Music was important to the military life of the Civil War, as it bolstered spirits, broadcasted commands, kept a marching beat, and accompanied military ceremonies. In the Battle of Gettysburg, field musicians and regimental bands played at various times and performed various tasks. The field musicians sounded the calls that announced the hours and duties of the day and transmitted orders while in camp or on the battlefield. The drummer boys, who mostly were under the age of eighteen, were responsible for the order of the camps: camp formations and regulating meals and other daily events. The bandsmen served primarily as noncombatants and were exclusively ceremonial and recreational and were detailed to assist the surgeons during the battle. Nevertheless, their music provided a moral boost for their comrades. The regimental bands were regarded as so essential to the war effort that they routinely took part in the most unlikely of circumstances. Ten marching bands were at Gettysburg including the 26th North Carolina Infantry Band.
The 26th North Carolina Infantry Band was one of the few Confederate bands due to the lack of musicians and brass instruments in the Confederacy. It was, however, considered one of the best. The band was composed of Moravian pacifists from Salem, North Carolina, who had had a band since 1831. Moravians were German Methodists who were well respected for their musical abilities. The Salem Brass Band enlisted into Confederate service as regimental band for the 26th North Carolina Infantry in March 1862. Cornet player Samuel T. Mickey led the band which originally consisted of eight brass players and no drummer. The other original seven players were: A.P. Gibson, 1st Bb cornet; Joe O. Hall, 2nd Bb cornet; Augustus Hauser, 1st Eb alto; William H. Hall, 2nd Eb alto; Daniel T. Crouse, 1st Bb tenor; Alexander C. Meinung, 2nd Bb tenor; and Julius A. Lineback, Eb bass. (At various points of the war, the band reached the full complement of 12, adding both snare and bass drummers, like the one above.)
Unlike other Confederate marching bands, the 26th North Carolina band was probably one of the best uniformed, as the members wore non-regulation uniforms such as cadet jeans with brass buttons. In addition to their military duties, the band members performed at church functions and fund-raising events, as they considered themselves a semi-independent adjunct bound by moral obligation rather military regulation. The members were willing to serve only as musicians or medical aides, and they emphasized their quasi-military status through their unwillingness to salute officers and their frequency of going AWOL. Before becoming a great band, adjustment to military life was difficult. For example, while drilling on a freshly cleared parade ground littered with stumps and roots, some of the men stumbled and fell while trying to coordinate marching and music. While drilling, the band was almost captured in the Confederate defeat at the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina, but managed to escape and returned back to their regiment.
The band followed the 26th North Carolina regiment north to Pennsylvania, where Union and Confederate forces endured three days of fighting in Gettysburg. The regiment was under the command of Colonel Henry King Burgwyn, Jr. in Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew’s Brigade which was a part of Henry Heth’s Division of the Army of Northern Virginia. While the band did not participate in the fight personally, the members remained near the wagons at the campsite on Marsh Creek, preparing to aid the surgeons as needed.
Their comrades were engaged in the first day of fighting at McPherson’s Ridge against the Iron Brigade’s 24th Michigan Regiment. One of the band’s members, Julius Lineback, heard the cannonading in the morning and could distinctly hear the crash of small arms rise and fall after the regiment marched up the road toward Gettysburg. After noontime, the sounds of battle had picked up again and had increased to a sustained roar. Lineback tried to see the fight by climbing the high ridge to the rear of the creek campsite, but all he could see was smoke rising from the distant ridges. At about three o’clock, some of the regiment’s wounded hobbled back to the rear with reports from the battlefield. All Lineback could do was pray for his friends as he looked to the east where smoke from the battle was rising. On the first day, the 26th North Carolina suffered heavy causalities by losing Burgwyn and 588 out of 800 men but managed to force the 24th Michigan to retreat.
