Wednesday, August 5, 2009

History in a Drum (an 1809 Brown Drum) -- The Oldest Known Brown Drum in Existence

Recently, through this blog, sutler Leo Brennan (Ye Olde Connecticut Peddler) of Madison, Connecticut became aware of the oldest known Brown drum (no. 26, 1809; see "1809 Brown Drum Hits the Market") and, followed my advice "to break out the piggy bank, mortgage the house, and borrow from your friends if you have to, but get this drum." After a few weeks of effort, Brennan was able to acquire the drum. (Previously the oldest known example of Brown manufacturing was an 1810 drum.*)

In addition to a perfectly age-appropriate label noting the drum's number and year of manufacture, several inscriptions inside moved its new owner and his family to do some research on this drum's possibly colorful history, including a very important Civil War connection.

Here's Tim Brennan's email to the Blogmaster:


I have some new information on the blog posting of Saturday June 20 regarding the 1809 Eli Brown drum. I have done some detective work (the most exciting kind of work) and have reached some conclusions. The etching on the interior of the drum states "Posnet, 1st VT Vol, 1861 1864" Bear with me on this lengthy missive: The 1st Vermont Volunteer infantry formed April 19 1861. Recruitment swelled the ranks of each company to 81 officers and men. On April 27 the ten companies were designated the 1st Regiment. On May 2 the regiment encamped at Rutland where it where it practiced drill, parade and camp duty. The regiment was mustered into US service May 8 and departed next day to Fortress Monroe, VA, first by rail and then by steamer "Alabama", arriving May 13. Here the regiment suffered its first casualty by disease. On May 23 the 1st regiment became the first US troops to set foot on hostile soil when they made a reconnaisance in force into Hampton, VA and forcing the withdrawal of 130 Confederates. On May 26 the regiment boarded steamers "Monticello" and "Cataline" and went to Newport News, where they fortified their postion. On June 9th the 1st, along with the Mass 4th regiment and the New York 7th, engaged the enemy in the inconclusive battle of Big Bethel, then withdrew back to Newport News. On Aug.. 4 the 1st embarked on steamers "Ben de Ford" and "SR Spaulding" and proceeded directly to New Haven, CT and then by rail to Brattleboro, VT where their 3 months enlistment (actually 4) had ended. Of the 753 rank and file, over 600 reenlisted for 3 more years service, according to Gen.
Washburn and State Historian Benedict.

So why is this important? Records are sketchy from the time but based upon the established and staggering reenlistement numbers I find a "Daniel Posnett" (two t's at the end) of Fayston, VT enlisted in the 13th Vermont Volunteer Infantry on 8/25/62, some months later, after the 1st returned home. I submit "Posnett" is a corrupted version of the true name "Posnet" which is inscribed on the drum. Literacy and record keeping being what they were back then, alternative spellings were common. "Posnet" is not a town but a person.

So what of the 13th regiment in which our man Posnet(t) served, or perhaps drummed? OK. 10 companies were recruited, equipped and mustered into US service by Oct. 3. The regiment shipped out to DC on the 11th, where they joined fellow Vermonters of the 12th, 14th, 15th, and 16th to comprise the 2nd Vermont brigade. On the 27th they established "Camp Vermont" south of Alexandria, VA and proceeded to Union Mills, where they kept a picket line alonsgside the railroad tracks near the Bull Run. On Dec. 27 they repulsed Jeb Stuart's Confederate cavalry but the 13th was unable to pursue.

On Jan. 20 the 13th marched south to Wolf Run Shoals. An unevenful encampment ensued except for Company G asssisting a group of runaway slaves in their flight to Washington, DC. The 2nd brigade was not ordered into action at Chancellorsville.

Here's where it get's interesting: the 2nd brigade was ordered to Gettysburg, where it was to support the Union batteries on Cemetary Hill. During the battle the 1st Minnesota was annihilated by the the Confederates. The 13th Vermont regiment was ordered to prevent the Minnesota guns from falling into enemy hands. The 13th charged DOWN the very hill the Confederate general Pickett would charge UP a day later, secured and withdrew the Union guns, and captured 83 prisoners. The next day 10 men from each company buried the dead and put down fence rails some 45 yards ahead of the Union lines. The 13th regiment was ordered to the rails upon Picketts infamous charge, where they lay prone and fired a withering point blank and deadly fire into the shattered Confederate ranks. The charge broke upon the breastworks, and turned to the right, and the Vermonters leapt over, reloading on the run and firing with deadly execution into the enemy in pursuit. The rout was on, and the dazed Confederates began to throw down their arms. The 13th captured 243 officers and men, and suffered 11 dead, 23 missing, and 181 wounded. A period of inactivity ensued, until the regiment was ordered south on July 6, only to be recalled July 21st as it's term of service expired. Returning home to Vermont, again many members reentered service into different organizations.

So, did this drum see action at Gettysburg? Perhaps. I note in the original blog post the comment regarding the age of the drum (1809 manufacture) and the date of the war (1861), some fifty plus years. I think it more than coincidence that Daniel Posnett was the OLDEST enlisted man in the 13th Vermont at 49 years of age (!) when he volunteered. A family heirloom brandished in war by a patriot? I find his age, the date on the drum, his name in the drum, his name on the roster, the dates on the drum as compared to the subsequent three year enlistment: they all match. Please see website Vermont in the Civil War to back up all the above. I think that, just maybe, a small piece of the historical puzzle relating to the Eli Brown drums may have just fallen into place.

Thanks for listening,

Tim Brennan.

* "The mystery of when the first drum was made may never be solved. Virtually all known and verified Brown Drums have a distinctive label and date inside the drum opposite the air hole. The earliest date known to the Company of Fifers and Drummers is 1810 and bears serial No. 108 and the name B. E. & M. Brown, believed to be Benjamin, Eli, and Moses. Was the first drum numbered 1? Did the Browns make 500 drums before they started using labels and numbers?" The Browns of Wintonbury, Makers of Brown Drums, Wintonbury Historical Society, Inc.

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