09 September 2011

Sepia Saturday 91: Musicians in the US Civil War

Ambulance Corps Method Removing Wounded from the Field, LOC LC-B811-1078

This photograph was taken from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, LC-B811-1078.  The photograph was taken by William Frank Browne. 

Many of my ancestors served on one or the other side of the US Civil War.  Two of them served as musicians for at least a portion of their duty, Henry Clay Warwick (1843-1875) and Richard Manchester (1837-1903).

Initially I thought serving in the military band would be light duty but these notions were quickly disabused.  While bands played in ceremonies, parades and special concerts, they also played to rally the troops as they marched into battle.  Participation of bands in battles varied by brigade. In some instances, they accompanied the soldiers into battle and even played patriotic music during the battle while in a forward position!

In other brigades, musicians supported the medical staff.  They set up field hospitals before battles and helped transport and care for the wounded afterwards.  Richard Manchester likely served in this later capacity as he became a hospital nurse when injury removed him from active duty.  The drum in this photograph immediately caught my eye as similar to the one Richard played.

There are many individual dramas being played out in the photograph. The man behind the drum appears to have succumbed to his injures as have the two gentlemen lying in the foreground.

Another man reclines against an officer and takes in the scene in before him.  The relief on both their faces is evident.  The officer almost appears to be smiling.  Perhaps they are heartened by the sight of another officer being helped to a drink.

An officer directs the movement of the litters into the wagon - the bottle of medicinal whiskey clearly visible inside.  Is the officer asking for a swig?  Another stands by his sword at his side, head bowed, jaw tightened.

The lucky few were loaded onto litters to face an uncertain destiny.  Infection was rampant and took many soldiers who survived the battle.

At the beginning of the battle, it was the officers and musicians and again at the end of the day we see the officers and musicians tending to the wounded.  Deciding who could be helped, tending their wounds and then returning to camp to, perhaps, sleep a few hours.  The next day the cycle would all begin again ....  

Soldier Awaiting Transport

Leg Splint

Sepia Saturday challenges us to meet a theme each week and when we can't, then we open our grab bag.  I was ready to reach into the bag when I ran across this picture.  This week's challenge was, more or less, 'A Picture Tells a Thousand Words' or whatever theme you might see in the photo.  Thanks to Brett for the idea of making 'take-outs' of the photo.  It really helps to see the individual components of a complex photo. There are many more entries and interesting variations on the theme at Sepia Saturday 91.
Background:  Perhaps the Encampment?


  1. You've delved into this photograph in such depth, Liz, that I've learnt a great deal about the subject, from what was already an interesting shot before you started the deconstruction. I am intrigued by so much:
    - the turban-like headgear being worn by the ambulance crew; a couple of the injured also wear them. Are they Zouaves? (well, that question is answered by this link)
    - the possibility that at least some of the injured might have been posed (see the caption to the photo in the above link)
    - the stretchers which look little more than reinforced boards

    Thank you for yet another topic to get severely distracted by.

  2. Brett,
    You are right that they were Zouaves. That is what led me to the photograph in the first place. It is possible that the photo was a demonstration photo. The LOC dates the photo from 1861-1869. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003004579/PP/ I don't know the source of the Wiki caption.

    I first ran across this photo in 2004 and was fortunate to stumble on it for the theme this week! It was originally posted under a different title so evidently more has been learned about it.

    Researching medicine in the Civil War is a fascinating topic. There were so many advances made and yet, so many lives were still lost. And then there are the Zoaves, and the uniforms and the musicians....

    I hope I haven't driven you to too much distraction!

  3. Yes you have, terribly, I love it :)

  4. What an amazing photo and such a great amount of information for each shot. You say this is from your grab bag...but Alan will believe it's filled with action, and action is one of his points in his theme photo..so outstanding work!

  5. There’s so much to see in this picture, and it meets the 'picture telling a thousand words’ admirably. By a demonstration photo, do you mean the scene was staged? There is a tiny feeling that it is, as many war photographs and moving film were in the early days, the better to tell the story. Well done on a fascinating post.

  6. That picture really shows a lot. I didn't realize that the drummers were so much a part of the action.

  7. Little Nell, as a demonstration photo it could either be a demonstration conducted for senior military officials or for the public. The Wiki entry on Zouaves captioned this photo as a demonstration but gave no source of the caption.

