skill at it would mean a selection process that demanded skill. As a reenactor, I’ve witnessed poor cadence performed by someone’s son who is dressed up in uniform and given a drum. If you’ve ever tried marching to two or more who aren’t keeping the cadence very well it is maddening. These boys who are present aren’t just there because father or brothers are there, they have skill.

The last thing I wanted to point out was the drum major, who looks not so much older than some of his Drum Major's Macedrummers. His uniform is not regulation for musicians but looks to be a bit more tailored for his role, something only seen with officers who were allowed to purchase their own uniforms. The shell jacket is a nice touch, cut with a sash and a belt and buckle that looks like a standard NCO buckle (rectangular instead of oblong) but it is a little hard to discern. The thing in his hand is called a Mace and the design of it hasn’t changed at all in the last 150 years. The drum major uses the mace for two things: for command and control and for flourishes while on parade and the march. The drum corps proceeds the regiment when on parade and while on the march with the drum major in the front of it leading the way. The Mace is used to communicate starts and stops in the music, positions of attention, starts and stops while on the march, and while the group is playing to give martial flourishes. A really good drum major will put on quite a show when on parade. Using the Mace is another skill that is enhanced by the ability of the drum major and no two will use it exactly alike in the flourishes. All commands, when used with the Mace, are unspoken and a good drum corps does not need verbal commands to execute any movement. Watch this YouTube video to see how the Mace is used for both command and for music direction.

191st Army Band at change of command ceremony

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Band box, paper collar soldiers; literally.

10th Veteran Reserve Corps Drum Corps

(click image to enlarge)

Pictured here are the 10th Veteran Reserve Corp’s Drum Corp in Washington, DC June 1865. The Veteran Reserve Corps used to be designated the Invalid Corps, made up of convalescing soldiers who were too disabled for active service but not so severely that they were discharged. Wikipedia article on the Veteran Reserve Corps.

What I find interesting is the presence of the orchestra instruments in this image and it is a little hard to see a drum corps with a string section, but there is also a level of goofing around in some of these images that these musicians also see the humor in grabbing another instrument to “play”. It is also very possible that this group is actually several sub groups together who play a variety of instruments. An army band is full of individuals who play multiple instruments. I spent 15 years in the 44th Army Band in the New Mexico National Guard and we played multiple roles depending on our talents and sub groups that might be formed for a variety of venues. It is also likely that these men with the stringed instruments only play those instruments and were utilized for small ensemble occasions along with a ceremonial role.

The style of dress is unique to military bands. The base uniform was probably the sky blue Kersey trousers with stripe (no NCOs are evident in this from those still wearing their sack coats.) This is not unusual as the civil war uniform in the regular army was a frock coat of dark blue and dark blue trousers for dress parade and sack coat for fatigue detail. All volunteer organizations were issued the basic fatigue blouse (sack coat) and sky blue trousers as the base uniform for regular and fatigue duty and the frock and dress trousers for official functions. Army bands today spend most of their time in dress greens and an almost equal amount of time in dress blues as the role is ceremonial for most of the duty.

The other item that is in preponderance is the kepi and most seem to be trimmed in gold much like what isTrimmed CS Officer's Kepi commonly seen of higher officer’s choice of dress. The infantry bugle can be seen adorning the top part of some of the kepi’s and only one man has a forage cap on. Uniformity, even with this unit, seems to have been something of a latter day marshall insistence by the military of today, even in the same regiment a variety of dress and styles can be seen in any image. Some of this was due to differences in what the Quarter Master drew for uniforms and equipment and what the men may have been able to purchase for themselves. The crisp uniformity of dress became more of a staple with the rise of the larger and larger permanent army. The regular army during the civil war was still relatively small, volunteers making up the majority of those who served and this would explain a lot of why we fail to see the uniformity we often expect from our military today.

Civil War era paper collarsThe last thing I wish to point out are the paper collars evidenced here. The 19th century shirt was dual purpose. It was long (down to the knees) had a short button down front (down to the naval) and did not have a collar (at least not a traditional collar but a short, high collar). The paper collar was donned for ceremonial purposes and parade, even as late as the Petersburg Campaign as highlighted by diary entries and letters by men of the 57th Mass. Volunteers in Mother May you Never see the Sights I’ve Seen by Warren Wilkinson.

There was an insult in the war that soldiers used to describe other regiments or those who only saw garrison duty. Band box or paper collar soldiers as explained by Billings in “Hardtack and Coffee“. Band Box referred to gentleman such as these whose duty in the war was strictly ceremonial and who played in a band box, a small stage or contained area for giving concerts or playing for parades and official reviews.

