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Fife & Drum

by Sharon Myers

The year 2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This is the sixth in a series of columns that Tallmadge Express is publishing on the war.

Music and war do not seem to have any relation to modern-day observers. Music did, however, serve a vital function in the past. During the War of 1812, fifes and drums were used to give signals at camp, like the call to arms or while the infantry marched, the drummer and fifer set the cadence. During the marches the fifer improvised tunes. While the units rested, the drummers and fifers played music to entertain the soldiers.

Fifes and drums were mainly associated with infantry regiments. The fife is loud and piercing, yet small and portable. A band of fifes and drums could be heard up to three miles away over artillery fire, so they were useful for signaling on the battlefield.

Drummer boys were as young as nine years old. They faced the enemy with little more than a drum and a pair of sticks. A few were the first to fall in the line of duty. Some youngsters lied about their age and were enlisted with little scrutiny. Those who were clearly underage became drummers. The typical drummer boy was between 12 and 16 years old. They often had to clean up battle areas after confrontations. They carried wounded soldiers on stretchers and buried the dead. They often joined the army ranks when they got older. This reduced the need to find new, inexperienced soldiers to enlist.

Drummers played a vital role as they served as the primary means of communication between officers and men. The drummers' communication function was so important that they often had their own special uniforms.

The song "Yankee Doodle" was used as a victory cry when the Canadian squadron sailed away from its abortive attempt upon Sackets Harbor in July 1812, and probably at other times. At some point during the war, the Marines adopted the bugle into field music. Bugle-horns were much more like hunting horns than modern bugles are.

Summit County has a wealth of fifers and drummers buried in its cemeteries:

Thomas Gaylord was a Fifer under Captain Thomas Rice in the Ohio Militia. He was born April 24, 1782, in Connecticut and died in 1868. He married Betsy Butler and Isabel Rogers and had seven children. He is buried in Stow Cemetery.

Josiah Starr was a Drum Major under Major George Darrow in the Odd Battalion. He had militia training. He came to Ohio with an ox team with William Wetmore, Capt. Powers and Capt. Rice and their families and John Campbell in 1804. He is said to have cut the first tree used in a log house built by William Wetmore. He received a land warrant. He was born in Middletown, Middlesex, Conn. July 22, 1786, and died June 1, 1862. He married Mary Cannon and had seven children. He is buried in Maple Lawn Cemetery.

Mark Gibson was a Drummer under Capt. Samuel Stewart in the Ohio Militia. He was born Feb. 10, 1789, and died June 5, 1870. He is buried in Northfield Cemetery.

Henry Wilson was a Musician in the Ohio Militia under Capt. John Ferris. He is buried in Northfield Cemetery. Also in Northfield Cemetery, Henry Wood was a Fifer under Captain Amos Lusk in the Ohio Militia. He married Ester Cranmer. He was born 1789 in Connecticut and died Oct. 14, 1882.

And also buried in Northfield Cemetery is Hiram Munn who was a Drummer Boy at Sacket's Harbor. He came to Ohio in 1817. He was a carpenter and cabinet maker and a licensed minister. He was born Aug. 12, 1800, and died March 29, 1880. He married Esther Cranmer.

Stephen M. Palmer was a Fife Major in the 2nd Regiment Ohio Militia. A Fife Major was a noncommissioned officer responsible for the regiment's fifers. He was born April 28, 1789, in New London, Conn. and died Dec. 6, 1849. He married Sarah Stafford. He is buried in Middlebury Cemetery.

Robert Stimpson was a Fifer in the New York Militia Hopkin's 1st Regiment. He was born in 1800 in Massachusetts and died April 1, 1861. He is buried in Copley Cemetery.

Also, did you know, the symbol "Uncle Sam," has its roots all the way back to the War of 1812? Sam is pictured as a tall, thin man with white whiskers, wearing a top hat, blue jacket with tails, and red and white striped pants.

Samuel Wilson was a businessman in meat packing in Troy, N.Y. He slaughtered and packed meat for the government after war was declared against Great Britain in 1812. Meat was purchased by the government, packed in barrels and shipped to the soldiers. Wilson supplied huge amounts of property for the government with the simple markings, "U.S." His employees were asked the meaning of the initials, and someone suggested that it meant "Uncle Sam," or "Uncle Sam Wilson." The joke spread, and the initials "U.S." standing for "Uncle Sam," became a popular expression. The meat shipments stamped with "U.S." came to symbolize the federal government.

There will be a display of the War of 1812 at the Cuyahoga Falls Library during the month of June. Included in the display will be proclamations signed by mayors in Summit County proclaiming June 18, the day that war was declared, as Remembrance Day for the War of 1812.

Contact Sharon Myers, president, William Wetmore Chapter Daughters of 1812 at 330-794-5099.

 

Web hyperlinks to non-U.S.D. of 1812 sites are not the responsibility of the N.S.U.S.D. 1812, the state societies, or individual 1812 chapters.