While the regiment was fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, Lineback and the rest of the 26th band helped treat the wounded at their campsite on Marsh Creek. Lineback made this account of his and the band’s actions at Gettysburg on July 2nd:
It was therefore with heavy hearts that we went about our duties caring for the wounded. We worked until 11 o’clock that night… At 3 o’clock [the next morning] I was up again at work. The second day [July 2nd] our regiment was not engaged [because causalities were so high], but we were busily occupied all day in our sad tasks [of caring for the wounded.] While thus engaged, in the afternoon we were sent…to play for the men, and thus, perhaps [to] cheer them somewhat… We accordingly went to the regiment and found men much more cheerful that we were ourselves. We played for sometime, the 11th N.C. Band playing with us, and the men cheered us lustily. Heavy cannonading was going on at the time, though not our in our immediate front. We learned afterwards, from Northern papers, that our playing had been heard across the lines and caused wonder that we should play while playing while fighting was going on around us. Some little while after we left, a bomb struck and exploded very close to the place where we had been standing, no doubt having been intended for us.
We got back to camp after dark and found many men in need of our attention. Some of those whom we had tried to care for during the day had died during our absence.
On July 2nd, the 26th’s band members were ordered to put aside their hospital chores and report to brigade headquarters. Lineback and other band members assumed that the “Gen’l was going to take their horns from them and give them muskets.” Dr. Lewellyn P. Warren, the regiment’s senior surgeon, sent bandleader Mickey to headquarters with a note excusing the musicians on grounds they could not be spared from the hospital. The bandsmen were not needed for combat but were needed to boost morale. Their orders were to get their instruments, join the 11th North Carolina band and inspire the battle-weary troops with martial music. The musicians were put to the test as both bands played tunes such as “Luto Quickstep,” “Louisa Polka,” “Cheer, Boys, Cheer,” “Old North State,” “Dixie,” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” The bands assembled themselves on the edge of the battlefield and gave an once-in-a-lifetime performance. Fighting had resumed elsewhere on the field, and the sounds of battle provided a dramatic background for the martial music. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observer, wrote in his diary, “When the cannonade was at its height a Confederate band of music, between the cemetery and ourselves, began to play polkas and waltzes, which sounded very curious, accompanied by the hissing and bursting of shells.”
The music was inspirational to the men of the 26th North Carolina as it raised spirits, provoked cheers and left some men with memory they would never forget. Lieutenant Thomas J. Cureton recalled, “[The music] was never done more faithfully…and with more effect. The writer until this day has never heard music that cheered him so. [The gloom] was soon entirely dispelled by the music and by 12 o’clock noon the command could raise a cheer.”
That night, the 26th’s band went back to the hospital to help cook for the wounded and, on July 3rd, they continued their job of treating the wounded comrades. While working, the band members heard about their regiment engaging in Pickett’s Charge and suffering a high number of casualties. Lineback recorded his impressions of the charge and the destruction:
About 1 o’clock p.m. Dan [Crouse] and I went to the wagons for more rations. These were a couple of miles nearer the field of battle than the hospital. While on the way the firing of cannon was resumed and soon became fearfully furious. The very ground seemed to quiver under our feet from the awful concussion from the many guns, and the bursting of bombs. This was at the time that celebrated charge was made by Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s commands, and was undoubtedly the heaviest and most terrific artillery firing that had ever been heard on the face of the earth, or perhaps that ever will be. It had been estimated that for about half an hour, one hundred guns per minute were fired. It was a terrible time, and the slaughter of human beings was terrific beyond description. Every field officer in our brigade was either killed or wounded; every captain in our regiment, except one, and every lieutenant but three.
The 26th’s band saw the destruction from Pickett’s Charge as they tried to treat their wounded the best as they could. Lineback described, “The yard, road and field were full of men, some who had been wounded in the first day’s fight, and received no attention. A good many had died here, and were still unburied. One man, that I particularly remember, was terrible to look at, having become bloated out of all human shape.”
The next day, the band members worked until Dr. Warren ordered them to accompany severely wounded soldiers to Winchester, Virginia. They did not want to leave the regiment, but they followed orders and left in the heavy rain. During those three days, the 26th band served as medics as well as musicians. As medics, the band members provided extra hands for surgeons to treat the wounded. As musicians, they provided support for soldiers who were on and off the battlefield. Even though the Confederates lost at Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina Band showed their support for their comrades.
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