1st Brigade Band


“THE BRODHEAD BAND GOING TO THE WAR – For a long time efforts have been made to induce the band to enlist and go to the war as a Brigade Band.  Since their return from the army up to last week the boys “couldn’t see it”, and probably would have been as blind as Blind Andrew himself, but for the little 200,000 call.  Their intention is now to enlist from the Town of Decatur if they can get the $300 bounty; if not to go elsewhere, draw a big bounty and go in as a Brigade Band.  Brodhead will be quite lonely without them socially, while it will take from us some of our best business men and mechanics.”
(Brodhead Independent, February 12, 1864)

“BOUNTY MONEY – This township voted to-day to raise $1,600 by tax in addition to $2000, heretofore voted, to pay volunteers.  We understand the band are to receive the bounty and ‘off for the wars.'”
(Brodhead Independent, April, 29, 1864)

“…out of the ashes, Phoenix-like, has arisen a band of far more than shadowy existence, now numbering nineteen noble young men, including some from abroad, all of whom have enlisted for the war, and constitute the 1st Brigade Band, assigned to the 3d Division, 15th army corps, now at Huntsville, Ala., commanded by Logan….The band is supplied, at its own expense, with a magnificent set of silver instruments from the celebrated manufactory of D. C. Hall at Boston, costing in the aggregate of $870.30, and has been for several weeks perfecting by practice.  It is now “ordered off” and will take its leave for Alabama next Tuesday morning.  We reluctantly part company with “the Boys” but submit with a better grace, because we know that they are noble patriots, who will be eager to play the “Rogue’s March” for Jeff and his fiendish associates in crime, they will give the trump no uncertain sound when required to strike the knell of the Confederacy, nor play with muffled drum or suppressed note, its funeral chant.”
(Brodhead Independent, April 29, 1864)

Once again the band rode the cars headed for the war.  This time things would be different.  Cheap boyhood glory seeking was replaced with the determination to be men and do their part.  Three vital changes would separate this term of service from the last.  First was to purchase their own instruments and NOT to rely on government issue.  The best available were from D.C. Hall of Boston and a full set of horns and percussion were secured.  Second would be uniforms.  These were tailored for them by Smith & Bostwick of Janesville, Wisconsin.  Third would be the music.  Their brown leather-bound part books contained some sixty-two selections that included patriotic music, dance tunes, funeral dirges, serenades, popular songs and classical music from grand opera.  On its way south the band made a brief stop in Nashville that would foreshadow their success.

“Under the direction of it’s skilled leader, Mr. E. O. Kimberly, it gave several popular airs with marked excellence, winning applause.”
(The Nashville Press, May 12, 1864)

Immediately upon their arrival in camp at Huntsville, Alabama they began to make music.

Jenkin Lloyd Jones - 1863

“Huntsville, Monday, May 16…..A band of twenty men arrived from Brodhead Wisconsin, last evening to be assigned to 1st Brigade, 3d Division, 15th Army Corps.  Early in the evening they opened in front of 12th Battery headquarters, formed a circle, and in the gentle twilight played numerous airs, patriotic and melancholy; the sweetest of all, “Home Sweet Home”.  The green was covered with soldiers, lying at full length, dreamily enjoying the sweet music, forgetful of all the past, in blissful forgetfulness of all things real.  The instruments were of German silver, making a very good appearance.  May they serve us such a treat often.”
(Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Private, 6th Wisconsin Battery – An Artillaryman’s Diary – pg. 210 )

Kimberly sent letters to both his mother and the home town paper.  In a letter to the Brodhead Independent dated May 19th, he described life in Huntsville.

“Our duty consists of playing four pieces at 8 a.m. for guard mounting, devoting about two hours to practice in the fore noon and the same in the afternoon; and, by the way, we are improving finely. After supper, every evening, we play a few pieces in the court house park, a delightful place, after which there is usually some place in view to serenade; if not, we can find other amusement”.

