U.S. Mounted Bands and Cavalry Field Musicians in the Union Army during the Civil War-Background, Duties, and Training

Article excerpt

Introduction

Military music is a key component in the global history of instrumental music, and while hundreds of military bands still exist throughout the world, the last century has seen the wind band tradition shift from its military origins to an increase of community bands in Europe, as well as school, college, and university bands in North America. Modern concert and marching bands are direct descendents of military bands in terms of instruments, instrument development, repertoire, and pageantry. Part of this convention rests within the mounted tradition when trumpet and drum signals were crucial for cavalries within European armies--especially after the advent of gunpowder, when something louder than the human voice was needed for communication on the battlefield. These signalers, as well as the Saracen model of horse- and camel-mounted musicians playing hautbois (shawm-like instruments--predecessors of today's oboe), kettledrums, trumpets, and other horns in processions, ceremonies, and battle movements, served as the basis for mounted bands in Europe.

While the mounted band tradition had been introduced to Europe through the Crusades-probably by the French-the practice caught on initially in the areas of Hungary and Austria, where it was reinforced through repeated connections in war with the Ottoman Turks. (1) Mounted bands of trumpeters and kettledrummers had become common in the trains of artillery and cavalry in Europe when moving to and from battle, with musicians gathering from individual units at the heads of trains to serve as an impetus on the march, as well as to provide a noble presence at and away from court.

Capitalizing on this centuries-old custom, which had originally been reserved for nobility, the U.S. Cavalry employed horse-mounted bands for roughly a century, at least from the 1840s until World War II. The purpose of the present study is to chronicle the function and training of U.S. horse-mounted field musicians and bands through the time of the Civil War, with the intent of illustrating one aspect of the predecessors of present-day school bands.

American music education in the 1860s was a far cry from that of the following century. It was not yet thirty years past the time of Lowell Mason's work in Boston. Luther Whiting Mason served in the Civil War and had not yet made a name for himself with the National Music Course, and the school band and orchestra movements were still several decades away. Professional and amateur music-making, however, was abundant in many areas across the country, with vocal and instrumental instruction being provided by private teachers, singing schools, and on-the-job training. Professional orchestras like the Philharmonic Society of New York had been in existence since 1842; the Boston Handel and Haydn Society was a half-century old, and town bands were thriving even in rural areas across the country. Within this context, the period of the Civil War propelled bands further into the popular mainstream with bands playing at recruitment rallies and troop farewells, and within most of the major campaigns.

While several individuals, including Custer himself, mentioned mounted bands and field musicians in memoirs and other chronicles, it is the intent of this study to add to the body of knowledge of band history and document the rich heritage of contemporary band music education and performance practices by gathering these accounts, letters, and narratives into a single record.

U.S. Military Music Background

While a detailed history of military bands is outside the parameters of this study, a brief review of bands leading up to those of the Civil War warrants mention, as does making a distinction between field musicians and band musicians, who had different duties and were regarded separately.

U.S. Military Band History

As direct descendents with strong British and Continental ties, military bands in the American colonies stemmed from their European roots in instrumentation. …