Brass Band of the 24th Michigan at Gettysburg

Tom Elmore

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At its formation in 1862, the 24th Michigan’s brass band comprised six members who had played together in the pre-war Chelsea Band (from Chelsea, Michigan), with the addition of four other soldier/musicians, all identified below. The band was finally disbanded following the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864. Nine of the members survived the war and were still alive as of 1894.

James F. Raymond, from Detroit. He was selected as the band’s first leader, a “principal musician” who played the bugle, with a rank reportedly equivalent to that of a first sergeant. He was discharged for promotion prior to Gettysburg. Raymond moved to Minneapolis after the war.

Demain Wheelhouse, Company E. A member of the Chelsea Band. He was second in charge after James F. Raymond, and also held the title of principal musician. He succeeded Raymond when the latter was discharged before Gettysburg, and took up the bugle. Wheelhouse died while the regiment was posted at Rappahannock Station after the battle, and arrangements were made to ship his body home to his wife in Chelsea.

A. L. Congdon. A member of the Chelsea Band who played an E-flat cornet. He moved up as the second principal musician when Wheelhouse succeeded Raymond, and then became the band leader when Wheelhouse died, at that time swapping his cornet for the bugle.

Edwin Cotton, Company H, from Ypsilanti. He eventually succeeded Congdon as the second principal musician. Cotton wrote an interesting and informative account of the band that appeared in the pages of the National Tribune newspaper in June 1894.

A. B. Culver, Company B, from Detroit. He moved to Indiana after the war.

Sidney B. Dixon, Company G, from Detroit.

J. P. Wood. He had been a member of the Chelsea Band.

L. Wood. He had been with the Chelsea Band.

Charles E. Letts, Company H, also a former member of the Chelsea Band.

Bert Sons. A member of the Chelsea Band, he played the “big horn” (tuba). He moved to Cobleskill, New York after the war. His wit and humor were known throughout the regiment.

At Gettysburg: Like other bands in the army, their members were assigned to the medical department when a battle was imminent. Approaching the battlefield, Colonel Henry A. Morrow called out, “Boys, fall out and give us ‘Yankee Doodle.’” But soon a senior surgeon appeared and said: “The stretcher [ambulance] corps is six miles in the rear, and you will have to go in and help carry the wounded.” This was most likely Surgeon John Henry Beech of the 24th Michigan, who was also designated as the brigade surgeon.

Congdon and Cotton fashioned a makeshift stretcher from fence rails and proceeded to the front. They soon picked up a rather large soldier who had been shot through both legs and headed into town to deposit him at a field hospital. Cotton later wrote: “As we came into town we were met by women and children with tea, coffee, bread and butter, and all the good things needful for a hungry soldier. The wounded man took a piece of pie in each hand, saying ‘Boys, it looks good, but I can’t eat it.’” Cotton was impressed with the courage and devotion of the women and girls in the town.

Not all the bandsmen were so conscientious. One unnamed member jumped a fence and headed to the rear, but an artillery officer saw him and yelled, “Halt, there! Where are you going?” Not receiving a satisfactory answer, the officer handed him a saber and assigned him to guard a disabled cannon. But when the officer was distracted, the band member stuck the sword into the ground and ran off again toward the town, “to eat pie and cake with the ladies.” (Although not identified, the wit and humor points to Bert Sons. If the story is strictly accurate, the officer in question might have been Captain James Hall of the 2nd Maine Battery.)

Perhaps the band members helped out at the field hospitals in the town for much of the first day, but they departed before the town fell into Confederate hands. On July 3, Cotton wrote that the band was ordered back on the Baltimore Pike, “to a farmhouse near a white church,” to help care for the wounded. (The German Reformed Church on the pike was also known as the White Church, and was taken over by the doctors of the First Corps, Second Division.)

After the battle was concluded, the band members were sent to the field hospital in town set up in the Express Office, near the railroad depot. Surgeon John Henry Beech worked there from July 4 until August 5. Assistant Surgeon Alexander Collar of the 24th Michigan was there as well.

When not busy tending to the wounded in the days following the battle, the band members played for their comrades at the various hospitals around town. There they made friends with a citizen named Wolf, who said he had previously driven the band-wagon for the town band in Gettysburg, and would take them to Littlestown and buy them dinner if they could find a team. Four bays and a driver of a hospital wagon were located, and the band enjoyed a pleasant ride. After ordering dinner from a friend of Wolf’s in Littlestown, they went to play some music for wounded comrades in that town. There another citizen approached and informed them that Wolf was a notorious Copperhead who had helped the Confederates rob loyal citizens. So the band decided to take their dinner instead at the Union Hotel near the main intersection. This angered Wolf and some of his friends, but to no avail. As the band played, the town residents enthusiastically gathered, while some ladies sang from the balcony of the hotel. Before the band departed, Wolf approached and begged them for a ride. They assented, but on the condition that he wave the flag all the way back to Gettysburg, which he did with a vigor.

By the way, there were evidently two bands from this brigade who were at Gettysburg. The separate Iron Brigade Band was led by Jacob Friedrich Gundrum of the 2nd Wisconsin. They were also in town after the battle and likewise serenaded the wounded there.

(Principle source: The Men Who Made the Music, by E. Cotton, National Tribune, June 7, 1894, pp. 1-2)
 
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Lubliner

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It is always a treat to read of such personal accounts among the thousands, and be able to tie them down to place, time, and event. Thanks,
Lubliner.
 
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