Friday, October 16, 2009

Osgood Eagle Drum

Civil War era drum; signed on the interior “Raymond S. Osgood N.A.”, with a shield-breasted eagle, mid-19th century; sold for $558. Photo courtesy of Garth's.

Live Auction Talk

Besides drinking and gambling the most popular pastime among Civil War soldiers from both sides was music. Although drinking and gambling were against regulations it was difficult to control homesick and lonely soldiers.

Both armies also carried and played musical instruments as a way to lighten their load. Some companies even had their own bands. Soldiers sang as they marched. Music kept them in step and relieved the monotony of camp life.

Both Federal and Confederate troops had some of the same favorites like “Home Sweet Home”, and hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “Rock of Ages”.

The youngest members of each army and their bands were drummer boys. They ranged in age from 9-years-old to early teens. The boys gave up their beds to enlist in the army. Many could play the bugle and fife just as well as the drum.

Troops never left home without a drummer. Maybe they were too young to fight but they knew the importance of drumming for the company. They played as bullets flew and bodies dropped.

Drums woke the soldiers up in the morning, readied them to report for morning roll call, sick call, guard duty and lights out. On the battlefield drums voiced the orders of commanding officers and also pointed to where the troops were headed.

Drums were the beat of history, the background noise of war--a thread holding the vestiges of life in battle together.

Sometimes drummers were officially attached to the company. Other times they were unofficial members, like mascots. The most famous drummer boy of the Civil War was probably John L. Clem from Ohio. The 10-year-old member with the 22nd Michigan had his drum smashed by a shell at Shiloh. The boy was unhurt but from then on was known as Shiloh Johnny.

After the war Clem tried to enter West Point and was rejected. With the help of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant he became a second lieutenant in the army and retired in 1916 as a major general.

Willie Johnston, drummer of Company D, 3rd Vermont Volunteer Infantry, was the seventh soldier in the U.S. Army to accept a Congressional Medal of Honor. Johnston received his award on Sept. 16, 1863 for bravery during the Seven Days Battles. He was not quite 12-years-old and remains the youngest person to have received the medal.

Confederate bands were fewer in numbers. Musicians were not as plentiful in the South. Good instruments were costly and difficult to get and some of the best instrument makers were in the North.

The outside of Union drums often displayed a large eagle with open wings and stars and stripes around it. Confederate drums were not as elaborate. Many had a plain wood finish.

The U.S. Army purchased more than 32,000 rope-tension drums between 1861 and 1865. Today a Civil War drum could easily be the centerpiece of a Militaria collection.

Originality makes a Civil War drum valuable. Are the tugs, rope, skins and gut snares original? Is the drum plain? Decoration makes a difference.

Does it bear the maker's label? Horsman of Philadelphia was one of the leading drum makers during the Civil War.

Many drums were never actually used in service. Once a drum made it to the field it would often be painted and the regiment, state, and company included on it.

On May 23, Garth’s, in Delaware, Ohio, featured a selection of Civil War items in its Ohio Valley auction. Included in the sale was a Civil War era drum. Signed on the interior “Raymond S. Osgood N.A.”, with a shield-breasted eagle, mid-19th century; 17 ½ inches high; sold for $558.

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