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To strengthen their purpose and commitment to the Corps of Cadets, the Hellcats looked to the past to help give perspective to the present. On February 19 and 20, 2015, the Hellcats returned to their roots to gain a better understanding of the history of field music and the crucial role music played during the Civil War. Guest artists/historians Peter Emerick, RJ Samp, and Jason Maines visited West Point and led a collaborative discussion while sharing their wealth of knowledge. Topics of discussion included: how drums were used as a communication device for movement battles; acoustic variances in relation to bugle calls; and origins of several fife airs. The guest clinicians also offered master classes to each section of the Hellcats.
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Siry and Captain Mark Ehlers, professors of USMA’s History Department, offered a presentation discussing the relevance of Civil War music as well. The collaboration continued as the Hellcats and guest artists presented to cadets of Captain Ehlers’ American Civil War class in Cullum Hall.
Music was a very important aspect of Civil War armies. Not only were field musicians critical as a means of passing timely instructions to units prior to and during battles, but bands were essential as well. Larger than their fife, bugle, and drum field music counterparts, bands were larger and contained a wide variety of instruments. Bands were useful for everything from recruiting to maintaining Soldier morale in camps. Bands often provided a necessary diversion from the tedium and drudgery of camp life and helped reduce the apprehension of going into battle. General Lee once commented on the importance of bands, remarking “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.” President Lincoln was also fond of music, and his favorite song was reportedly Dixie. At the end of the war, Lincoln requested the song be played and noted, “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”
-Words by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Siry
Photos by Sgt. 1st Class William Calohan
Blog Entry by Staff Sgt. Ashley Mendeke