Army Field Music

Augustus Meyer, during his second enlistment

Beginning sometime in the mid 1830s, the U.S. Army ran a school for army field musicians, here on Governors Island. The school was housed in the South battery for about 40 years. In 1878 it was moved out of the battery and into Fort Jay, where it slowly faded away, disappearing from the records by the beginning of the 20th century.

Most of what we know of the school's routines and operation comes from the recollections of Augustus Meyer. Meyer entered the school in 1854 at the age of 12. He began his five year enlistment as a musician, learning to play fife on Governors Island. He would eventually serve out this first five years as a musician in the army, on the western frontier. In 1860, Meyer would sign up for another five year enlistment, as a regular soldier. He had been out of the service for a year trying to live life as a civilian. By 1860, he decided he was better off in the army. Ironically he would be sent back to Governors Island for basic training. He would record his ten years of service in a book, "Ten Years in the Ranks, U.S. army". The first chapter of this book records Meyer's life as a music boy (a name given to the students, regardless of age) on the island. Through him, we learn the names of the primary instructors, Sgts Moore & Henke, drum and fife respectively, and the day to day routine of the music boys as they train for service as field musicians in the U.S. Army.

Field musicians, for decades, were the clock radio of the U.S. Army. Throughout the day, the soldier's routine was marked by sounding of calls on fife and drum, signaling the soldier that it was time to carry out the day's various activities. The army field musician's job was an important one, being among the army's first specialists with their own school.

First two tunes of reveille
peas on a trencher
From the Henke/Moore Manuscript

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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