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Federal Soldiers in winter camp

Winter Camp, Union soldiers outside of kitchen
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This would seem to be an atypical view of camp life as we’ve come to know it from living history displays and popular paintings. Though images of winter camps, like those along the Rappahannock River where the Union Army of the Potomac wintered after the disaster of the Battle of Fredericksburg, are common this one was a treat to break down into details about what we know of the men and the times.

This image was not attributed to a particular location or unit, but the corduroy pathways speak of a muddy spring or winter time. The corduroy planking was utilized over rough or winter roads and terrain. When Sherman’s army marched through Georgia, he split it into three columns at times and each would sometimes go through the most impassable wooded areas to avoid and confound attempts to block it along common roadways. Engineering regiments felled a swatch of trees ahead of the marching columns and those behind them stripped the limbs and laid the trunks down in contiguous roadways for the wagon and artillery units thus making their own roads. The road was not pleasant to march on, but as the logs sank they settled and made a passable road for wheeled vehicles.

Late 19th century of dress in polite company was that men wore a coat when out and usually with a vest for to appear in public in ones undershirt was improper. Army life being what it was has obviously trained these men not to bother much with polite decorum. Army regulation was the soldier was to always have his sack or frock coat on and a hat when out of doors (a fact of military life even today) and when on fatigue duty one was permitted to take off the coat if needed. Further regulation was that the top button was to be fixed at all times when wearing the coat as the man to the far right is showing. Fully buttoned was to the discretion of the soldier. It is possible that the two men without their sack coats are on kitchen detail, but it is mostly the exception to find men posing for images without their uniform coats on.

Another aspect, clearly seen here by the man 4th from the left is the 19th century waistline. The trousers are worn well above the hips as they are long in the crotch. With his trouser cuffs turned up there are other parts of this camp that are extensively muddy. Another way of dealing with this was to blouse ones trouser cuffs into ones socks. This is something more often seen in period lithographs like this one. Prang Lithograph of assuant during the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi

This appears to be primarily a personal style choice of the soldier. The following is from reenactor discussions on the Authentic Campaigner forums: Blousing of trousers there are images of soldiers likewise accoutered and of period woodcuts, and other artist renditions. Interestingly, like other fashions it was not universal but not just a Federal or Confederate thing. It could also be that these representations became something of an marshall image that had a visual appeal to both individual soldiers and to artists depicting scenes. At the 135th Shiloh event with the incessant rain and mud, one did find that the trouser cuffs became caked with mud, making them heavy. Often some of these questions about did they or didn’t they are answered by simply experiencing something of the soldier life and seeing what happens when one tramps through brambles.

Beards, like styles in dress, were a cultural variety as seen here. The shaggy looking mountain man look as is sometimes seen (or used to be) at reenactments is not so much supported by both the decorum of the age, military discipline, and image records.

Finally, the contraband slave in the picture, though fully uniformed in union kit, is more than likely a camp servant. Scenes like this are common in camp images and say a lot about the relationship between white soldiers and black servants. It is a point of acknowledgement that whites and white soldiers were more apt to appear with blacks in images when the relationships were of unequals, what is a sad thing to say today but a common enough thing for the time period. Even though he is in a uniform he is not a soldier judging by the attitudes of the men in the image and knowing that a scene like this, if a black regiment, would have been uni-racial. First Negro Commissioned officer from the Civil War, 54th Mass. VolunteersIf any whites were in the image they would have been officers given the organization of the USCT units. NCOs would have been from the ranks of the black volunteers but the officers were one hundred precent whites. It would not be until the end of the war that the first Lieutenant was commissioned from the 54th Mass. Volunteers, Stephen A. Swails. Swails was a veteran  of all of the 54th’s major battles, twice wounded, and for his leadership was commissioned 2nd Lt. in 1865 and was further promoted to 1st Lt. prior to the 54th being mustered out of service.

Winter camps were long term, where active campaigning was minimal. Civil War armies, depending on the area of the country, were immobile from December through February or March due to the problems of weather on the logistical needs of supply. Snow and rain, the things that produced mud on non-macadamized roads which would have been most. The longevity of a camp being based on the frequency of being moved about (even in winter quarters there was no guarantee that the hut one constructed would be the hut one was able to move into) produced such structures as seen here.

