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This is a photo of the Elmira Cornet Band, Thirty-third Regiment of the New York State Volunteers taken in July 1861, sourced to the amazing collection of photos at the Library of Congress.

 photo Elmira Cornet Band Thirty-third Regiment of the New York State Volunteers July 1861.jpg

Bands were important to the morale of soldiers serving in the Civil War. Militia bands were very highly valued by the local militias as they participated in musters, ceremonies and parades and were useful in recruiting soldiers. As state and local militias were mustered into service they naturally brought along their bands. Within a few months of the start of the war, Congress authorized the creation of Regimental bands for the Regular Army.

The Confederacy also had military bands of its own. My great great grandfather, James Henry Balding, served as a musician in the 15th Regiment, Arkansas Infantry (Josey's). On 6 Aug 1862, by order of Brig General Cleburne, he was detailed to Polk's Brigade Band. I've not been able to find out what musical instrument(s) he played, and our family lore hasn't included any stories about his service in the war. Most of the time, musicians were noncombatants.

This is a Sepia Saturday post. Head over there for more interesting vintage images and postcards.

Sepia Saturday

Date: 2016-06-30 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great photo. I'm surprised at the black band member. They didn't mix races in other parts of the military at that time did they? The black member doesn't have epaulettes on his uniform which looks too big and he isn't wearing the same pants as the rest of them. Perhaps he was a last minute addition. I wonder why they have him front and center in that lounging position?

Date: 2016-06-30 06:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Fascinating to see such an early photograph and to read of your own family's connection with a military band.

Date: 2016-07-01 03:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not sure how your comments work here, so I hope hitting reply works.. Very interesting photo, and also that your Confederate ancestor also was in a band.

Date: 2016-07-01 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm not sure but it looks like the lounging black fellow is holding something - perhaps a baton? It's not impossible to believe he might have been the director of the band. I like that idea better than any other. :)

Date: 2016-07-02 11:41 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I can understand why music would be so important for raising the morale of the fighting men. An interesting photo which has raised some serious and equally interesting questions.

Date: 2016-07-02 11:46 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Great old photograph. Did the bandsmen also fight as well as play to increase morale?

Date: 2016-07-03 03:12 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The regimental bands proved too expensive once the US Congress(i.e.Union) realized this would be a long war, and all the volunteer bands were mustered out in July 1862. Most bands hardly served more than a few months. Your grandfatherX2 probably reenlisted as a field musician, which was a different rating than bandsman, and played either bugle or drums. These were important signalmen on the battlefield where only the clatter of drums or blare of bugles could be heard above the confusion of gun smoke and noise. The black bandsman was likely a freeman who acted as a mascot for this Union band. He may have been a drummer too, useful to add a bit of flash for the band.


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Dee Burris Blakley

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