As we prepare for the July 4th holiday and enjoy the fireworks celebrating American independence from Great Britain, it is hard to realize that our country faced a rather treacherous beginning. I thought about that when reading a series of militia brigade orders from the 1790s.
In 1793 militia Brigadier General Elihu Marvin wrote in his message to the 3rd Brigade in Norwich “Since our local situation exposes us to be first called on in case our common country should be invaded, let us at all times be prepared for immediate service.” He also called on his men to be neatly dressed and properly armed at parades and inspections.
Brigadier General Joseph Williams, in his orders of 3 July 1798 made reference to the Quasi-War, an undeclared war with the French republic, fought mostly at sea, when he admonished his men that they needed to be attentive to their duty “at this important crisis” when “our national honor, Independence and sovreign [sic] rights are artfully menaced by a a haughty & dictatorial foreign power.”
Thinking ahead (remember, this was written in July), the General wanted his men prepared for colder weather, when they might be called upon to fight.
As the services of the Militia may be called for in the cold season of the year when linnen [sic] Frocks & overhalls [sic] will not be sufficient to guard the soldiers against the inclemency of the weather – the Captain General anxious for the health & comfort of the Troops & feeling a degree of Military Pride for their manly & soldierly appearance in the field, seriously recommends that the militia be clothed in blue cloth coats faced with red, lined with white and trimmed with white buttons–the under dress to be white with white buttons.
This is why I love my job. Here is documentary proof that the young United States experienced many challenges. This period of our history is often not addressed in the kind of detail I found here in seemingly mundane brigade orders. I will be thinking of the men in their blue cloth coats with red facings and white lining this weekend.
Let’s don’t forget about the fifes and drums, which were an integral part of the military at the time when both Elihu Marvin and Joseph Williams wrote their message and order respectively. Wondering if you found any references to the music when you examined those papers. . .?
Connecticut is indeed fortunate to be the historic (and geographic) home to Ancient fife and drum corps, the progeny of the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century military field music. While each Ancient corps perpetuates the old jigs, quicksteps, and marches in its own special way, a tip of the tricorn is due to the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, which has over five generations strictly maintained both the music and the performance practice as it was likely done in the early militia days.
I hope you make a special effort to celebrate the Fourth with the music of Connecticut’s Ancients. No better way to spend the holiday!
Unfortunately, none of the orders I looked at mentioned music, although all the muster lists I have ever seen record the fifer(s) and drummer(s). They were indeed integral to any regiment. The orders I refer to in this post are strictly about having the men armed and ready for imminent invasion. I still thrill to the sound of the fife and drum.
Actually, I recall seeing a couple of military music manuscripts some years ago at CT Hist. One is the small book of fife tunes written out by Giles Gibbs, Jr., of Ellington Parish. A lovely and important collection. Another is a series of song-texts written out by a CT soldier, whose name I cannot recall at the moment. Both are fascinating reminders of what “stirred men’s souls” at the time of the Revolution.
Giles Gibb’s book of the fife is a wonderful document. It has been scanned and is now online through Connecticut History Online (cthistoryonline.org). Our music manuscripts are well appreciated by scholars and musicians alike.
That’s incredible! Thanks so much for sharing this awesome document with us! Happy July Fourth!
Heidi in Texas (former CT resident!)
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