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93rd New York in camp, 1863 contrast of uniforms

Civil War Federal NCOs enjoying a repast

(click image to enlarge, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry Bealton, VA 1863)

The first thing that stands out in the image is that this is a long term camp or the term being long enough to afford some common comfort as these chairs and folding table. A constant argument in reenacting today is what level of camp presence do you portray when at a battle event. This image is proof that this level of equipage was used in camps, but what was common for a campaign? There are two camps (pardon the pun), one that wishes to portray as much of the comfort (for themselves) by using implements such as this table and chairs, tents, cooking and eating utensils etc. The common reply is “if they used them, why can’t I”. The problem is that they would not travel well requiring a large baggage train. The other camp are those who wish to portray a campaigner impression. My own reenacting battalion, The Army of the Pacific – a western reenactor group, does a campaign impression whenever possible. A motto is use only what you can carry on your back as being representative of what the common infantryman was allowed to carry with him. NCOs and officers were allowed more baggage, but an infantryman was only allowed what he could stuff into his knapsack. Tents such as what are in the background were cumbersome and necessitated a long and vulnerable baggage train to transport, meaning more animals to feed and more wagons to haul stuff around in.

I find it interesting that the photographer chose to arrange the men in rank order, the Corporals being in the middle flanked by the two Sergeants. Also note the booze on the table, at least what I’m guessing is probably alcohol. This was not uncommon to purchase from sutlers or from civilian sources. The army did allot a whiskey ration to their quartermasters, the higher the rank the more you were allotted and there are stories of soldiers breaking into Sutlers tents or pilfering the Officer’s allotment of whiskey at times, but for the enlisted men this would amount to barely a mouthful per man per day. This would have been a regulated allotment and kept under tight control.

From the uniforms, the federal Sack Coat or fatigue blouse is what is in evidence. This was a four button coat that is obsequious with the view of the common federal soldier.Original Sack Coat image This fatigue blouse was what the soldier wore for all normal duties as opposed to dress format for parade and other official functions. Volunteer units when raised were issued state level equipments and uniforms and once federalized would then often be issued federal kit that would have included the Sack Coats. But, this was not a universal issue as Ohio and New York in particular issued state militia jackets, a shorter waist and many more buttons on the front.

Another feature of this image is the forage cap dangling from one of the support legs of the foldable table. For the federal armies, this was the most common head ware used. Deriving its name from the deep, pocket like top of the hat that falls down unto the brim, the hat was used for gathering forage when sent out on such patrols where the goal was to by hook or by crook gather in as much food stuffs as the men could carry. Original Federal Forage CapForage caps were common issue as opposed to the head gear being worn by the sergeant to the far left of the image. He is wearing a Kepi, a shorter crown cap that is probably more synonymous with civil war headgear but less often worn by the enlisted men and NCOs. Kepis were most often worn by private purchase. Officers in the Federal army were given a clothing allowance as part of their pay and not issued uniforms, having the freedom to make their own. The most famous example of this is George Armstrong Custer whose uniforms were hyper customized. To this day it is the prerogative of Generals in the army to customize their own uniform wear. It is probable that this sergeant has privately purchased this Kepi for his own use. A close look at the Corporal second to the right shows the common look of a forage cap.

Another view of some of the variety evinced in this image is the wide NCO stripe down the trouser legs of the sergeant to the left of the table. NCOs were allowed to wear a distinction to their trousers denoting rank, a thinner stripe for corporals. The sergeant to the far right has not affixed any to his trousers.

The corporal third from the right is wearing, as near as I can tell from the research of other images for this unit, his NY militia frock coat and black rank. This is not the federal issue Frock coat as can be see here:
93rd NY, Bleaton VA 1863

The difference here can be clearly seen by the man standing second from the left. He is wearing the Federal Frock, high standing collar and infantry piping on the cuffs. There are other NY Frocks evident in this image as well sporting a traditional collar. The black chevrons on the above image on the man in question are of militia vintage for NY pre-war units. At the date that this these images were taken, the preponderance of militia uniforms is interesting as three years of campaigning had either not worn them out or that the state of New York was still suppling her regiments with materials.

If there are other items of interest I’ve missed or tidbits I’ve gotten wrong, please pitch in and let’s mine these images for what they tell us.

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Deadly Teepee: Musket stack in Petersburg, VA 1865

Musket Stack with accouterments

(click image to enlarge)

Image is from Petersburg, 1865 after the city was finally in Federal hands by April 3rd, after ten months of siege.

One can see the devastation the siege wrought on the city by the rubble and buildings in the background. The image was taken in a residential area with a gas lamp to the far left of the frame. It is still cold and the leaves have yet to return on the trees. Oringinal Federal Greatcoat Another indication of time of year is the great coat slung over the musket stack in the foreground. A big indicator of this is the arm with its french cuff visible as pictured here. Greatcoats sported a long rear cape and a high collar made of thick kersey blue wool. The wearer obviously did not need it at this moment and chose to disrobe.