Towards the end of the month, the band found itself boarding a gunboat off on a reconnaissance of the Tennessee River.  The warship was about to round the bend to begin shelling a small rebel fort when Kimberly asked to have the band let ashore.  No one is quite sure who opened up on the fort first – the gunboat with its cannon, or the band blasting “Yankee Doodle” with its horns.  In any case the greybacks gave up the fort with the band continuing to taunt them with national airs as they retreated.

1864 was proving to be a vast improvement over 1861!  Good equipment, music and leadership had indeed given the boys a true sense of accomplishment not felt two years earlier.  There was however, one nemesis they could not shake and that was disease.  A letter to his mother dated August 17, expressed Oscar’s concerns over the health of the bandsmen:

“I am afraid we shall loose Pomeroy and probably Brown.  Stone is worse and I think will be furloughed….[though maybe he] wasn’t as sick as the others.”

A few days later the band endured a hard march down the Etowah River in Georgia.  By August 30th only eight players could be mustered for duty.  In spite of this, the 1st Brigade Band maintained their standard of excellence.  Generals began to compete to acquire their services.  General Oliver Otis Howard wanted the band to continue to lead his Sunday worship services.

“We continue to improve in playing slowly, and are looked upon as gentlemen and good musicians by the entire division!  General Smith is trying to get us at his headquarters, he thinks all the world of us.  I think if Brodhead could hear us play, or Janesville they would open their eyes.”
(Edwin Oscar Kimberly, to his mother, undated)

It was becoming clear that this was something more than a mere field band.

If war can be described as a contest of arms, then the 1st Brigade Band became embroiled in a contest of instruments. A more apt description might be that they were engaged in “The Battle of ‘Who Played'” .  From Cartersville, Georgia, Kimberley wrote the following on September 15th, 1864.

Edwin Oscar Kimberly

“A circumstance took place in town last night certainly worthy of note.  We went down about sundown and about 8 o’clock began playing at Smith’s headquarters.  General Smith then requested us to serenade a Michigan colonel.  We proceeded to the place, the General with us; after playing 3 or 4 pieces we left and went over to Dr. Winston’s quarters; of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, acting division surgeon.  The Doctor is from Evansville [Wis.] and some of our boys know him well.  After playing a piece there, another band struck up about 50 rods from us, which proved to be a band belonging to the regiment we had just left. [the 15th Michigan Infantry]. They were a very fair band: they would play a piece and then we would.  After playing 3 or 4 pieces, we then played a new piece we had just learned, a fine thing; after finishing it ,they struck up with the same thing, which of course was considered an insult.  Our boys then swore they would run them out, determined to play the last piece, and the other band also made the same determination that they would play the last piece and run the d….d Badgers out.  Of course on such occasion both bands had been drinking pretty freely and were excited and maddened to no low pitch.  We kept on, as soon as they finished a piece we were ready to start in, playing every piece they did if we had it.  They sent a man over to see what we had to play and we had done the same.  Their colonel was with them and swore that he would hang the first men that gave out.  The whole affair was just like a hard contested battle.  At one o’clock we were still going at it, as quick as they would stop, we would start right in.  We were determined to play until 8 o’clock in the morning if necessary.  The Doctor said he would get us some breakfast.  Liquors were set out on a table for the boys to drink just when they had a mind to.  Both bands kept on until 3 o’clock: it was their turn to play but they failed to come out; we waited patiently.  Our spy came back and informed us they had given up.  We played “Yankee Doodle” double quick.  The boys shouted Victory!  We had whipped them and forced a retreat.”

By this time another, more deadly battle had been fought and won.  Sherman had captured Atlanta and was making preparations for his next move.  Since a period of inactivity appeared at hand, Kimberly applied for and received a furlough for the entire band.  Oscar and his boys were home in time to enjoy Christmas with family and loved ones.  On January 4th, 1865, the boys rode the cars again. This time they were headed east to New York City where they would take a steamer south to rejoin Sherman.  Before departing they took time to serenade a host of famous officers staying at various hotels.  Winfield Scott Hancock, Dan Butterfield, Dan Sickles and Franz Siegel were among the notables to hear the mellow sounds of the 1st Brigade Band.  The New York Herald saw fit to devote several paragraphs describing the event.

