Picking up the Tempo on a Hardtack Trail

This article, written by Pennsylvania State Archives intern, Christie Briley, serves as a preview of the Pennsylvania State Archives’ highly-anticipated new blog, Access Archives, which is set to premier August 5, 2013.

Pennsylvania State Archives intern Christie Briley
Christie plans to graduate from Rutgers University in December, with a Masters in Library and Information Science. During her time at the archives, she has worked in a variety of capacities, including: assisting with research into records under the Committee on Lunacy (Pennsylvania State Archives RG-23, Records of the Department of Public Welfare); assisting with research into prison records (Pennsylvania State Archives RG-15, Records of the Department of Justice); conducting a preliminary sorting of discharge and admission records from Pennsylvania State Hospitals (also RG-23); and with developing a guide to militia records held at the archives.

Sometimes a good story begins with a mystery. Passed down from family member to family member, the aged drum looked like it had seen better days. The origin and owner were unknown, but there were enough tantalizing breadcrumbs to begin the search.

A researcher at the Pennsylvania State Archives was able to verify that this drum,
passed down through family, likely belonged to her ancestor and Civil War veteran,
John Heffelfinger, whose regiment fought in the Gettysburg Campaign.
Image submitted by patron.  
This allure drew a Harrisburg-area researcher to the Pennsylvania State Archives in April. Her desire was to gain information regarding the alleged Civil War-era drum that she inherited and the possible family connection. “I was always told it was a Civil War drum and that one of my ancestors was the drummer,” she stated. “But no one seemed to know who the drummer was.” The ancestral connection indeed existed. The researcher’s great-aunt’s grandfather, John Heffelfinger (1830-1908), was found to have enlisted as a musician in Company C of Pennsylvania’s 149th “Bucktails” Regiment during the Civil War.

[click on image to enlarge]
Excerpt from muster-out roll for the 149th Regiment, Company C,
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (PVI), showing John Heffelfinger’s August 13, 1862
enlistment as a musician, in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.
The 31-year-old Myerstown man enlisted on August 13, 1862, for a three-year term, mustering under Captain Sailor on August 19. On August 24, 1865, his company mustered out nearly four months after the official end of the Civil War. Notations on Company C’s muster-out roll indicate that he had received $25 of a $100 bounty and had an outstanding clothing account. Interestingly, Heffelfinger’s pay was “…to be stopped for one batterhead and three snare heads,” indicating heavy use of the drum.

[click on image to enlarge]
Excerpt from muster-out roll for 149th Regiment, Company C,
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (PVI), showing the expense for “…one batterhead and three snare heads.”
The need for new batterheads and snares comes without much surprise as Heffelfinger’s regiment saw considerable action. The Bucktails were ordered to the defense of Washington, D.C., before finding themselves in the thick of numerous important battles. They were present during the Gettysburg Campaign and saw battle on those fateful early July days of 1863. Notably, the regiment fought along Seminary Ridge. Not long afterwards, they became part of the force pursuing Lee after his loss at Gettysburg. The Bucktails also clashed with Lee in his greatest victory--the Battle of Chancellorsville. In total, the regiment participated in nearly twenty battles and campaigns in their three years of service.

As one of the regiment's musicians, Heffelfinger may have understood the unique demands of war as few others did. A troop musician was the first line of communication on and off the battlefield. Drum calls organized troop movement from Reveille in the morning, indicating a call for officers to attend a meeting, or relaying orders to charge or retreat on the battlefield. He would have been expected to remain at the ready any time of day and to stay awake as long as necessary to call the company to arms. Drummers were often stationed near high-ranking officials on the field of battle to relay orders. After orders were given, the regimental musicians worked as runners or acted in any capacity that was needed including taking up arms and fighting if required. Heffefinger, as the musician with the snare drum, would have also been a vital part of the regimental band. Music, as it does even now, served as a motivational tool to keep up soldiers’ spirits.

When the smoke of war cleared, the 149th Regiment had lost a total of 336 soldiers. Heffelfinger himself lived to join the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), which was a veteran awareness and advocacy group. He died on April 12, 1908, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

The mystery drum still may have more secrets to tell. In her search, our patron found that Heffelfinger's father, William, was a drummer in the War of 1812. As she mused, "Did it start with him [William] in 1812 and get handed down to John?" This new crumb may yield further insight into her family's past.


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