Fife, Drum, and Bugle During the Revolutionary War
During the Revolutionary War, armies didn’t have radios to talk to each other with. Music was the main way for them to communicate over long distances. It is widely recognized that the use of the fife and drum came from the armies of Switzerland, hundreds of years before America was discovered by Europeans. The fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be heard from great distances and even through the sounds of a battlefield. Fifers and drummers would provide the music for all of the things that soldiers would need to do throughout the day. They would play tunes in the camp, on the battlefield, or for a march.
Most of the musicians would have been boys that were too young to fight in the war but were following their fathers who were fighting. Other musicians could have been men who were too old to fight. This meant that males that were younger than 16 or older than 50 could serve as musicians in the army. To help the young musicians, Drum and Fife Majors would have been musically talented soldiers who instructed the young musicians.
On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired.
In the camp, fifers and drummers were used to help regulate the working day. Every task that needed to be carried out would be signaled by a fife and a drum. Tunes were used to tell the soldiers to wake up, eat meals, and perform camp chores. Music was provided for ceremonies that were used to start and end the working day. Whenever a command needed to be spread throughout the army, whether it be in the camp or on a battlefield, a fifer and drummer would play the tune, and other fifers and drummers would start playing the same tune, until the whole army knew what they needed to do.
For a march, tunes were played while armies marched through towns to show the people that the armies were in high spirits. During a long march, music could have been provided, but musicians would also just carry their instruments to save their energy and make sure that they did not alert the enemy that they were close by.
During the Revolutionary War, bugles were also used as method of communication. It was too difficult for a Soldier on horseback to play a fife because it required two hands. Soldiers found that a bugle could be played with one hand while using the other to ride the horse. Soldiers on horseback were called cavalry units. The bugle was also an instrument that was loud and could be heard clearly in battle.
Trying to outfit each soldier with the same uniform was a hard task at the beginning of the war. States that assembled men to fight may have just worn what they had available until the colonies got the money and materials to get uniforms to all soldiers. Once this happened, musicians would wear the opposite colored coat that a fighting soldier would wear. If a continental soldier fighting in the war had a blue coat with red cuffs, a musician would wear a red coat with blue cuffs. They did this so that they could be easily found by a commanding officer and on the battlefield, it told the enemy that they were not carrying any weapons and were not a threat.
Life during the Revolutionary War was extremely hard for soldiers and musicians. We want to make sure that people today do not forget the efforts and sacrifices that these brave patriots made hundreds of years ago that lead to our freedom as a nation!