As morning broke shadows awoke from their twilight slumber and began to stretch their limbs in acknowledgment of the recurring day. Below in the valley, an army was also just beginning to stir. Many soldiers however, did not share nature’s sentiments in welcoming back another sunrise. Exhausted, homesick and terribly traumatized by the horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield, the promise of another day was nothing more than prolonged suffering. After all, weeks had turned into months, months had turned into years, and no end appeared in sight. Many felt as if they had been on campaign forever. Most were only able to find a sense of peace and comfort while sleeping. That is, when they could sleep.
Looking more dead than alive, they were now faded memories of the vibrant men they had once been. Long gone was the patriotism and thrill of recruitment parades and brand new uniforms. No longer were they believers in the promise of adventure or the romance of war. Emerging from their weathered tents, some struck fires as the smell of stale coffee began to permeate the air. The gentle sounds of the surrounding countryside gave way to the neighing of irritated horses. As they began their daily rituals, muskets were inspected, swords were sheathed and once pristine jackets were pulled on over dirty white shirts and tattered suspenders.
The stillness of the morning was broken by the sound of a long roll acting as reveille calling the men to attention. Ironically it was the responsibility of boys to command these men to muster. Boys who had marched off to participate in a man’s conflict. The army relied on the services of these boys as musicians and as communicators. Just like their counterparts, they were regulars. Military divisions had multiple drummers spread throughout their ranks. They suffered the same hardships as the men.
Whether playing a monotonous cadence to keep men moving while on long marches, long rolls to call men to assemble in the mornings, or booming signals to communicate for their officers on the battlefield the skill at which the drummers played was far too often overlooked. Drummer boys during the Civil War were required to play 26 rudiments. The courage at which this had to be done was also neglected as the youthful age of these boys paled in comparison to the men they served. The precarious risk at which they put themselves in was often equal to that of their elders and when they were not acting in the role of musician they served as stretcher bearers witnessing firsthand the horrors of war and the carnage it inflicted on those who fell.
As rows of anxious soldiers took the field drummers played the Call to Battle to keep them assembling and in step. Lining up the rank and file the daring infantry waited for the signal to move forward. Standing by the officers on the field the drummer boys managed to maintain their composure despite their obvious fear and provide critical communications to gesture movement. The scent of smoke filled the air and permeated their already dusty clothes. Once fully engaged they often moved to the rear, exchanging their drums for makeshift stretchers. From then on they struggled to maintain their composure as they carried their bloody comrades off the field. Perhaps that was their greatest challenge of all. Whether drumming on the march or bearing the wounded these courageous boys quickly grew up in a man’s war. They had to.
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