Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Music at Camp Pierpont

My post from a few weeks ago got me thinking about the role of music during the Civil War.  The soldiers of the Pennsylvania Reserves, like many others, passed the time in camp by listening to popular tunes and singing songs. Their long stay at Camp Pierpont around Langley, Virginia provided plenty of opportunities.  Letters written by members of the division reveal a lively bunch.  E. de W. Breneman of Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves didn't let the "very, very cold night in Virginia" get him down, even though "[t]he wind is howling through the trees, and threatening destruction to all it may come in contact with."  As he told the Lancaster Express in an October 24, 1861 letter, "All is cheerful in Camp – some of the men are now singing 'Gay and Happy,' in groups; others 'Be kind to the loved ones at Home,' others, 'The Home I left behind me.'"

"Songs of War," by Winslow Homer, Harper's Weekly, November 23, 1861 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)

Others enjoyed the entertainment offered by regimental bands. In October 1861, an anonymous soldier in Company A, 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, was relieved that "[o]ur Brass Band which was impatiently looked for during the past month has arrived in camp."  He noted that the band, led by a Professor Filer, "discourses much excellent music."  The self-styled "Typo Warrior," of Company A, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves, put it best when he wrote to the Shippensburg News on October 17, 1861:
Now that we have a band, the twilight hours are whiled delightfully away. Dixie, Wait for the Wagon, Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel, and Home Sweet Home, are among the pieces generally selected by the men, with an occasional air from La Travita [sic], Norms or some flashy polka masourka, making altogether a mélange of eleven pieces, and executed in a manner worthy of an older organization. The fact is the men work hard every day. What time between picket and guard duty, wood chopping, and erecting fortifications (which takes a large number of our men daily), digging and ramming, the poor fellows return to their quarters completely tired out, and are entitled to some entertainment in the evening, if it be only till taps.

All letters courtesy of the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps Historical Society.

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