    After Brett's comment, I added the background which sure looks like a military encampment. I'd be inclined to think it was taken during the war as a demo for officers. Note that the carnage is very isolated to the area around the carriage. But, this could have been the last stop of the day so ....

  8. A very interesting post. Staged or not the photo gives us an insight to what went on. I've learned a lot from your deconstruction.

  9. I knew from history that the marching bands really were part of the battles. You did a great deal of research here and it was so worth reading and learning so much more.

  10. I always think of Sepia Saturday as being a bit like a magazine it which you find fascinating articles which can take you through a variety of subjects. Your post this week is a perfect example - as I read it I find myself instructed and fascinated. What a perfect example of creative dissection of an image.

  11. I love how you analyzed this photo in such detail. I had no idea that the role of the musicians was so extensive. How frightening for them.

  12. This looks like a staged photo. I do remember reading many photos from the Civil War were. They'd redress the dead in a different uniform. Of course, this info might be wrong. These days they'd just use Photoshop. Sort of proves that all along you couldn't really trust photographs for their truthfulness.

    I've always found it fascinating that some went to battle with just musical instruments. Or those who were the standard-bearer. As they were shot someone else would pick up the flag and continue on. I wonder if this was true for the drummers?

  13. This was just fantastic! I love how you used cutouts from the main pic tell the story.

  14. much like flag bearers, they may have been an easy target, and demoralizing for their troop when shut.


  15. Wow! Thanks for breathing so much life into this photo. I really enjoyed it.

  16. Fantastic! Richard and Henry would be pleased to be so remembered.

    There were two kinds of musicians: bandsmen served in regimental bands and played for parades, ceremonies etc.; and field musicians who played the bugles, drums, and fifes used for signaling orders. Imagine the chaos of 19th century warfare and you'll understand the need for special noise that ordered the movement of troops to advance, retreat, etc.

    The regimental bands were part of the flurry of volunteer units at the start of the war in 1861. Once everyone realized that this would be a protracted and costly conflict, Congress cut back the expense for music, and all the volunteer bands were mustered out in August 1862, limiting musicians to field music and regular army bands. Both kinds of musicians did auxiliary work as stretcher bearers or what we would call medical orderly, though incredibly unsophisticated by modern standards. Quite a few musicians won the medal of honor, too.

    Zouaves were one of those quirks of fashions, and there were bands and soldiers from both North and South who sported the French colonial style uniform, due in part to the popularity of France and the extravagant 2nd Empire of Napoleon III, and a connection to French/French Canadian heritage of various units. They were the exception to regular army uniforms though.

    Thank you also for your wonderful link to the Cincinnati Library archives. I have updated my blog-post on steamboats to include several of their excellent photos.

  17. Liz,
    Your blog is absolutely wonderful! It's almost like you've been blogging for years and not a relative newcomer. I look forward to reading your posts, especially since we have our Cincinnati roots to share. Congratulations!

  18. @Mike
    Thank you for the additional background information. I hope to do a more detailed post on both musicians at a later time. You know how research is ... always a work in progress!

    Richard was likely a field musician and Henry probably played in the regimental band. As you say, in 1862 most brass bands were dismissed and smaller brigade bands were formed. The number of musicians in the war dropped dramatically as there were fewer bands and those that remained were smaller.

    Henry re-enlisted November 1863 and was detailed to the brass band. At this point, it was most likely a brigade band. From January-June 1864, he was on detached service with the brigade band.

    There photographs of the 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The one I found has only 16 band members so it likely dates from after 1862. It may include Henry but positive identification hasn't been made and the research continues ....

    Thank you for the fantastic story! I didn't count but was it 1000 words?! The steamboats are in a Wiki that is open for public contribution. I'm sure they would love any contributions you might make to their Wiki.

  19. @Kathy
    Thanks for all your encouragement. Reading your blog was a great example to follow on blogging! I still have a lot to learn - best photo sizes, etc. But, it is a fun learning curve.

  20. When I first see a picture like this, I'm inclined to glance and assume I've taken it all in. Then to have it shown to me in such a way, so much more comes to light!

  21. Very intriguing picture! I love your croppings. It looks a bit staged to me as well, but that doesn't really matter.


Comments welcome!