Instruments of War: A Canadian Musician in a Rhode Island Regiment

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

Canada! America’s hat! Our friendly little brother to the north. The home of hockey and Tim Horton’s and your home, too, when that other political party elects their crazy candidate. All jokes aside, the United States has long had a close relationship with our northern neighbor, and the Civil War proved no exception. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Canadians fought during the war, typically on the side of the Union due to their geographic proximity and cultural sympathies. Of that number, approximately 5,000 were killed.

Of course, not all Canadians who partook in the war were there to fight. Among the number who volunteered in the Union army was a young musician by the name of Calixa Lavallée, who some two decades after the war became responsible for one of the most enduring symbols of Canada (at least as we perceive it here in the United States): the music of their national anthem, “O Canada.” Born in Quebec to parents of French descent, he was only sixteen when he traveled to the United States for the first time to join a traveling minstrel show based out of Rhode Island. Already an extremely versatile musician, he journeyed across the politically-tense nation to cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York to perform on tour. On 19 January, 1861, Lavallée and his troupe were in Atlanta when Georgia seceded from the Union.

Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.
Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

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From Playing Music to Healing the Wounded: The 26th North Carolina Infantry Band’s Role in the Battle of Gettysburg

Click on the arrow to hear the musicMusic 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 a…

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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.)

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