By J. Dean Knight,
Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens. Vol 7, No. 1, Fall 2006
A publication of the Tryon Palace Council of Friends
There has been an avalanche of puns and clichés used to introduce the Confederate snare drum recently added to the Tryon Palace Collection. Superlatives – not puns and clichés – are best employed to describe this arguably unique acquisition. Constructed in 1861 by Edwin Clayton, a cabinet maker working in Asheville, North Carolina, the drum body is made of thin layers of wood glued and then rolled around a form to give it its shape. The overlapping pieces of wood were then tacked in a double line with a reinforced decorative tack circle between the two parallel rows of tacks.
The body of the drum was painted a deep rich red and the top and bottom hoops, which secure the heads, painted blue to signify this was an infantry drum. On the side of the drum the words “THE OLD NORTH STATE” encircle a fi ve pointed star. The upper (or batter) head is made of cow hide secured with two wooden hoops.
The lower (or snare) head, also secured with two wooden hoops, is made of sheep skin. A series of six to eight gut strings were pulled tightly against the snare head to give the characteristic resonance of a snare drum. Apart from the very intriguing construction methods used to fabricate this instrument are the several inscriptions found on the drum heads and on the inside walls of the drum.
On the bottom head of the drum, in a clear hand is written, “Captured at the battle of Newbern [sic] N. C. March 14 1862, 21st Mass Vols…” For the knowing reader this inscription alone excites a sense of being there. The Battle of New Bern has been clearly documented and the movements of the 21st Massachusetts delineated so one can almost visualize the drum itself being wrenched from the hands of the young Confederate drummer in the heat of battle as the Union Army advanced on New Bern.
As for the captor of the drum, we have a clear understanding who that most probably was thanks to another set of inscriptions on the drum. On the inside bottom head is the inscription, “L. L. Lamb/Fichburg [sic] Mass.” and the letters “L.L.L.” in a serrated cartouche. Research into 1860 census records for Worcester County, Massachusetts, reveals a 21-year-old L. Lamb working as a mechanic in the town of Fitchburg. And United States National Archives’ Civil War Military Service Records lists a Private Levi L. Lamb in Company D of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry.
Additional war records show that Levi L. Lamb, musician, was discharged in Akron, Ohio after serving two years, 10 months, and seven days in the 21st and 36th Regiments of the Massachusetts Volunteers of the Union Army.
Additional 1880 census records of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, indicate Levi L. Lamb to be living in that county with his mother Hannah, wife Jane, and sons Harvey and Osborn. Unfortunately, later court records from Crawford County Pennsylvania show a Levi L. Lamb certified as a “habitual drunkard.”
All of these inscriptions and the individual parts of this Confederate Civil War drum are like pieces of a puzzle, which, when assembled, gives us a vivid picture of a period in our history that words in a text cannot convey. Objects combined with research enhance the learning experience, excite the imagination, and make history and heritage flicker with life.
As an institution charged with the preservation of historic artifacts, Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens is constantly vigilant in its search for objects which help to portray the history of North Carolina. When this drum became available through auction of noted North Carolina artist Bob Timberlake’s collection, TPHS&G staff began work to authenticate the drum and its provenance. At the same time, Tryon Palace Commission members began the process of securing the necessary funds to purchase the drum.
After the auctioneer’s hammer fell to conclude the successful bidding by the TPHS&G representative, auctioneer Robert Brunk of Brunk Auctions, Asheville, announced that the drum had been purchased by Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens and would be returning to New Bern. There was a spontaneous round of applause from some 300 to 400 auction attendees, all pleased the drum would become a part of North Carolina’s public history.
The Battle of New Bern has been clearly documented and the movements of the 21st Massachusetts delineated so one can almost visualize the drum itself being wrenched from the hands of the young Confederate drummer in the heat of battle as the Union Army advanced on New Bern. (Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions)
This Confederate drum is now a part of Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens’ ever-growing Civil War collection. The drum features this handwritten inscription on its head: “Captured at the battle of Newbern [sic] N.C. March 14th 1862, 21st Mass Vols...”.