The history of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band is one of a remarkable story of a group of musicians. They were an organization of intelligent and skilled brass players who were religious men from the Moravian community in Salem North Carolina. The Moravians were a small group of Christians that originally formed in 1457, prior to the Protestant Reformation, who settled in the United States in the 18th and early 19th century. Music was and is still today an important part of everyday life. Moravians settlers brought with them from Europe a rich musical culture, especially the German tradition of amateur musical organizations.
The original Salem town band was probably a trombone choir playing traditional hymns for church services. In the early part of the 19th century it had a number of woodwinds in the band and by the mid 1850s valved instruments replaced the trombones and winds. What music did they play? First and foremost was the music required for church services to announce death notices and perform in processionals Easter. Trombone choirs and bands, not limited to brasses, accompany hymn singing at outdoor services and funerals and mark special events throughout the community. The music for such functions consists almost exclusively of four-part chorales; the chorale books being distinguished by “voice parts” and key rather than by specific instrument (e.g. Alto in Bb, Bass in Eb, etc.). In 1791 George Washington visited Salem. According to records, the Salem Band played God Save Great Washington, which is based on the music God Save the King, or America and Washington’s Grand March This march is reported to be the 1st March written to honor the President. Later records show the band playing at a ceremony in 1835 where Washington’s Grand March along with Hail Columbia and the march from “Figaro’s Marriage” (Mozart) was performed.
As brass bands flourished in the early part of the 19th century, groups could be found in almost every city town and village throughout the United States. A band of brass valved instruments was formed around 1850 by Edward Leinbach with his brothers James and Julius organized a group known as the “Salem Band”. When the war began in 1861 regiments were formed in towns and cities and the militia and town bands were very highly valued 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. The 26th was not the first Moravians from Salem to enlist. The 11th NC and the 33rd NC preceded them. The 21st NC had a band under the leadership of Frank Carmichael.
The Salem band played at home for local benefits connected with the war effort. Serving on the home front was important but the bandleader Samuel Mickey sought an enlistment with a regiment. In the early spring of 1862, he approached Colonel Zebulon Vance, offered the services of the band and was accepted into the 26th NC Regiment. Sam Mickey wrote about the meeting with Vance:
“I was sitting in the lobby of the Gaston House, New Bern when a man wearing a colonel’s uniform came in with a loaf of bread under each arm. This was Zeb Vance. I spoke to him and told him my errand. Col. Vance replied, “You are the very man I am looking for. You represent the Salem Band. Come to my regiment at Woods Brick Yard, four miles below New Bern.” (The) next morning I went down to the camp, was met by Captain Horton of Company C and as the result of my visit the band was engaged and at first it was paid by the officers.”
The other members of the band were: A. P. Gibson, Juluis Lienbach, Julius Transou, Dan Crouse, Charles Transou, Gus Reich, Will Lemly, A. Meinung, J. O. Hall, A. L. Hauser, D. J. Hackney and Edward Peterson.
The band was outfitted in new uniforms of Cadet jeans with brass buttons. The ensemble at that time consisted of 8 brass players-1 E Flat cornet, 2 B Flat cornets, 2 alto horns, 2 tenor horns, a baritone horn and 1 bass horn. A remarkably well-balanced instrumentation to which they were to later add drums.
The history of the band has been chronicled in depth by Harry Hall’s “A Johnny Reb Band from Salem: The Pride of Tarheelia.” The book original published in 1963 was updated and republished in 2006. It is available on the internet and provides much information about this remarkable band. This book bases much of the history on the diaries kept by several members of the band. It’s through the eyes of these musicians we get an interesting view of the Civil War and life as a bandsman.
Regimental life for the musicians consisted of playing dress parades, lots of drill, serenades and concerts for the troops plus much recruiting efforts. During the early part of their enlistment the band adjusted to military life including the skill of marching and playing at the same time.
“One of the most difficult acquirements was to keep step as we marched up and down the lines at dress parade. Our natural gaits were very dissimilar and as our attention must necessarily be given closely to our music, we would sometimes forget our feet…The parade grounds were sometimes imperfectly cleared of all stumps and runners so that now and again some unsuspecting musician would encounter a snag or his foot would go into a hole causing him to execute maneuvers not laid down in Hardee’s Tactics”
Colonel Vance, commander of the 26th NC had been a United States Congressman and involved with national politics before the war. He left the regiment in August 1862 to assume the duties of Governor of North Carolina. Vance greatly appreciated the band and asked them to perform at his inauguration ceremony in Raleigh on September 8, 1862
Like so many musical compositions unique to the band, many had no composer attributions, leading to the conjecture that many marches and quicksteps were written by someone near to the band; possibly Edward Leinbach (1823-1901). Leinbach along with his brother Julius were members of the Salem band, the town band that would eventually become the 26th regimental band.
Life went on after the inauguration with the regiment receiving a new commander. The boys went on a concert tour which was cut short by a yellow fever epidemic which was rampant in North Carolina. One of the band members Augustus Hauser (alto) who had been home on sick leave died in November 1862. He was the only fatality suffered by the band during the war. Along with the patriotic airs, marches, quicksteps and polkas, the troops enjoyed sentimental music. Themes dealing with Home, Mother, and loved ones were predominant. They band brought in a teacher (William Hartwell of the 16th Mississippi Regimental band) who served the 26th as a music teacher and provided musical arrangements.
