Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Charles H. May Drum Donated to Port Carbon, Pennsylvania Museum

Andy Matsko/staff photos
Bert Bensinger talks about one of the Civil War-era drums he donated Thursday to the Historical Society of Schuylkill County. Charles H. May, Port Carbon, used the drums while serving in the war.

by Stephen J. Pytak (Staff Writter) Spytak@RepublicanHerald.com
September 17, 2010

When Charles H. May, Port Carbon, marched to the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Va., in July 1864, he was playing a drum with a shell made of brass.

"This was a battle drum," Bert Bensinger, 83, a historian from Port Carbon, said as he donated the Civil War relic to the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville on Thursday morning.

Bensinger gave the three drums May used while serving in the War Between the States. In addition to the battle drum, he also donated two drums with wooden shells, a practice drum and a parade drum.

He also donated May's 38-inch saber. Made in 1863, it has a brass handle and a 28-inch steel blade.

"In the Civil War, every musician carried a sword," Bensinger said.

Bensinger also donated a photo of May taken at the 50th Gettysburg reunion in 1913.

Society President David Derbes said the items will be placed in the society's Civil War room, which opened in December 2006. Located on the second floor of the society headquarters at 305 N. Centre St., the display contains more than 600 artifacts and photographs.

Born in Port Carbon, Feb. 16, 1845, May served as a drummer in the 31st Regiment at the opening of the war and later in Company C in the 129th Regiment and Company G in the 48th Regiment until the end of the war, according to his obituary, published in The Daily Republican.

He was involved in the digging of the mine that led to the Battle of the Crater, Bensinger said.

During the following winter, while the opposing armies faced each other over the trenches around Petersburg, the Union musician suffered a shoulder injury when a 64-pound mortar shell exploded on top of a bomb shelter he was in, according to Bensinger.

After the war, May returned to Port Carbon and worked as a machinist.

He died Nov. 10, 1920, at his residence at 116 Pottsville St. and was buried in Lutheran Cemetery in Port Carbon, according to his obituary.

Bensinger said he acquired the items "around 1950" from May's brother, Fred.

"He was born 20 years after Charlie," Bensinger said.

At the time, Bensinger was a plumber, the borough fire chief and the local historian. Fred May asked Bensinger to investigate an odor. When Bensinger opened a tiny closet on the third floor, he said he spotted the drums.

"What are these?" Bensinger asked.

"They're Charlie's drums," Fred May said.

"No kidding. Do you want them?" Bensinger asked. Fred didn't and gave them to Bensinger.

"I took them home and cleaned them up. In the beginning, I just used a damp cloth," Bensinger said.

When he wiped off the dust on the parade drum, his said he was very surprised to see the Union eagle painted on the side.

Over time, the drum heads deteriorated and Bensinger said he had to replace them.

While the wooden rim on the battle drum is original, he said he replaced the rims on the parade and practice drums.

The American Civil War, the conflict between the Union Government and 11 Southern Confederate slave states, lasted from 1861 and 1865, killing more than 600,000 people. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Union suffered 364,511 military deaths and the Confederacy 133,821.

About 10,000 county soldiers served in the Civil War and about 800 died in the fight, according to Peter Yasenchak, the historical society's executive director.

"In the Civil War, Port Carbon had 513 enlistments with only a population of 2,000," Bensinger said.

In addition to several drums, Bensinger donated a saber and photograph taken at the 50th Gettysburg reunion in 1913. May, the soldier who owned the items, is front, second right, in the photo.


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