To this day we cannot hear the actual sounds heard during the Civil War. Some particular sounds intrigue Civil War buffs; the apparently frightening “Rebel Yell” comes to mind, for example.
Ironically, an “exclusive clip from the 1930s” in which aging Confederate veterans “step up to the mic and let out their version of the fearsome rallying cry” offers interesting renditions of the Rebel Yell. If the veterans recalled the Yell accurately, then you can understand why Union troops got a bit nervous upon hearing it.
And thanks to an observant newspaper correspondent, the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment wrote sight and sound into the pages of history while tramping through Washington, D.C. in late August 1862.
Asked to raise four regiments (4,000 warm bodies) in summer 1862, Maine recruited around 5,000 men and added a fifth regiment. Consecutively numbered 16 through 20, the regiments mustered in specific places.
Augusta got stuck with the 16th Maine Infantry, commanded by Col. Asa Wildes of Skowhegan, a military aide for Gov. Israel Washburn Jr.
As the five regiments rapidly formed in August, Adjutant General John L. Hodsdon (in his role as acting quartermaster general) and his staff scrambled to fully equip the 5,000 men. Among other items, the state issued to the 16th Maine “1000 Enfield Rifle Muskets, Bayonets and Appendages, calibre 58.”
The regiment also received “1270 Drawers, pairs of”; “1009 Hats, trimmed, infantry”; “1010 Great Coats”; “1010 Trowsers”; “1000 Blankets”; “50 Sibley Tents” and “50 Tent Poles”; “28 Wall Tents” and “28 Wall Tent Flies”; and “1010 Knapsacks, complete.”
The other four regiments headed to war similarly equipped, according to the 1862 Maine Adjutant General’s Report.
Unlike many Maine other regiments, the 16th Maine never called a specific place “home.” The 5th Maine Infantry would always be associated with Portland and the fledgling 18th Maine Infantry with Bangor.
Not even Augusta sufficed for the 16th Maine. Local residents had watched many regiments occupy their city since spring 1861; the 16th Maine was just one more polyglot collection of amateur soldiers headed out to play at war. Neither the capital city nor the new regiment shared a special bond.
So when the 16th Maine left Augusta on Tuesday, August 19, not many people turned out to bid Wildes and his men “adieu.” In fact, the city’s collective sigh of relief was almost audible as the 16th Maine lads rumbled south by train for Portland.
The 16th Maine arrived in Washington, D.C. on Friday, August 22. Working in his Pennsylvania Avenue office later that day, “the Washington correspondent of the New York Commercial Advertiser” was distracted by the steady tramp-tramp-tramp of approaching soldiers and the lively music from a fife-and-drum band.
“Our avenues and streets are beginning to be alive with men in uniform. It is a stirring sight,” wrote the reporter, accustomed to military units passing along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Stepping to his office window, he realized that “the 16th Maine regiment is just passing,” with the men “marching finely to the old continental music and the fifes and drums, playing the tune that our fathers fought and conquered under at Lexington, Massachusetts—‘The White Cockade and the Peacock’s Feather.’”
The song’s correct name was The White Cockade, an obscure fife-and-drum air from the late 18th century. The 2nd South Carolina String Band performs The White Cockade and Devil’s Dream in a 1:40 video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v20YunOyaXw).
The White Cockade covers the first full minute. If you listen, you will hear the tune to which the 16th Maine boys marched along Pennsylvania House almost 155 years ago.
Wildes had not brought an expensive brass band with him to Washington. Fifes trilled and drums rat-tat-tatted as his 16th Maine Infantry lads marched through Washington.
Everything metallic reflected the late August sun beating down on the city. Regimental adjutant Abner Small later commented how the 16th Maine lads marched “with the swinging gait peculiar to Maine” soldiers, and on this hot afternoon, not a man faltered while passing the reporter.
As the Revolutionary War-era music trilled around his ears, he relished the martial splendor passing beneath his window. “Their bayonets are gleaming in sunshine, contrasting strongly with the deep dark blue of their dresses (uniforms),” the reporter noted.
The colors led the way. “The officers evidently take pride” in the pageantry “as they bear aloft the stars and stripes with the ‘Dirigo’ banner,” he smiled.
“Well done the Pine Tree State,” the reporter praised the sharp-looking 16th Maine boys.
Source: Arrival Of The 16th Maine In Washington, Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, August 28, 1862.
The Civil War In Song
Join Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor Paul Dudley and his band of toy “dancing Dans” as they share traditional songs and more at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 16 at the Isaac Farrar Mansion, 166 Union Street, Bangor.
Sponsored by the Bangor Historical Society, this lively presentation has been presented in schools and is great for children and adults.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.