A Tale of Two Eagles
by Michael Pikunas
the morning of November 12, 1861, and at first glance the youthful federal
soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were not overjoyed by the
unfamiliar sights and smells around them. They had landed at Hatteras Inlet,
North Carolina which, compared to the lush green forests and farms of Eastern
Pennsylvania, presented to them an endless and desolate expanse of bleached
white sand. This was their first journey away from their homes in Schuylkill County,
a region comprised of small coal mining towns near the Schuylkill River. One of
those small towns, Palo Alto, lay on the south shore of the Schuylkill which
flows eastward toward Philadelphia, less than one hundred miles away.
And just fifty miles to the east was
Bethlehem, settled in 1741 by a Christian sect of German Methodists called
Moravians. The Germans brought with
them a high regard for education and a love for music."1 Just
like those from Palo Alto, the young men from Bethlehem responded to the call
for volunteers to put down the rebellion and don the federal blue.
But unlike their comrades from Palo Alto, the
Bethlehemians had not only relatives but also brethren in Bethania, North
Carolina. Settled in 1759, also by Moravians,
Bethania was a farm town not too far from Salem, North Carolina, the Southern
home of the Moravians. Like their
northern brethren, the Bethanians enlisted to serve, not to put down the rebellion,
but to don the confederate gray and support it.
clad and gray clad Moravians had more than their patriotism in common; they
shared a talent for music and their Christian heritage, complete with its signs
and symbols. "In their boarding
schools they learned to draw their great Moravian symbol, the Star of Bethlehem.
In this fashion, by drawing the shapes of a pyramid and gluing the shapes
together they created a multi-pointed star."2 As the clouds of war darkened, many of the
Moravians, both men and boys, would join their respective ranks, not as soldiers,
but as musicians.
Following the first cannon blasts at Fort
Sumter, Moravian musicians from Salem, also known as the Wachovia Region, or
Piedmont, formed three bands, initially named as militia units. "The Forsyth Grays" became Company
E of the Eleventh Regiment, North Carolina Volunteers. This Company changed
later to the Twenty-first Regiment, North Carolina Troops. Forming soon after was the Bethania Brass
Band, also known as the "Confederate Stars" which became Company F and
later Company I of the Thirty-third Regiment, North Carolina Troops. Finally, there was the Salem Brass Band,
which would famously become known as the 26th North Carolina Regimental
Band."3 They would all
wear the gray.
Inlet the young soldiers in blue eventually began to frolic in the surf,
gathering what they called "secesh" shells. They'd ship the secesh shells home to their
relatives in wooden crates onboard ocean-borne "steamers."4 For now they had every reason to enjoy
themselves because the sobering slaughter at Shiloh and Antietam was still on
the horizon, and General Ambrose Burnside's star was on the rise.
They didn't know what lay ahead, that three
years hence their skills and ingenuity would be called upon to attempt a bold
and decisive end to the war, a nightmarish, seemingly endless war. They would
tunnel underneath the rebel lines at the last citadel of the Confederacy,
Petersburg, and plant a ton of explosives creating what would be known ever
after as "The Crater" and the demise of General Ambrose
But outside of making history, during the
course of their war, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania would capture two eagles - two
American Bald Eagles - making them souvenirs and shipping them back home to
Schuylkill County. "A live eagle was captured after putting up a fight on
the 48th's picket line at Hatteras Inlet."5 The other eagle, a defiant eagle, hand painted
by an unknown artist on the face of a rebel snare drum was captured on a
battlefield late in the war.
About the Moravian Star
Drum Head clearly marked "LANE BAND"
thereby attributing the drum to the Confederacy,
notwithstanding the eagle motif which pre-dated
the Civil War and North Carolina's secession from the Union
Hand-drawn Moravian 6-pointed Star of Bethlehem
(a 2-dimensional representation of intersecting 3-dimensional 4-sided pyramids)
and the hand-written words "LANE BAND"in the same hand,
thereby possibly further linking the band and the southern Moravians
Pre-Civil War Eagle Motif
Pen and Ink inscription reading
"Stellwagon, Palo Alto, Penna" thereby linking
the drum with the 48th Pennsylvania
Detail of hand-drawn Star of Bethlehem
The bottom drum head of the rebel eagle
drum bears a number of six pointed stars, one of them large, "shaped in
the same fashion as drawn by Moravian boarding school students in the mid-19th
Century at Old Salem North Carolina.6
Printed below the larger star by the same hand are two
words "LANE BAND." Appearing to the side of those markings in bold period ink
is the name and home town of the soldier of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer
Infantry who "captured" the drum to send home to Schuylkill County - (George W.) "Stellwagon, Palo Alto, Penna".
