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Bugles and Bugling prior to the Civil War

Trumpet Scale verses “Bugle” Scale

Historically, music for the trumpet and bugle were written in two different scales. The trumpet notation was one octave lower than the bugle notation. The trumpet notation can be easily recognized in any classical symphony trumpet part and in the notation for cavalry trumpets pitched in E flat and D. Both British and French notated their trumpet music using the “Trumpet” Scale and also so did the United States when they incorporated the music written. Original publications of music in the old trumpet scale for the United States can be found between 1813 and 1839. In some cases the same trumpet scale pates were reprinted into manuals through 1861. Randy Rach, in his “The Music Imprints Bibliography of Field Bugle and Field Trumpet Calls Signals and Quicksteps for the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps 1812-1991” notes on the history of the scales that that the US cavalry changed from the Trumpet to the Bugle scale in 1841 and that the writers were familiar with the old scale notation and quoted: “To economize space, the music is written an Octave higher than the trumpet scale and is adjusted to the bugle scale.”

Much more was done to Cavalry calls than just writing them an Octave higher. Many were actually changed so the call would fit better if played on a Bugle or a cavalry trumpet pitched in the key of G. Why??

1.  I believe the United States started using G trumpets in the 1840s in the Cavalry. Indeed, the first known regulation or “pattern” bugle incorporated by the U.S. military appeared around 1835. This instrument had a large single coil copper bugle in the key of “C.” By 1861, there were three basic regulation patterns specified for trumpets and bugles, a large “C” bugle with our without “B-flat” tuning crook, a “G” trumpet and an “F” trumpet. There were many variations of these instruments and until the end of the 19th century, the United States used various types of trumpets and bugles pitched in a variety of keys!

Clairon (bugle) in C with crook to lower into B Flat
Trumpet in G

2.  The music in the manual is notated as music for Trumpet OR Bugle leading on to speculate that it did not matter what type of instrument was used to sound the signal or in some cases, the writers may not have known the difference.

This confusion of trumpet versus bugle in the United States military does not get any easier in the years following. From the U.S. Army Military History Institute Aug 84 “Bugles A Working Bibliography“:

“During the late 19th century, some interchangeability or possible confusion existed in terminology or definition of trumpets and bugles.  For example, Army Regulations, 1863 (Paragraph 232) cites drum and trumpet signals (no bugles mentioned), while the War Dept’s Cavalry Tactics, 1864 (UE160A5) contains a section of music notes entitled “Bugle Signals.” Although the first 1867 edition of Upton’s Tactics for infantry contains a section entitled bugle music, the 1874 edition changed the section title to “Trumpet Signals–Infantry.”  Thus, trumpets for infantry and bugles for cavalry seemingly reverse the previous arrangement.  Adding to the apparent confusion is War Dept General Order 48 of 1877 (mentioned previously as the first post-Civil War reference specifically to bugles), which directed the Quartermaster’s Department to “supply bugles to foot troops, in addition to drums and fifes.” Five years later, GO 12 (21 Jan 1882) directed that issues for field music should be confined to “trumpets, drums, and fifes” (no bugles!). Furthermore, the order authorized the “F” trumpet with a “C” crook for mounted troops and the same trumpet without crook for foot troops.  Although AR1889 confirmed the trumpets-only situation, amendments soon appeared in GOs 9 & 35 of 1892 to furnish “small brass Bb bugle” for light artillery.  No change in this pattern of crooked trumpets for cavalry, trumpets for infantry, and bugles for light artillery was found through 1910. Incidentally, if the Army’s orders and regulations in fact were followed, does this mean that the popular 20th century image of a cavalry charge could be erroneous?  No bugles sounded “Charge.” Trumpets did.”

In 1861 the calls were found in four manuals of the times

Naval Service

Generally the Infantry used the calls adopted from the French Infantry, the cavalry were a mixture of French Cavalry and the Artillery used some of the Cavalry signals adapted to their own usage. The American Civil War proved to be the zenith for bugle and trumpet call usage. To be sure over 50 calls in the Infantry and over 30 each in the cavalry and artillery. The 1860 manuals of Casey and Hardee present instructions for the Chief Bugler and Drum Major, provide music for beats of the drum and fife and music for 25 general bugle calls and 23 calls for skirmishers

1861 Light Infantry Tactics Hardee

After the war, attempts to once again revise the military tactics brought new manuals. General Emory Upton was instrumental in bringing about new set of Tactics based on lessons learned during the Civil War. In 1867 a new manual is introduced with most of the older calls but changing a few signals like Assembly, The Charge and Retreat, which was taken from the Cavalry manuals.  Uptons’s manual undergoes many editions between 1867 and 1874. In 1874 under the guidance of General Truman Seymore, the calls from all services are combined into one system. Most of the French calls are eliminated and new calls are introduced. Familiar ones we know today-Attention, Adjutant’s Call, To arms, Flourishes, Generals March, To the Color, are but a few signals added into a new system of calls making them at last truly American, although the vestiges of British and French class are still evident in some of our calls like Assembly (French) and the modern Tattoo which has it’s roots in British and Prussian calls.

1874 Infantry Tactics Emory Upton

Regulations and specifications for bugles and trumpets were written in 1865, 1879, 1892 and 1894


-Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments-Their History and Development, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1981)
-Raoul Camus,  Military Music of The American Revolution, (Integrity Press, Westerville, Ohio, 1975)
-Allan J. Ferguson, Trumpets, Bugles and Horns in North America 1750-1815, (Military Historian & Collector Vol. XXXVI, Spring 1984)
-Randy Rach, The Music Imprints Bibliography of Field Bugle and Field Trumpet Calls, Signals, and Quicksteps for the United States Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps 1809-1991, 3d revised edition  (Hartford, MI: Field Music Books, 2000)
-John Ress, “Bugle Horns, “Conk Shells” and “Signals by Drum”: Miscellaneous Notes on Instruments during the American War for Independence. Published in The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), vol. XXVI, no. 4 (Winter 1996), 13-15.
-Bernardus Swartout, 2nd New York Regiment, Diary 10 November 1777 to 9 June 1783; Bernardus Swartout Papers; New York Historical Society,
-General orders, 24 August 1779, Order Book of Lt. Col. Francis Barber, 26 May 1779 to 6 September 1779, Louise Welles Murray, ed., Notes from Craft Collection in Tioga Point Museum on the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, (Athens, Pa., 1929), p. 81
-Curt Sachs, Musical Instruments, (W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.)
-Stanley Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music And Musicians, (Macmillan Publishers LTD, London, 1980)
-USAMHI, Music-Bugles A Working Bibliography, (Reference Branch dv Dec 87

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