On January 22nd, the band marched off the gangplank of the coastal steamer at Savannah, Georgia, and into the famous March through the Carolinas.  William T. Sherman was taking his army north, through the Carolinas up to Richmond to link with General Grant and together end the war.  There had long been a feeling in the Union army that South Carolina was responsible for the war in as much as it was the first to secede and fire upon the Union.  It had been a hard war for these boys and they were in no mood to be charitable.  South Carolina would pay for its treason!  Southerners had long thought that even if the Yankees did get this far south they would be swallowed up whole by wilderness and impenetrable swamps.  Little did they reckon with the bluecoat’s seasoned ability to improvise and build bridges on the move.  Instead of taking a year, it took Sherman only a month to march clean through the state.

It had proved to be the roughest march the band had yet encountered.  They struggled, often in waist deep swamps with rebel snipers ever lurking about in the moss and cypress trees; playing in New York seemed a distant dream.  On February 17thColumbia, the capitol of South Carolina, fell to federal forces.  The city was set a fire, probably by the  retreating Confederates.  As it burned, the 1st Brigade Band was one of 12 bands gathered to play at what one player described as “full blast.”  They all struck up together The Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera “Il Trovatore”.

The army continued it’s march out of the Palmetto State and into North Carolina.  By early April they had a bit of a rest in the vicinity of Goldsboro.  In a letter of April 7th, 1865, Kimberly described what must have been the proudest moment of his life:

“Last night, according to previous notice, we repaired to Sherman’s headquarters for a serenade.  A new song, composed by prisoners [Lt. H. S. M. Byers of Iowa, who wrote the song while a prisoner of war in Charleston, S.C.] is in my possession, entitled “When Sherman Marched Down to the Sea.”  After some rehearsing, I was the first one to sing it before our old hero, Billy T. [Sherman] and his entire staff, after which I sang another and rec’d a very high compliment from Sherman.  After playing several pieces the crack band of the army made it’s appearance, namely the 33d Massachusetts and played several pieces.  After all this we played another piece and returned to camp, assured we had done honor to ourselves at least.  After getting in camp our Brigadier [Clark] came with a compliment from Sherman to our band, stating we were the model band of his entire army. This, said by a Gen’l of such wide world renown is certainly a big thing!-a great feather in our caps. The Massachusetts Band spoken of has always had the name of being the best band in Sherman’s Army – pronounced by Sherman himself at Savannah.  Not wishing to boast I will say of ourselves – we are not afraid of any Band in this Dept. of Tennessee or Georgia.  During the campaign we done considerable playing and [were] spoken of very highly as good players and a band of gentlemen.  We have strived to live up to and merit a continuance of that good name.”

April saw Oscar’s proudest moment as well as the end of the war.  It was decided to hold a victory parade in Washington with as many soldiers as possible.  The Grand Review would be held as a split affair starting with Grant and Meade’s Army of the Potomac followed the next day with Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee.  George T. Spaulding , tenor horn player in the 1st Brigade Band, wrote to his wife in Brodhead:

Mrs. George T. Spaulding
Fidelia S. Spaulding

“May 24th, 1865;  We had a splendid day for the review, were on the move at daylight and moved for capitol hill at 9 o’clock and passed the reviewing stand at 10 o’clock where were the big heads of the nation.  Everything passed off finely.  After we had played through the city we fell out and went back to Penn Avenue and saw the balance of the army pass.  We were spoken of in high terms by the reporter of the review.  You no doubt may see it in the papers.  We were the only band mentioned among the many, perhaps on account of the brightness of our instruments.  It said the band of the 15th corps attracted much attention on account of neatness of dress, brightness of instruments and the fine music discoursed.  So much for us.  We played the whole length of Penn Avenue.  We rec’d several fine bouquets.”

The band spent a short time in Kentucky filling out it’s term of enlistment.  Here it was known eventually, on paper at least, as the 2nd Brigade Band, 4th Division.  The name never took hold.  They soon returned to Brodhead in triumph and with respect, though history was not quite finished with Mr. Kimberly’s band.