In 18th century, troops communicated through music

August 23, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

BIG POOL - During the 18th century, military commanders had no radios, global positioning satellites or even loudspeakers to communicate with their troops.

About the only thing available was music.

"Music was a very important tool in the 18th century. ... The one way to communicate over great distances was through the use of music," said Ed Moderacki, the national adjutant of the Brigade of the American Revolution.

Moderacki narrated Saturday at Fort Frederick State Park as musicians from the brigade demonstrated the role music played on both sides of the American Revolution.

Between 500 and 600 re-enactors from across the country and Canada, about evenly divided among the patriots and Redcoats, are holding their Grand Encampment this weekend at the park.


Many events are scheduled for today.

This weekend's re-enactment is the major event of the summer for the brigade, which selects a different site in the U.S. or Canada for each year's big event. It is the international organization's first trip to Fort Frederick in 28 years.

"It's a wonderful, excellent site," Moderacki said. "We are having a great time."

Fife players and drummers from both armies belted out tunes Saturday. During the Revolutionary War, the songs were used to both entertain and instruct the soldiers, Moderacki said.

Because the colonists drew their military and cultural traditions from their British forefathers, the music on both sides was remarkably similar, Moderacki said.

Moderacki said 18th-century life was much quieter than that of modern times, with its noisy manmade machines. Music was much more audible in the olden days, he said. "You were able to hear them over a much greater distance," he said.

Musicians demonstrated the songs that were used to order the troops to take certain actions.

For instance, reveille, a fife accompanied by rhythmic drumming, signaled the wake-up call. Assembly called the soldiers to form a "parade" for inspection.

At dusk, another song would be used to call the closing ceremony. Upon hearing the music, the soldiers would move the outer post closer to the camp for night.

Different drum beatings would signal troops to perform certain tasks.

During water call, for example, the assigned soldier would fill canteens with water for his barracks.

Soldiers could recognize wood call by the banging of two drumsticks together. "Wood was the major fuel of the 18th century," Moderacki said.

During actual fighting, music was important to give orders to the troops, Moderacki said. Different music signaled the men to prime and load, make ready (lift the muskets into position) and present (fire).

Saturday's re-enactment attracted spectators from across the country.

Claire Kapusta traveled from upstate New York to watch her son, John, play the fife in the 3rd New York.

John, 12, became interested in Revolutionary War re-enactments after he attended a history camp, Kapusta said. She said he taught himself how to play the fife.

"It looks like it's easy to play, but it's not," she said. "He's always loved history and music. Here was a way to do both."

Peggy Sellers said she came from suburban Philadelphia because her daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law are re-enactors.

"You learn something each time you go," she said. "They explain everything to you. You can talk to anybody in uniform, and they'll tell you what they're doing and why."

Because Sellers was relatively close, her brother, Sam Wood, said he decided to come up from Charleston, W.Va., for the event.

"We decided to make a family reunion out of it," he said.

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