A MILITARY BAND PLAYS UNDER FIRE
The 26th North Carolina Regimental Band served from April 1862 until the end of the war. The band was comprised of brass players who were religious men from the Moravian community in Salem, North Carolina. They were book binders, tin smiths and other business owners in the small town of Salem.
On July 2, 1863 the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band was at Gettysburg performing their secondary duty as surgeons assistants. During the battle on July 1, the 26th NC Regiment suffered heavy casualties fighting against the 24th Michigan (The Iron Brigade) losing their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Burgwyn and 588 men out of a strength of 800.
From the band diaries:
“It was therefore with heavy hearts that we went about our duties of caring for the wounded. We worked until 11 o’clock that night, when I was so thoroughly worn out that I could do no more and lay down for some rest.”
On July 2nd:
“The second day our regiment was not engaged, but we were busily occupied all day in our sad tasks. While thus engaged, in the afternoon, we were sent for…(to) play for men, and thus, perhaps, cheer them somewhat. Dr. Warren sent (band leader) Sam (Mickey) with a note to the commanding officer of the brigade, that we could not be spared from attending to the wounded men. Some time later another order came for us, and this was peremptory. We accordingly went to the regiment and found the men much more cheerful than we were ourselves. We played for some time, the 11th N.C. Band playing with us, and the men cheered us lustily. Heavy cannonading was going on at the time, though not in our immediate front. We learned afterwards, from Northern papers, that our playing had been heard across the lines and caused wonder that we should play while fighting was going on around us. Some little while after we left, a bomb struck and exploded very close to the place where we had been standing, no doubt having been intended for us.”
Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards, and observer of the Confederate Army, sent by Queen Victoria, wrote 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, perhaps one of the few times a military band performed under fire.
Later that day:
“We got back to camp after dark and found many men needing our attention. Some of those whom we had tried to care for during the day had died during our absence. We had brought all the cooked food we could get from the wagons, and from a spring close by we could get plenty of cool water, which the poor wounded men wanted constantly. We continued our administrations until late at night and early next morning.”
”The 26th NC Band, like the regiment, had “covered themselves with glory”.
And the band performed duties, both military and musically, to the greatest credit one could bestow upon musicians.