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"drummers on the run" Topic

16 Posts

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Osage201705 Dec 2017 8:24 a.m. PST

Was it really possible for the drummers to keep up with the infantrymen during bayonet charge or speedy maneuvering ?

Do we have reenactors on this forum ? It would be interesting to hear what they have to say on this subject.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 8:44 a.m. PST

I would imagine it to be a bit unwise, whether possible or not. Two drumsticks in close combat do not a veteran make. Which is why of course, they were not stuck in the front rank anyway……..

Hanging back slightly seems desirable, even if not inevitable

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 9:11 a.m. PST

By the time soldiers break into a rapid advance like a charge I imagine the drummers' job is done. They no longer need to march to a cadence or require rhythms to drive them forward they're off. I have never been in a real charge myself nor have I seen one but everyone depicted has them yelling a lot. I don't imagine they'd hear the drums by that point.

Stoppage05 Dec 2017 9:12 a.m. PST

I thought the drummers were organised into a 'battery' and would be behind the battalion commander – who in turn would be behind the colours in the centre of the line.

Another question would be if the colour party participated in the bayonet charge or whether they'd hold back as a rally point if things went awry.

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member05 Dec 2017 9:15 a.m. PST

No. And they're not in the front lines either. grin Silly 28mm wargamers…

Each country handled positioning a bit differently (and I'm sure we'll get the drills posted up here any second).

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 9:37 a.m. PST

As Unlucky General states, attackers would rarely break into a run until just moments before impact with the defender. At a run, the ranks would start to come apart and you'd lose the force of a single impact. A normal marching cadence would be maintained until you got within range of the defenders and then, assuming you were not going to stop and shoot back, you'd go to the double-quick (or whatever it was called in Napoleonic terminology). This was not a run, just a sort of trot which the drummers could match with no problem.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 10:45 a.m. PST

You cannot blame wargamers. After all the work in producing something so splendid in British reversed colours or French Imperial Lace, no one is going to stick them right at the back. Even though that is where they belong! With the pioneers….

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member05 Dec 2017 11:21 a.m. PST

grin another case of history twisted by painting hubris!

I believe in most services, they served as stretcher bearers and rendered aid to the wounded.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 11:43 a.m. PST

As a historical drummer, it's quite easy to keep up with charging troops; just toss your drum over your shoulder by the drag rope, hold it tightly against your back, and off you go. Flip it around and your are quickly able to tap out a beat.

That doesn't mean we actually do accompany regiments during a charge, but if needs be, we certainly keep up with it.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Dec 2017 12:32 p.m. PST

jeffreyw3: you are making the common mistake of confusing the Field Music with the Band. The field music, the drummers, fifers, and buglers played important roles in helping the commanders relay orders to their troops. The sound of the drums and fifes and bugles could be heard farther and clearer than the human voice. There were musical equivalents for many of the most used orders: forward march, halt, commence firing, cease fire, etc. Such valuable members of the unit would not be sent off to tend wounded when they were most needed. However. many regiments also has a band. These were men playing all manner of musical instruments. They were there primarily for entertainment (although they helped with morale, too). They had no real role in a battle and THESE were the guys sent off to help tend the wounded.

Three Armies05 Dec 2017 4:11 p.m. PST

hmmm interesting debate. Ex Drummer here and an ex soldier, but I'm not quite old enough to have been in the Napoleonic wars. Yes the bits dangling under the drums are typically lanyards and are there for the drummer to sling the thing over his back and move rapid if needs be Drums are not heavy they are bulky, I'd rather be marching distance with a drum than a musket with all the ammo. In Napoleonic times drums and bugles were very much front line, but 'mixing it' with enemy may not have been a forte. The key reason for them and the rather outstanding colours was to be found by an officer/commander and to beat out a drum call. ALL soldiers in the unit would KNOW what that call meant. Yeah the drummers would rank up with the band on parades etc but as mentioned most band members would have been more executive rolls or runner etc (as they would have been able to read and write!) Remember I'm sure it was the same then, as it is now. You are a soldier FIRST, you are a drummer, cook, padre, surgeon, veterinarian, farrier, etc etc SECOND.

42flanker05 Dec 2017 10:31 p.m. PST

As Scott has pointed out, the drummer's job was not to keep troops in step by beating cadence, but to communicate orders. So, by the time a line of infantry was about to close with the enemy the drummer's job, for the time being, was done.

As for the role of the band, this report from the winter campaign in Holland 1794-95, at the second battle of Geldermalsen.

Maj-gen William, Lord Cathcart was the popular commander of 6th Brigade (part of the very effective British 'Reserve'). Sir Hussey Vivian, of later cavalry fame, was at that company commander in the 28th (North Glosters) under the absurdly young Lord Paget. As the 28th came up to support the 14th and 27th Regiments withdrawing across the ice of the frozen Linge, they came under a very heavy fire. Vivian recorded:

"Where," said Lord Cathcart to the commanding officer of the 28th, "Where is your band sir? Now is the time for it to play!"

History does not record Paget's answer.

4th Cuirassier06 Dec 2017 1:33 a.m. PST

Was it really possible for the drummers to keep up with the infantrymen during bayonet charge or speedy maneuvering ?

Do we have reenactors on this forum ? It would be interesting to hear what they have to say on this subject.

Would it? That presumes there are re-enactors who are capable of charging or speedy maneuvering.






Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member06 Dec 2017 5:09 a.m. PST

Hmmm…I hate making common mistakes. Scott, could you point me to a reference which describes the positions of a battalion's drummers when attacking (French is fine)? Thanks!

Osage201706 Dec 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

O Lord Savior, dear 4th Cuirassier, what impressive "drums"
on the photos :-) :-)

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Dec 2017 9:48 a.m. PST


There are some good diagrams here:


I'm a lot more familiar with ACW organization, but it appears that Napoleonic was pretty similar.

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