Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Drummer Boys, Answering the Call

Pamphlet produced in connection with "Drummer Boys, Answering the Call" an exhibit at Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, New York, August 28th, 2010.

[TO BE INSERTED: Photo of Corporal William Vallet and Joseph S. Schepmoes, Drummers, 20th NYS Militia, Seward R. Osborne Collection.]

Drummer Boys
"Marching away with the naive innocence of youth"

These boy soliders performed an important role on the battlefield. As part of the command and control communication system the various drum rolls signaled different commands in the field

For the infantry, drums were also used to announce daily activities, from sunrise to sunset. Reveille was sounded to begin the day at 5 a.m., followed by an assembly for morning roll call and breakfast call. Sick call was sounded son after breakfast, followed by assemblies for guard duty, drill, or to begin to march.

Drummers were also important on the march to keep soldiers in step during parades and to call them to attention.

During battle, drums were sometimes used to signal maneuvers and give signals for the ranks to load and fire their weapons.

The artillery and cavalry relied solely on buglers who were just as important in their roleas drummers were to the infantry.

Drummer boys were usually treated as something of a mascot by the troops, and often entrusted to the good offices of the regimental chaplain.

Since they had few military duties to perform, the life of the drummer appeared rather glamorous, and so as would be expected, boys of all ages tried to enlist, often running away from home.

Officially there were age restrictions, but these were often ignored, and boys as young as ten were found beating the "long roll" which called men into action.

As part of the exhibit we have included the stories of a number of drummer boys who distinguished themselves during the war.


Both the Union and Confederate Armies would regularly recruit young boys for service as drummers. More than 100,000 federal soldiers were fiften years of age or younger. Three hundred were thirteen or under and most of these were fifers and drummers.


"The Hero of the Drum"
Poem by George W. Bungay

Clouds of smoke hung like a pall
Over tent and dome and hall;

Hot shot and blazing bomb
Cut down our volunteers
Swept off our engineers;

But the drummer beat his drum,
And he beat "No Retreat!"

With his drum: Through the fire.
Hotter, nigher.
Throbbed the drum, drum, drum.

In that hurrican of flame and thunder of the bomb.
Braid the laurel wreath of fame for the hero of the drum!
The hero of the drum.


The exhibit items feature in Drummer Boys "Answering the Call", include historial artwork by Don Troiani, Ron Tunison, Donna J. Neary, Dale Gallon, Julian Scott (1846-1901), Pamela Patrick White and others.

Examples of musical instruments including regimental eagle drums and a militia drum from the museum's collection are representative of the equipment used by Civil War drummers. Period sheet music, a principal musician sack coat, drummer's shell jacket, poetry, photo images, letter and dairy entries tell the story of these young patriots. J.Q. (John Quinn)

Co-curator "Hardtack Home Front Recollections: Greene County During the Civil War". Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, NY.

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