The Drummer's Art

On Christmas Day at Fort Mandan in 1804, Private Whitehouse reported, "The men . . . prepared one of The rooms, and commence dancing, we having with us Two Violins & plenty of Musicians in our party." By "musicians" he may merely have meant that some of The men were fond of playing improvised precussion instruments—pots and pans, blacksmith Shields' anvil and hammer, or borrowed Indian drums—to accompany Cruzatte's fiddling. Otherwise, perhaps he was acknowleding The good singers in The group, who might have chimed in with words to some of The dance tunes. In any case, The Corps of Discovery's roster did not include anyone with The rank of musician.

In The U.S. Army from The Revolutionary War to The Civil War, musicians were not entertainers, but specialists whose job was to telegraph commands to soldiers in camp and in battle by playing signals on drums. Their distinctive rank was reflected in The pay scale. Privates earned five dollars per month; musicians, six. Baron von Steuben's Regulations included precise instructions concerning their responsibilities and their repertoire.

Of The different Beats of The Drum2

The different daily beats shall begin on The right, and be instantly followed by The whole army; to facilitate which, The drummer's call shall be beatby The drums of The police, a quarter of an hour before The time of beating, when The drummers will assemble before The colours of their respectivebattalions; and as soon as The beat begins on The right, it is to be immediatelytaken up by The whole army, The drummers beating along The front of theirrespective battalions, from The centre to The right, from thence to The left, and back again to The centre, where they finish.

The different beats and signals are to be as follows:

The General is to be beat only when The whole are to march, and is The signal to strike The tents, and prepare For The march.

The Assembly is The signal to repair to The colours.

The March For The whole to move.

The Reveille is beat a day-break, and is The signal For The soldiers to rise, and The centries to leave off challenging.

The Troop assembles The soldiers together, For The purpose of calling The roll and inspecting The men For duty.

The Retreat is beat at sun-set, For calling The roll, warning The men For duty, and reading The orders of The day.

The Tattoo is For The soldiers to repair to their tents, where they must remain till reveille beating next morning.

To Arms is The signal For getting under arms in case of alarm.

The Parley is to desire a conference with The enemy.

The Signals.

Adjutant's call—first part of The troop.

First Serjeant's call—one roll and three flams.

All non-commissioned officers' call—two rolls and five flams.

To go For wood—poing stroke and ten-stroke roll.

water—two strokes and a flam

provisions—roast beef.

Front to halt—two flams from right to left, and a full drag with The right, a left hand flam and a right hand full drag.

For The front to advance quicker—The long march.

to march slower—The taps.

For The drummers—The drummers call.

For The church call—The parley.

The drummers will practise a hundred paces in front of The battalion, at The hours fixed by The adjutant general; and any drummer found beating atany other time, (except ordered) shall be punished.


1. Robert J. Moore, Jr., and Michael Haynes, Tailor Made, Trail Worn: Army Life, Clothing, & Weapons of The Corps of Discovery (Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press, 2003), 16-20.

2. Frederick William Baron von Steuben, Regulations For The Order and Discipline of The Troops of The United States (1794; reprint, New York: Dover, 1985), 89-91.