Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fifers and Drummers in the American Revolution

The Spirit of 76

Artist Archibald Willard made fifers and drummers an American icon when he painted, “The Spirit of 76” in 1875.  Willard’s father Samuel was the model for the drummer.  The painting was originally known as “Yankee Doodle”.

Don Francisco - Fifer

During the American Revolution, armies used music to communicate over long distances.  In infantry units, the fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be easily heard at great distances even through the din of battle. Music gave instructions for advance or retreat and helped keep order on the battlefield.  Drummers would play beatings telling soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called “Cease Fire” that fifers and drummers played to instructs troops to stop firing.  Fifers and drummers were used to help regulate camp life as well. Fife and drum calls signaled the commencement of daily tasks such as waking up, eating meals, and performing camp chores.

Each company in an American infantry regiment during the Revolution (a full strength company was made up of 40 privates, 3 corporals, 1 ensign, 1 Lieutenant, and a Captain) would have had 1-2 fifers and 1-2 drummers.

Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?

A quick historical look at murder most foul in the Virginia of colonial times and the early Republic. Behind the facade of graceful mansions and quaint cobblestone streets evil lurks.

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