Bands not only performed at church services but also played for funerals and executions. Julius Leinbach makes note of an unusual incident that happened in camp at Magnolia, North Carolina.
“January 26, 1863 was the day fixed for the execution of a member of company B for desertion. He had but four or five days notice of his impending fate but expressed himself as being ready to meet his God. The brigade was formed on three sides of a hollow square the prisoner being place on the open side with the firing squad a short distance in front of him. This squad had been furnished with rifles loaded by us, half of them with ball cartridges and the other half with blank cartridges none of them knowing how his gun was loaded. The assistant adjutant general stepped forward and read the sentence of court martial to him which condemned him to be shot to death. Then to my intense relief (certainly to the one most concerned) another paper was read being his full pardon and he was permitted to rejoin his company. He declared that he would never desert again, nor did he but he was a good soldier and was killed bravely fighting at Gettysburg.”
Most of the spring of 1863 was spent encamped in eastern North Carolina fighting the rain, mud and hunger, rations reduced often to cornmeal. However the boys did manage a “feast” when their cook hired some months earlier caught a ‘possum. When regiments spent months in camp, the woods nearby were turned into vast open expanses, with the troops needing wood for cooking fires and building wooden floors for their tents, huts and fireplaces.
“We would get some pretty thick slabs of pine wood and drive them into the ground. Then a foot or more on the outside we set another row and filled the between with mud, packing it tightly. By the time the bulwark was burned out, the clay had hardened into solid brick, which lasted all winter.”
In the late spring of 1863, with the victory at Chancellorsville, the Confederate Army was encouraged to follow up on their success with a move north into Pennsylvania. The 26th North Carolina was then under command of the “boy colonel” Harry Burgwyn, age 21, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and successor of Colonel Vance. The Army reached the Potomac River and the band made the crossing in “shoes, socks, pants and drawers.” Members of the band were convinced that Confederate sympathizers were to be found in Maryland, with Leinbach writing:
“Just as I reached the Maryland side of the river, I stumbled and fell to my knees, doing involuntary homage to the state. When we were again dressed, one of our men asked us to play “Maryland, My Maryland.” Our leader being sick, I was the next in authority and declined to do so for reasons of my own. A member of General Pettigrew’s staff was close by and heard me. He was seen to smile and he moved away and not long after an order or request came from the general that we play that piece of music. I did not decline again…” “
By June 28, 1863, with the Confederate Army on Pennsylvania soil, and preparing for battle, the Reverend Mr. Wells preached a forceful sermon. This was the last sermon many men were to hear on earth. In speaking about the sermon afterward in our tent, the drummer Gus Reich remarked,
“Did you see Colonel Burgwyn during the preaching? He seemed deeply impressed. I believe we are going to lose him on this trip. Sadly prophetic words they were fulfilled much sooner than any of us had the remotest idea.” The preacher quoted Jeremiah 8-20 saying, “The harvest is passed, the summer is ended and we are not saved.”
At Gettysburg the 26th North Carolina Regiment lost more men killed or wounded than any other regiment, north or south in that battle. Of approximately 800 soldiers engaged, 588 were killed or wounded and another 126 captured. Fourteen color bearers were shot down. In Co. F, known as the Hibriten Guards every soldier was “shot down” with 33 killed and 58 wounded, the only case of an entire company being wiped out.”
The band was there doing their duty as surgeons assistants and then performing on the battlefield.
“With heavy hearts we went about caring for the wounded. We were sent for by the commanding officer of the brigade, but Dr. Warren sent a note back with Sam Mickey that we could not be spared . . . A short time later another order came for us and we went accordingly to the regiment were we found men much more cheerful than ourselves. We played for sometime, the 11th North Carolina playing with us and the men cheered lustily. We learned afterwards, from Northern papers that our playing could be heard across the lines and caused wonder that we should play while fighting was going on all around us.”
Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards, and observer of the Confederate Army, sent by Queen Victoria, writes in his diary:“When the cannonade was at its height a Confederate band of music between the cemetery and ourselves, began to play polkas and waltzes, which sounded very curious, accompanied by the hissing and bursting of shells.”
The music he heard was of the combined bands of the 11th and 26th NC playing for the troops.
After Gettysburg, the Confederate Army limped back to Virginia. The band was directed to perform at General Heath’s headquarters on July 15th. Bandleader Mickey was summoned to appear before the high command and afraid they they would be force to trade their instruments in for muskets.
“General Lee sent a courier that we should report to him. With our regiment terribly reduced we were a little uneasy about our future condition, fearing the possibility that we would be put into the ranks. We obeyed the order with fear and trembling, feeling very much as a prisoner would who was about to receive his sentence. General Lee received us very kindly and said that he considered our band the best in the Army and hoped that we would do all we could to cheer up the men. We went back to our quarters with light hearts.”“
Lee is noted for saying“I don’t believe we can have an Army without music.”
