A Soldier's Daily Schedule

Musician's Dress Uniform

Drummer wearing a red coat, white pants, and tall felt hat

© 2001 Michael Haynes

A musician's dress uniform was identical with that of an infantry private, except that the application of the official red and blue colors was reversed, perhaps for instant visibility. In addition, a musician earned six dollars per month, one dollar more than a private.

What did an army musician practice? Standard military regulations were quite clear on that point. However, Steuben implied, in his chapter, "Of the different Beats of the Drum," that the traditional signals were too well known to require explanation to anyone of the rank of "musician."4

The Corps of Discovery had neither a drum nor a drummer. The company was small enough that voice commands would have been audible to all, when they were needed. The four "tin blowing trumpets"Lewis bought in Philadelphia served to communicate certain commands at a distance, as when summoning soldiers to return to their boats, or to reassure overdue hunters in the hope they were within earshot.

Joe Whitehouse's remark on Christmas Day, 1805, that the Corps had "plenty of Musicians" undoubtedly referred to good singers. There was no one with the rank of "musician" in the Corps.

A good way to understand how a soldier lived during the period is to take a look at how his day was structured. Each of the day's events was heralded by an individual and recognizable call on the drum, sometimes accompanied by a fife. Larger garrisons might have full bands of musicians to call the men to their daily duties. The schedule was endlessly repetitive, and ran something like this:

1/2 hour before sunrise: Musician's Call
Sunrise Reveille
5–7 am: Drill
8 am: Breakfast
9 am: Provisions Issued and Morning Roll Call
10 am: Sick Call, Daily Fatigue Duties Begin
11–1 pm: Music Practice for Musicians; Drill for Infantrymen
Noon: Roll Call
1 pm: Dinner
2 pm: Fatigue Duties
4–6 pm: Music Practice for Musicians, Drill for Soldiers
6 pm: Grand Parade of the Garrison, Reviewed by the Commanding Officer, for all Musicians and Soldiers
7 pm: Supper
8 pm: Retreat and Roll Call; Punishments Meted Out
8:30 pm: Tattoo or "retreat"; the Soldiers Must Return to their Tents or Huts. Inspection of Quarters
9 pm: Lights out1

This routine varied slightly from garrison to garrison. In conjunction with rigid schedules like these, a fortification would probably fire an artillery piece at reveille and retreat, and hold a ceremony of raising a garrison flag at sunrise and lowering and storing the flag at retreat.

Regular inspections were essential, according to Baron Von Steuben's manual for the U.S. Army,2 and included scrutinizing arms, ammunition, food, clothing, barracks, tents, and personal cleanliness. Drill was of paramount importance because the same orders and movements used on the parade ground were used in tactical situations and actual combat. Von Steuben's manual was specific about each motion of the drill, from the step and speed of march to the evolutions of great numbers of men on the battlefield.

In rotation with his regular duties, a soldier was expected to serve on guard. How frequently a soldier served on guard rather than participating in the usual round of daily events depended upon how many men were in the garrison and how big the perimeter was that needed guarding. Commanders preferred a perimeter about 300 paces from most camps. A unit of soldiers became the "guard" of the post for a 24-hour period.

During that time a detail (roughly a third) of this unit spent two hours on guard and four off, relieved in turn by the second and third details. Most posts had a specific guard house designated as the area where the guard unit lived during their 24 hours on duty. This was due to the fact that men were constantly coming and going every two hours, even during the middle of the night, and there was no reason to disturb the sleep of other soldiers in the barracks. Guards were posted on the even hours (8, 10, 12, 2, 4 o'clock, etc.) throughout the day and night. An average guard at Fort Bellefontaine consisted of two sergeants, three corporals and 21 privates.3

In addition to fatigue and guard duties within military posts and camps across the country, small groups of men were often chosen for specific missions away from the post. These "details" might be formed for hunting, scouting, felling trees for firewood, carrying messages, or escorting people or provisions from place to place.

Such details would, for the most part, be a welcome relief from the general boredom of camp or garrison life and its grinding and seemingly never-ending routine. It is little wonder that men misbehaved often; and understandable why many privates were so willing to volunteer for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Corps of Discovery offered a chance for adventure and variety no army post could match.


1. James Ripley Jacobs, The Beginning of the U.S. Army, 1783-1812 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1947), 199. This list was also compiled from Bert Joseph Griswold, Fort Wayne, Gateway of the West, 1802-1813: Garrison Orderly Books, Indian Agency Account Book. Indiana Historical Collections. (Indianapolis: Historical Bureau of the Indiana Library and Historical Department, 1927), 15:87, 93, 99, 104, 108, 149, 255, 261.

2. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Baron von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual (1794; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1985). 98-89.

3. Steuben, 91-112; Fort Bellefontaine Order Book, 1808-1810, Missouri Historical Society Archives.

4. Steuben, 89-91.