Civil War Drums

Minolta DSC

Regular visitors to this blog may recall that I have posted before on the history of the drummer boy. As a Civil War and American Revolution author and historian I relish the opportunity to combine both of my interests. (See past posts on the subject: Major A.H. JohnsonHistory of Drummer BoysThe Long RollOnline Photograph CollectionDrummer BoyCivil War RudimentsRevolutionary Drummers)

Today I want to shift my focus one step further and look at the actual drums that were used during the American Civil War. Drums were made primarily in the important industrialized centers of the Northeast: Boston, New York and Philadelphia. There were no standards for drum construction but the vast majority of them measured 15”-16” in diameter and were 10”-12” deep. The shells were usually made of ash, maple or similar plyable woods. Wooden hoops were used to reinforce the drum which was “tuned” by adjusting ropes that crisscrossed around the shell and provided tension on calfskin or sheepskin heads. The four strand snare was constructed from a bronze hoop-mounted strainer with a leather anchor. Each drum featured a custom paintjob that made them ornamental. According to DRUM magazine:

The crowning glory of many of these drums was their hand-painted decorations. Normally the drummer boy would receive his drum with the painting on the shell of the drum. Although there were no standards, a blue background was designated for an infantry unit, while a red background signified artillery. An American bald eagle most commonly emblazoned the Federal Army drums but sometimes the Confederates used it as well. Federal drums were also decorated with 13 stars for each of their 13 states. Confederate states were represented with 11 stars. With these beautiful decorations, it is no wonder that these drums were treasured long after the passionate sentiment of America’s bloodiest battle had abated.

Although most drums from that era are preserved in museums, Civil War drums still exist on the market as antiques. One can expect to pay up to $7,500+ for one in good condition. A quick look on eBay reveals the high cost for original drums. Regardless, to own an original Civil War drum is to possess a piece of history.

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