Robert E. Lee once remarked that “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.” Lee was referencing the brass band of the 26th North Carolina Troops which serenaded the general several times during the war. Yet brass bands were not the only type of music encountered by Confederates during the war. There were the drum and fife corps, the brass bands, and the informal music encountered around the campfire.
Field Music – Kautz, in his Customs of Service (1864) hits the nail on the head when he writes “The law with regard to drum-majors is obscure.” That might be said of the enlistment of musicians as a whole. Confederate regulations state that those recruits “found to posses a natural talent for music, to be instructed (besides the drill of the soldier) on the fife, bugle, and drum… boys of twelve years of age and upward may…be enlisted for this purpose.” “Regiments will be furnished with field music on the requisitions of their commanders.” It would appear that most infantry regiments had a drum and fife corps, while artillery and cavalry commands had buglers. It would seem that the position was appointed from the ranks. And in most cases, there appears to be no more than a handful of musicians at any time. They were typically not boys. In the 16th North Carolina, there were 24 men listed as musicians; the youngest was 18 and the oldest 35. In the 18th North Carolina, there were some boys, (12-16 years old), but they were later discharged. These musicians were some of the hardest working men in the army. Everything was regulated by a drum call: there were calls for assembly, first sergeant’s call, reveille, retreat, tattoo. Drumbeats were used to keep step while on a march, set the pace for a double-quick march, signal a halt, and could be used in battle to command both skirmish lines and regular battle lines. Concerning the latter, it is seldom that we find reference to firing by drums during a battle. Bugle calls, especially for the cavalry, were far more useful.
|Brass band of the 26th North Carolina|
Brass Band – the band was different from the field music. It would almost seem that one regiment in a brigade (a brigade was typically composed of four to five regiments) would have a brass band. The purpose of the brass band was more to provide entertainment and as a morale boast, over the field music. Bands often performed in the evenings, serenading the men, and the generals. According to Oliver Lehman, a member of the band of the 33rd North Carolina Troops/Lane’s brigade, the brass band played every morning at nine for guard mounting duty, at dress parade about sunset, and for reviews. Also, when the weather was favorable, the band played for an hour every evening. Many of these bandsmen were “professional” musicians. Lehman came from the same Moravian community that produced members of the band for the 26th North Carolina.
Camp Fire Music – the various states and communities across the continent were a musical people. People sang at home, at taverns, at churches. And the soldiers brought that musical heritage with them. They sang church songs, and tavern songs, and quite a few made-up songs themselves. Fiddles, fifes, and maybe a banjo or guitar were commonly employed. Soldiers spent an enormous amount of time in camp, and the scratch of a fiddle could be heard many evenings as the soldiers sang about the war, about home, about loved ones they had not seen in months or years. At times, musicians would form bands and put on concerts and minstrel shows for their fellow soldiers. A couple of songs, like “Home Sweet Home” and “Lorena” made some soldiers so home sick that it was rumored they were banned from camp. Probably the most famous musician in the Confederate army was Sam Sweeny, one of three musician brothers well-known before the war. Sweeny was on the staff of JEB Stuart, following the general around and plucking tunes on his banjo.
|Sam Sweeny playing banjo in camp.|
All of these types of music could boost morale among the soldiers. Writing from Florence, Alabama, November 17, 1864, Captain Thomas J. Key, 28th Battalion Georgia Artillery, wrote that “The whole earth resounded and echoed with music this morning before the rising of the sun. Band after band commingled their soft and impressive notes, melting the hearts of some and buoying up the spirits of others.” Many could probably join with Captain Key, extolling the virtues of a well-played song in camp, on the march, or in battle.
 Clark, NC Troops, 2:399
 Kautz, Customs of Service, 76
 Confederate Regulations, 393.
 O. J. Lehman, "Reminiscences of the War Between the States." 1862 to 1865." The Union Republican, October 19, 1922.
 Cate, Two Soldiers: The Campaign Diaries of Thomas J. Key, CSA, December 7, 1863-May 17, 1865, and Robert J. Campbell, USA, January 1, 1864-July 21, 1864, 150.