A Different Drum

By Carlee Harbaugh, Curator, Historical Society of Frederick County | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.07.15 – History, Timepiece

The function of music in battle has been a means of communication and a symbol of hope. During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union infantries used drums to command men into battle, give them the courage to fight for their cause and to alarm the approaching enemy.

The City of Frederick saw and heard its share of drums during the Civil War. Because of its location, Frederick acted as a hub during the battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Gettysburg. Residents frequently gave up buildings, land and supplies for both sides to use, as armies moved in and out of Maryland.

The Civil War is sometimes known as “The Boys’ War” when teenagers often served as drummers. Through a series of beats on the drum, soldiers were able to communicate with the officers if separated in the confusion of battle. They learned which drum roll meant “meet here” or which series of beats meant “retreat” or “fire.”  These drums gave soldiers courage as they followed the steady sounds onto the field.

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point in the Civil War and during its aftermath this drum was left behind on the Frederick County property of Wilson Martz as the Army of the Potomac marched in pursuit of the retreating Army of Northern Virginia. The Martz family kept the drum until it was donated to the Frederick County Historical Society.

As we recognize the anniversary of our nation’s independence, drums are a constant attendant to gatherings and reenactments. They remind us of the courage of soldiers who used the martial beat to win (and re-win) America.