Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And the band played...

I had a great question on Monday night while speaking in Thomasville - did the band of the 26th NCT stand and play "Nearer My God to Thee" on July 3 as the Confederate troops fell back after the failed Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge. I could not remember at the time, so I came home and looked it up and I thought I would share what I found.

My first go-to place was my own book - North Carolina Remembers Gettysburg. There is a post-war story from Samuel T. Mickey, who served as chief musician of the band of the 26th North Carolina from November 1, 1862, until captured at Amelia Court House on April 4, 1865. Mickey wrote:"I will say that on the second day of July, the Twenty-sixth and Eleventh bands were ordered to the front to play for our brigade, as they formed to go into action. Both bands consolidated and played until we were ordered to stop and return to the hospital." (Charlotte Observer, September 23, 1894)

Next, I turned my attention to Rod Gragg's Covered with Glory. He also mentions the 26th's band playing on July 2, with the band of the 11th NCST.  "Rousing tunes like 'Luto Quickstep,' 'Louisa Polka,' 'Cheer, Boys, Cheer,' 'Old North State,' 'Dixie,' and 'The Bonnie Blue Flag' were among the repertory." (148) However, there is no mention of the band playing after the charge.

Craig Chapman's More Terrible than Victory, a history of the 11th North Carolina Troops, came next. Chapman included this about July2: "During the afternoon, the 11th and 26th regimental bands entertained the troops with patriotic tunes. The melodies of 'God Save the South' and 'When this cruel War is Over' soothed the men and cheered them a bit." (102) There was no mention of a band playing afterwards.

In an essay entitled "'Tha Kill so Meny of us': The Twenty-sixth North Carolina at Gettysburg" by Greg Mast, which appeared in Company Front in 2008, we find that the regiment band of the 26th NCT was "Ordered to get their horns and play-and it was never done more faithfully all day long-and with more effect and the writer till this day has never heard such music that cheered him so-a gloom had settled over the entire regiment at the loss of comrades and friends... but it was soon entirely dispelled by the music and by 12 o'clock noon the command could raise a cheer." (17)

Assistant Surgeon George C. Underwood of the 26th North Carolina Troops, wrote in Volume II of Clark's North Carolina Regiments concerning the second day of the battle: "The regimental band (Captain Mickey's band) was ordered to play inspiring music to cheer the soldiers, whose spirits were depressed at the loss of so many of their comrades..." (362)

While I looked at several other sources (like Coddington) for information regarding the 26th NCT, I found not much to add. One final place I searched was Steven Cornelius's Music of the Civil War Era. Cornelius quotes Julius A. Leinbach, a member of the band of the 26th NCT: "It was therefore with heavy hearts that we went about our duties caring for the wounded. We worked until 11 o'clock that night... At 3 o'clock [the next morning] I was up again and at work. The second day out regiment was not engaged [because casualties were so high], but we were busily occupied all day in our sad task [of caring for the wounded]. While thus engaged, in the afternoon we were sent... to play for the men, and thus, perhaps, [to] cheer them somewhat... We accordingly went to the regiment and found the men much more cheerful than we were ourselves. We played for some time, the 11th NC Band playing with us, and the men cheered us lustily. Heavy cannonading was going on at the time, though not in our immediate front. We learned afterwards, from Northern papers, that our playing had been heard across the lines and caused wonder that we should play while fighting was going on around us. Some little while after we left, a bomb struck and exploded very close to the place where we had been standing, no doubt having been intended for us. " (206-207)

Based upon the above, I have concluded that the band of the 26th NCT was not the band playing on July 3 while the Confederates retreated. However, Cornelius adds this in the next paragraph:  "Terrible to imagine, but also infinitely moving, is the performance by the Confederate band playing Lowell Mason's hymn "Nearer My God To Thee" as the grim survivors of Pickett's Charge fell back into their lines following the failed attack." Not sure about his source on this one.

Have you heard this story before? Do you have a source for which Confederate band played this tune?

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