The snare drum’s dimensions are 12-1/2" tall and 14-1/2" in diameter. The shell is uncut. Next to
the spread-winged eagle motif is a symmetrical tack pattern that consists of a
circle around the vent hole encompassed by a large square. The hoops, heads,
leather tugs and rope tensioners are original. The free-hand painted motif
consists of a spread-winged bald eagle on a gold sun-rayed blue field. The
bald eagle is grasping a broken flagstaff of a furled federal flag in its beak.
The eagle, with the broken flagstaff in its beak is portrayed on the ground
with pointed green ivy leaves and red berries. In its talons is a clutch of
The drum shows a substantial amount of use and field wear. It bears no
federal markings, such as "E Pluribus Unum," "U.S.," etc. Images of actual federal-issue drums carried by drummers of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry can
be seen on the 48th Pennsylvania website.7
George Stellwagon, an infantryman of the 48th
Pennsylvania, as far as we know, was with his regiment at the battles of
Roanoke Island, New Berne, Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain and
Antietam, where he sustained a serious head wound while waiting in line to cross
Burnside's Bridge. Stellwagon recovered to re-join the 48th in 1864 for the
Battle of the Wilderness onward.
What is the meaning of the words "LANE BAND"?
The words printed by the hand of the Johnny Reb musician himself represent the
Confederate regiment and brigade to which the rebel eagle drum belonged: the Thirty-third Regiment, North Carolina
Troops of General James Henry Lane's Brigade. General Lane received his brigadier
star in November 1862 following the death of General Lawrence O. Branch at Antietam\Sharpsburg.
And how do we know this? The Reminiscences
of Oliver J. Lehman reveal the story.8 Known as O. J., Lehman was a Moravian
musician from Bethania, North Carolina who enlisted in Lane's Brigade and
became band master to the Thirty-third North Carolina Regimental Band. Lehman
chose to serve with his fellow musicians who were formerly members of the
Bethania Brass Band the "Confederate Stars." "The Thirty-third
Regimental Band, although assigned to regimental status, was actually the brigade
band for General Lane's Brigade, which included the Seventh, Eighteenth,
Twenty-eighth, Thirty-third, and Thirty-seventh North Carolina regiments."9 The Brigade was attached to Pender's
Division, Third Army Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.
While the live bald eagle at Hatteras Inlet
put up a ferocious fight before succumbing to capture by a lieutenant and two
privates of the 48th Pennsylvania armed with a fusillade of sea shells, the eagle
on the rebel drum of General Lane's Band witnessed a much more prolonged and
We can only speculate that the rebel drum eagle
heard the screams of wounded soldiers about to be consumed by flames in the
woods at the Battle of Chancellorsville and witnessed the aftermath of the
accidental death of General Stonewall Jackson caused by friendly fire from a
sister regiment in General Lane's Brigade. We can only speculate how close it got to the
brave faces of General Lane's infantryman as they formed the battle line on
Seminary Ridge before marching toward those horrible cannon on Cemetery Ridge
at Gettysburg. Did it inspire those brave soldiers by playing their favorite
tunes Bonnie Blue Flag and Dixie?
We do know, according to Oliver Lehman:
"During all battles until the final surrender, General Lane's Band was in
the opening of each, caring for the wounded and taking them to the field
hospital just behind the line of battle. So our duties were not only as
musicians but also as ambulance corps. We were often under severe shelling and
small arms fire but we escaped almost miraculously".10
We can feel confident that the rebel drum was
there when fate brought together the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and
the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment. We can surmise the day of the eagle’s
capture in the bloody muck at Spotsylvania or near
the last desperate ditches of the federal Sixth Corps' breakthrough at
But the eagle
emblazoned on the rebel drum, although forced to surrender, has never
surrendered its indomitable mystique. For
when all is quiet, with an imaginative ear pressed against the vent
hole, one can hear off in the distance, feint but
unmistakable, spine tingling, the echo of the Rebel Yell.
I would like to recognize two persons in
particular who helped me with their knowledge, expertise and literary resources
on the topic of Moravian Civil War history in Salem, North Carolina, namely,
Historian Philip Dunigan and Office Manager Sarah Durham.
express my appreciation and gratitude for the invaluable forensic and technical
skills of my friend, Ed Carlini.
And to my
sister Anne Marie "Bunchy" Schwelm, for her moral and literary
support and assistance, and for the many years of sharing the joy of Our Great
Harry H. 2006. A Johnny Reb Band from
Salem: The Pride of Tarheelia. Raleigh N.C.: Office of Archives and
History, N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources.
8 Lehman, O.
J. Reminiscences of the War Between the
States, unpublished manuscript.
Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina State Archives.
Benny Pryor. 1987. The Bands of the
Confederacy: An Examination of the Musical and Military Contributions of the
Bands and Musicians of the Confederate States of America. North Texas State
O. J. Reminiscences of the War Between
the States, unpublished manuscript. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina State