September 7, 2011

Introducing the Fencibles Band

Band of the 8th New York State Militia, which the Fencibles Band would have resembled.
Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-02779

While the 79th Pennsylvania resembled other three-year volunteer regiments in many regards, a couple things about the regiment made it unique, such as fighting in the Western Theater, having almost all soldiers coming from the same mid-sized city, and possessing various idiosyncrasies related to Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  One other unique attribute was that the regiment had a supposedly really good band, the Lancaster Fencibles Band.  The Fencibles Band had achieved local celebrity status well before the war had started, bringing an air of excitement to all sorts of civic occasions, and traveled with the 79th Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and beyond.

The Fencibles Band had gone off to war with the Fencibles and Jackson Rifles as part of the Three Months' Campaign in 1861, where it earned a reputation as "the very best in the whole volunteer service" (Intell, 6/25/1861).  A month or so after returning from that campaign, the band--joined by the regiment's glee club--treated the citizens of Lancaster to a performance at Fulton Hall on the evening of August 30, 1861.  From the August 29, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

Three weeks later it became official that the Fencibles Band would be joining Col. Hambright's regiment, as the band was sworn in on September 19, 1861.  They accompanied the regiment throughout the war, except for a nine-month period mid-way through the war when army policy temporarily disbanded regimental bands. From that day's Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

Soldiers of the 79th Pennsylvania often remarked on the band, and I'm sure I'll be posting stories related to the band over the next couple years. It also appears to have been used pretty regularly as outreach to the civilian population near where the regiment was camped. Some sneak peaks from the diary of William T. Clark, Co. B, 79th Pennsylvania:
  • 10/19/1861: At 7 a.m., the fog having disappeared, we again moved down the [Ohio River by steamboat]. In passing Wheeling our band struck up attracting the attention of the people of the town & soon there were several hundred persons upon the shore & upon the splendid wide bridge spanning the Ohio there listening to the music as it echoed on the shore. This is a splendid moonlight night.
  • 9/17/1863: 1st Brig, takes advance at 6 A.M. We are rear guard. Our Regt. rear of all wagon trains. Cross creek at sawmill.. Left camp at 9½ A.M., roads good. March slow. Cross Ala. & Ga. line, band playing Dixie, at 12 M.
  • 3/14/1865: Wrote to Father a brief sketch of our campaign. We have been out 54 days & marched 395 miles. Lieut. James H. Marshall, Major Locher & some Officers from Brig. Hd. Qrs. took the band & serenaded Gen. Sherman, who said, among things, that in 3 days we would connect with Gen. Schofield.

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