The 26th returned to Virginia where it was to stay for the rest of the war. Again the band found themselves in the regular routine of army life-drilling, rehearsing, performing camp concerts, dress parades and serenades for Division commander General Kirkland. The band participated in a large formal review on September 11, 1863. AP Hill’s entire Third Corps paraded in review for Robert E. Lee. This review of thirty thousand men also included seventeen bands and took two hours for all the troops to pass in review.
Drilling large bodies of troops was no mean feat and bugle calls were important, not only for telling of time for duties in camp but also for maneuvering soldiers in the field. The band for the most part was exempt from field music duties but when the call came from above the band had to provide a cornet player to sound bugle calls. Julius Leinbach, a E Flat Bass player with the band kept a diary of his war time experiences.
“General Kirkland took a new freak into his head. He sent for Sam and told him he wanted one of us to blow calls for brigade drill. I was selected for the job. He had sent a copy of tactics in which the various calls were given, and I was to memorize a few but there were so many and I could not know what commands he would give, that I was much in the condition of the small boy going to school without knowing his lessons. I had this consolation however that if I did not know the different calls, neither did the General, nor did the men so if I gave the wrong one, no one would be the wiser, so I put on a bold front as I walked up to headquarters at the appointed hour. I was put on a “fiery” steed and followed the General as he rode to the parade grounds. I could well imagine that the under officers and men were wondering what sort of circus performance was to come off. The general gave his command as for instance, “By Battalion, Right Wheel,” which was repeated by the regimental and company officers. Then instead of saying, “March,” I was to give the prescribed call for that maneuver. Sometimes I remembered the correct call, mostly I knew no more than the veriest dunce in the ranks as to what tones I should play, but I blasted out something all the same and it answered the purpose. For two hours, this farce was kept up and then we rode back to camp, wiser men. I was never asked to repeat the performance.”
In the fall of 1864 and spring of 1865, the band found itself working hospital duties caring for the wounded and dying. Assisting with the surgeons in amputations and charged with the task of helping maintain ambulance service to the constantly shifting battlefields they were kept busy. However on numerous occasions they were ordered to the front to play for the troops. Near Petersburg the band was ordered into line with combat troops armed only with their instruments! This strategy was to:
“…give the enemy the impression that…the line extended much farther in that direction. Unfortunately, we are un-informed as to what extend, if any, the Federals were intimidated by this ruse.”
The band along with the regiment settled near Petersburg. It was monotonous routine again for the army with the band playing and practicing. On Oct 11 the bands of the 26th and 27th teamed up for a grand serenade for the residents of Petersburg only to be met with the uninvited bombastic accompaniments of Yankee Bands playing nearby!
Christmas came and went and the New Year did not look promising for the Confederacy. Sherman’s army had pushed through Georgia in December 1864 and now moved northward through the Carolinas. News of the fall of Fort Fisher, North Carolina and the Northern army approaching Goldsboro was a blow to the 26th boys. On March 26 Lee decided to move his army from Petersburg to try and join up with Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina.
On March 31 the band found themselves in the breastworks surrounding Petersburg when they were informed to gather their few belongings and moved to the rear.
“Dan (Daniel Crouse-Tenor) and I had just gotten down to the foot of a tree, when “pat” a minnie ball struck it above our heads. I jumped up and said; “Boys, let’s get away from here.” Just then someone said: “The Yankees are coming.” And sure enough a long blue line, sparkling with flashes of musketry was moving rapidly toward us and our men in pitifully small numbers in full retreat.”
The band retreated with the army throwing away whatever they could not carry including food.
“After we had gone a few miles and seemed to have gotten away from everybody else, we came to a house where the good lady gave us some bread and meat, for which we returned our acknowledgements by playing Lorena thereby ending our musical career as the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band although we knew it not at the time. Someone told us we better stop playing as the Yankees would hear us and would certainly try to capture us.”
A few days later the band was indeed captured. Their instruments were taken, save for Sam Mickey’s cornet which he hid in his haversack. This caused much sadness as they had grown close to their musical possessions. They were taken to the Federal prison at Point Lookout, MD where they spent the next three months.
“Then we realized more fully than we had done that we were prisoners indeed, and that each step we were forced to take was away from home and all that we held most dear. When would we be permitted again to see our loved ones, or even communicate with them and relieve their anxiety they would naturally feel for our safety and welfare? Where were we going and what treatment would be accorded us? Sad and gloomy indeed were our thoughts. Farewell home and friends, farewell Southern Confederacy, farewell 26th North Carolina Regiment, farewell 26th North Carolina Regimental Band. No more would we play for guard mount and dress parade. Never again shall your familiar airs cheer and be cheered by the men, who for three years were wont to call you. “our band. There is no more any 26th North Carolina Regiment. It has passed into history, and such a history as any organization might well be proud…”
In July 1865 the boys reached Salem. Home at last, the band members like thousands of other returning veterans went about living their lives and helping rebuild the nation. The band still lives on today as the Salem Band and the memory of the 26th lives on every time the music is performed.
Hall, Harry A Johnny Reb Band from Salem: The Pride of Tarheelia 1963 The North Carolina Confederate Commission
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