History of Field Music
Parading new recruits for the Confederacy. Woodstock, Virginia
Fifes and Drums had been used in European military service for centuries before finding their way to America with the first military occupations of the new colonies. After being used a great deal by both sides during the Revolutionary War, Fife and Drum Music, or “Field Music,” reached its pinnacle during the War Between the States with the most complicated and intricate arrangements. With the emergence of brass bands and bugles, the fifes and drums were eventually phased out of military service after 1865.
During the Civil War, however, Confederate and Union soldiers woke up, ate, marched, and went to bed to the sounds of fifes and drums. Each company was supposed to include two field musicians, usually a drummer and a fifer.
Despite the popular image of the “little drummer boy,” most field musicians were no younger than other soldiers. Service records for North Carolina musicians show ages ranging from 16 to 65 (plus only one 14-year-old whose father served with him as a musician).
Many regiments also had brass bands, but they were usually considered a special addition, playing for the more public events or for privileged shows and parades. The fifes and drums on the other hand, were considered the indespensable “workhorses” of military music and played the important role of the army’s public address system. The Field Music would play calls for Reveille, meals, fatigue duty, assembly, and lights out. They would perform for ceremonies such as dress parades, inspections, and raising and lowering the colors, in addition to boosting morale on the march. On the battlefield, musicians would often assist the medical staff and serve as stretcher bearers.
We, The Reenactors
The Carolina Fifes & Drums, as mentioned on our Home Page, is currently composed of members of the 26th NC Regiment, Reactivated. Though some faces are newer than others, and some are with us no more, we have been performing fife and drum music for nearly THIRTY YEARS. To date, our musician roster includes:
Bill Bynum - Principal Musician
Noah Raper - Chief Drummer
Usually, we have a volunteer DRUM MAJOR guiding our path-- most recently BILL ROBERTSON has filled this position, preceded by Raymond Robinson and the late Richard Sailey, a direct descendant of the drum major for the original 26th NC Regiment Brass Band.
We are not restricted to a Confederate Impression.
We will sometimes “swap sides,” dress in blue and perform as Union Field Music.
WHAT WE PLAY
Just like our Confederate ancestors, we borrow music from the original manuals of the time period published by Yankee sources. These manuals include:
THE DRUMMERS’ and FIFERS’ GUIDE, by George C. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett, New York, 1862.
U.S. REGULATION DRUM AND FIFE INSTRUCTOR, by Col. H.C. Hart, New York, 1862.
HOWE’S SCHOOL FOR THE FIFE, by Elias Howe, Jr., Boston, 1851.
ARMY REGULATIONS FOR DRUM, FIFE, AND BUGLE, by William Nevins, Chicago, 1861.
AMERICAN VETERAN FIFER, Civil War tunes collected by Union Army Veterans, 1905.
The Drums we play are rope-tensioned reproductions with longer-lasting synthetic heads and snares made to resemble the original calf-skin and animal gut parts of period drums. Our fifes are six-holed rosewood fifes tuned in the key of Bb. Most of the instruments we play were manufactured by COOPERMAN FIFE & DRUM COMPANY of Connecticut.
And Other Nitty-Gritty Details
1. To perform with the Carolina Fifes & Drums, each musician should be an official member of a Civil War reenactment organization, preferrably the 26th NC Regiment or sister unit in the Carolina Legion. Each musician must meet the rules and uniform requirements of their regiments.
2. In order to maintain an authentic impression of Civil War soldiers, field musicians should be males over the age of fourteen (14). Musicians under the age of fourteen may be allowed to perform on a case-by-case basis only, relating to his size and physical ability, musical knowledge and skills, and parental consent.
3. Each musician must be able to play a minimal requirement of tunes or cadences chosen and approved by the Principal Musician or Chief Drummer. Each musician’s instrument must meet specifications and sound quality as determined by the Principal Musician or Chief Drummer. Those musicians who do not meet these requirements shall not be allowed to play with the Carolina Fifes & Drums during public demonstrations.
Although some of these requirements might seem strict, it must be noted that we are not just a Fife & Drum Corps formed to play music, but members of a REENACTMENT UNIT that strives to LOOK AND SOUND the part of realistic Civil War Field Musicians from North Carolina.
Most of our performances are without pay, where we volunteer our time just like the other men in the ranks at reenactments and living history events across the United States. However, we are available to do special performances for public and private groups for a reasonable tax-deductible donation to our organization. Please visit the "Contact" page if you are interested in having the Carolina Fifes & Drums perform for your event.
LEFT: Drum used by a North Carolina Musician
RIGHT: Standard U.S. Regimental Drum