I have found that the cape works well for a face covering when sleeping out if one needs an additional layer. Enlisted men were allowed limited baggage and would often mail home such articles of clothing once campaign season returned as they would have to carry everything with them otherwise, greatcoats being heavy and cumbersome to pack in the two compartment knapsack. Or, they would simply discard the extra impediments once winter weather was over hoping to draw new by next winter.

The rifle stacks themselves are another facet of soldier life. Formed of three central muskets whose bayonets have been intertwined to form a teepee, the formation was devised as a way of keeping soldiers from losing their weapons while halted and on rest, for allowing a formation of four men, two in front and two in back, to intertwine and remove their pieces while in company front (two files), and for quick breaking down of the stack when ready to move on. These stacks are made whenever a unit is at rest after a halt and when in camp but on other duties and a musket is not required. You can see the ghost of a soldier on the upper left side of the frame and several others barely visible on the hillside.

Another common feature of the musket stack is the hanging of a soldier’s basic kit or “traps” as they were called by the soldiers. Original Federal Cartridge Box w/SlingA soldier’s traps would consist of his leathers: cartridge box with sling, belt and brass buckle, haversack, water bottle, and bayonet and frog. You can see that several leathers have been wrapped over the stacks. These would belong to the individuals who would line up behind that stack in the company formation. On the ground are several bundles of blankets and other personal gear. If this were a permanent movement, the privates would also have grounded their knapsacks in front of the rifle stacks or some distance beyond also in formation or if they expected to be in close contact with the enemy. What is more probable, is that this is not a permanent movement of troops but a patrol into the city 9though the blanket rolls do indicate a possible anticipation of a longer sojourn). The length of the stacks width wise indicates a company sized unit. A regiment or battalion sized stack would have extended much further down the street and would have been broken down into companies with the center or left most having the regimental flag rolled up and laid across the stacks lengthwise. None is clearly visible.

The stacks of rifles out in front of the formation would be those of the non commissioned officers who would act as file closers when in company front (two files standing shoulder to shoulder) and whose position in line of march is to the right flank of the marching column or in company front are in the rear of the formation. It is probable that we are looking at the rear elements of the stack and the soldiers would have faced to the right when in company front to stack their muskets and then been released from formation by which most have found a place to sit or lie on the hillside behind them. One can barely make out men in the upper right quadrant of the image by a house with a fence, possibly officers.

If you attend any civil war reenactments, these stacks are as ubiquitous as tents, but know that they served a specific purpose in the life of the soldier and not just for spectator show.

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Contraband Slaves in Union Camp, 1863

Contraband Slaves in Union Camp, Culpepper VA 1863

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There are several things to glean from this image.

It is winter time or late fall given the lack of leaves in the tree, the buttressing of the tent with planks for heat retention and a wind break, and a chimney visible at the left of the tree trunk. They are also in a permanent fortification given the planking that makes the high wall that their tent rests against.

They are wearing decommissioned federal army clothing, most clearly visible in the state of the trouser leg on the right. Army quartermasters had to account for everything, even articles of clothing that were changed out when an enlisted man’s clothing allowance allowed for replacement. Both men are wearing military issue foot ware, cavalry boots of rough out leather. The military vest, the shell jacket of the man on the right (short coat that comes to the waist with up to 8 buttons on the front without piping or epaulettes) and the sack coat and hat hanging on the tree to the left further indicate that these men have been fully furnished from military stores.

The wall tent is another curiosity as it is crammed with a table and other cookware. Wall tents were supplied to officers as their quarters. Enlisted men at this time would still be living in Sibley tents or would have at this time of year constructed a winter hut made of logs and covered in canvass. From their attire they are both being paid by the army as cooks or teamsters, my guess being cooks.

The refuse in front of the tent also seems to signify what role they played in the camp as cooks. The other thing to note is that in this time frame, the thought of a candid shot is unknown. One does not whip out a camera and just shoot. The table inside the tent was probably outside for normal use but stashed away. The cans on the ground splayed out by the photographer (these men, though not inducted into the military would still have had to follow decorum), the ladle given to the man on the left to hold, and the man on the right with his forage cap on the ground by his feet told to sit in a relaxed manner, the cigar being an interesting addition if posed.

As long as the army was stationary, these men had a home and or an income if they were hired to perform specific duties. Once an army or unit moved on, these men would have been homeless unless they could hire themselves to another unit. The campaign season was one of hardship for the many former slaves who managed to escape or were liberated by Union forces as the army promised no protection for families and those who could not perform some needed duty. When on the march, they would follow and camp nearby, but unless they were being utilized in some form or fashion they were on their own.

Have fun noting other things from this image, it is remarkably clear and focused.

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