The Making of a Cavalry Bugler

John Hartwell

Major
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#1
Stanton P. Allen wrote a couple of memoirs of his service with the First Massachusetts Cavalry. One of these, written for younger readers, appeared in 1899, under the title: A Boy Trooper with Sheridan. Allen emphasizes there his youth and “greenness” in a way that might better connect with his youthful audience. In Chapter III, he speaks of the making of a cavalry "bugle-boy":

Should there be living to-day a survivor of Sheridan's Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac who can, without shuddering, recall the buglers' drill, his probationary period on earth must be rapidly drawing to a close. I do not mean the regular bugle calls of camp or those sounded on company or battalion parade. I refer to the babel of bugle blasts kept up by the recruit "musicians" from the sounding of the first call for reveille till taps. A majority of the boys enlisted as buglers could not at first make a noise — not even a little toot — on their instruments, but when, under the instruction of a veteran bugler, they had mastered the art of filling their horns and producing sound they made up for lost time with a vengeance. And what a chorus! Reveille, stable call, breakfast call, sick call, drill call retreat, tattoo, taps — all the calls, or what the little fellows could do at them, were sounded at one time with agonizing effect.

The first sergeant of Company I said to me one day while we were in Camp Meigs:

"The adjutant wants more buglers, and he spoke of you as being one of the light weights suitable for the job. You may go and report to the adjutant."

"I didn't enlist to be a bugler; I'm a full-fledged soldier."
"But you're young enough to bugle."

"I'm twenty-one on the muster-roll. I want to serve in the ranks." (actually he was only 15, he got away with a whopper!)

"Can't help it; you'll have to try your hand."


I reported to the adjutant as directed, and was sent with a half-dozen other recruits to be tested by the chief trumpeter. After a trial of ten minutes the instructor discovered that there was no promise of my development into a bugler, and he said with considerable emphasis:

"You go back mit you to de adjutant und tell him dot you no got vun ear for de muzic."
I was glad to report back to the company, for I preferred to serve as a private.

The recruits soon became familiar with the sound of the bugle. The first call in the morning was buglers' call — or first call for reveille. The notes would be sounding in the barracks when the first sergeant, all the duty sergeants and the corporals would yell out:

"Turn out for reveille roll-call!"

"Be lively, now — turn out!"


As a result of this shouting by the "non-coms" the boys soon began to pay no attention to the bugle call, but naturally waited till they heard the signal to "turn out" given by the sergeants and corporals. And in a very short time they ceased to hear the bugle when the first call was sounded.

In active service in the Army of the Potomac so familiar with the calls did the soldiers become that when and infantry were bivouacked together, and the long roll was sounded by the drummers, it would not be heard by the troopers, and when the cavalry buglers blew their calls the foot soldiers would sleep undisturbed. In front of Petersburg troops would sleep soundly within ten feet of a heavy battery that was firing shot and shell into the enemy's works all night. But let one of the guards on the line of breastworks behind which they were "dreaming of home" discharge his musket, and the sleepers would be in line ready for battle almost in the twinkling of an eye. And let the cavalry trumpeter make the least noise on his bugle, and the troopers would hear it at once.
 

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#3
It's possible although boy did this area of PA have German troops serving all the heck all over the army. Stop at even the tiniest church cemetery, there are German names with GAR markers.

Funny how we don't hear a lot on these calls, or really, the drummer's job during the war but both were sound tracks to most stories posted here. Have to admit hearing TAPS over a grave will make me cry every, single time. Can you imagine hearing it at night in camp? Be tough to ignore, never heard anything so haunting.

Yes, would also have been sent back to the ranks. No ear or talent whatsoever, good to read of a fellow tin ear sufferer. Had no idea buglers had to be young- same as drummers?
 

Lubliner

First Sergeant
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Nov 27, 2018
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1,099
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Chattanooga, Tennessee
#4
It's possible although boy did this area of PA have German troops serving all the heck all over the army. Stop at even the tiniest church cemetery, there are German names with GAR markers.

Funny how we don't hear a lot on these calls, or really, the drummer's job during the war but both were sound tracks to most stories posted here. Have to admit hearing TAPS over a grave will make me cry every, single time. Can you imagine hearing it at night in camp? Be tough to ignore, never heard anything so haunting.

Yes, would also have been sent back to the ranks. No ear or talent whatsoever, good to read of a fellow tin ear sufferer. Had no idea buglers had to be young- same as drummers?
I agree not much mention other than what you pointed out. But in battle, it seems that a bugler being assigned to issue commands by certain blasts would be a significant help in overcoming the noise. I know in the west with Indians it was done.
Morning, Lubliner.
 



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