First Brass Band
( Originally Published 1893 )
FIRST BRASS BAND-"THE LIGHT GUARD QUICKSTEP"-GENERAL TRAINING-DAY-A FALSTAFFIAN ARMY--MILITIAMEN IN THEIR GLORY-OUR CRACK CORPS
BEFORE me lies a worn and faded piece of music, "The Light Guard Quickstep," composed and dedicated to Captain Vincent by T. J. Dodworth. It was played in from of the Astor House on days of anniversary parade, out of compliment to Mr. Stetson, the proprietor, who was a lieutenant in this crack corps, and who afterwards did good service as a soldier of the Union. To the Light Guards and to the Dodworths belong the credit of organizing our first military bands, and they did it handsomely. When Julien, the conductor, returned to England from his trip through this country, he told the London musicians that it would not pay them to come here, as there was a musician in New York with a whole houseful of sons who had a band equal to anything the Old World could produce.
The organized bands of music in this city are the growth of the last half century. Before that time the drum and fife did duty for the militia when on parade. I suppose that it would be a slur upon the average intellect of the Legislature to give credence to the story told of an honest member from the lake region, who had fought as a soldier at Chippewa, and who made his maiden speech upon a bill which pro-posed to organize the militia of the State. " Mr. Speaker," said ex-Leftenant Hayseed, with the conscious pride of a veteran whose feet are lighted by the lamp of experience, I am opposed to organs. Our fathers fit with fife and drum at Saratoga, and so did we at Chippewa, and we made the redcoats skip every time. And besides, Mr. Speaker, them organs would be mighty onhandy things to have around in time of battle." Whether owing to this patriotic and enlightened stand or not, the martial music of Bunker Hill and of White Plains, of Lundy's Lane and Plates-burg, continued to inspire the militia of this city for many a long year after peace had been declared between Great Britain and the United States. Some boys, who are still more venerable than myself, have told me that the first fragmentary attempts at military bands in this city were made by negro musicians; and this is entirely credible, because the African has in his nature the rhythm and soul of melody, and turns to music as a thrush warbles in the hedge. Be that as it may, the original Tom Dodworth (who at this time kept a small music and fruit store on Broadway), was the father of all our great military bands. His own organization, which was first known as the National Brass Band, but afterwards was very naturally popularized into Dodworth's Band, made their first parade in uniform of buff and blue at the head of the regiment known as the Governor's Guard, then commanded by Colonel Pears, a worthy warrior who had a confectionery store on Broadway opposite the park. Soon other competitors came into the field. Wallace, whose orchestra made music, at Peale's Museum, on Broadway, between Murray and Warren streets, and who had almost as many sons as Dodworth, organized the New York Brass Band, and he was followed by Lothian and others. The war with Mexico lent a fresh impetus to. martial music. Then came the war for the Union, with its demand for military bands that should keep the pulse of soldier and people at battle heat, and out of this has been finally evolved the magnificent martial music that now puts the soul of the soldier into the militia that march through our streets.
I have spoken of the Light Guard as a crack corps. Its rival was the City Guard, under command of Captain McArdle. The drill of these two companies was superb ; their social composition was most exclusive. In the little city of their day not only were the officers men of mark, but every private in the rear ranks was necessarily somebody. The militia idea ran to what might be called small cliques. In point of fact, they were the clubs of the period. The regimental bond, in all cases loose, was for the most part nominal. The Cadets and the Hussars, the Light Guard and the City Guard, the Kosciuskos and the Lafayettes, the Tompkins Blues and the Washington Greys, were the distinguishing social as well as military marks of the men about town. Money was profusely expended on equipments and entertainments, and uniforms were selected without the slightest reference to their compatibility with republican institutions. The City Guard adopted the magnificent dress of the Coldstream Guards, and the Light Guard donned the showy Austrian uniform; and so it happened that when Louis Kossuth landed in our city he started back with an involuntary shudder at finding himself surrounded by the hated uniform of the House of Hapsburg, the Light Guard having been appointed a guard of honor as escort of the Hungarian patriot.
The present generation has much to boast of in its advance upon the traditions and inventions of the fathers, but it has forever missed some delights whose memories are still redolent of pleasure to us who are tottering down the western slope of the hill. To the boy of to-day the once magic words "general training-day" have no meaning. To the Oldboys they still convey through memory's kaleidoscope rare pictures of the past. The "June training " was a holiday whether the school-house kept its doors open or not. At one time it covered the space of three days ; later on a single day was devoted to the public instruction in the manual of arms. And a blithesome day it was. It never rained during those twenty-four hours. Very early in the sweet summer morning the victims and votaries of Mars used to assemble on the gravelled sidewalk of St. John's Park and in other convenient places, and go through the manual in awkward array. Short and tall, old and young, shabby and well dressed, the motley crew were ranged in line, while the instructor in tactics, sword at side and with rattan in hand, endeavored to switch them into order and swear into their dull heads some idea of military discipline. It was a spectacle for which all New York prepared itself for weeks in advance with a broad grin. A virtual holiday, it always culminated in a carnival. When the hour arrived for the display of this motley crew in parade, all New York poured forth into the streets through which its awkward army marched, and laughed until its sides ached.
In later days our local militia were attired in a magnificence of style unequalled by Solomon in all his glory. But in this somewhat primitive era, when, in view of the late war with Great Britain, every citizen was to be deemed a possible soldier, uniforms were a rarity. Each future hero of the battle- field attired and armed himself as seemed good in his own eyes, and could Falstaff have reviewed one of those June trainings, he would have evolved new turnings to his description of his own scarecrow regiment. None of the militia of the general training-day epoch were uniformed except the Light Guard, the City Guard, and the Washington Greys, of the infantry line, a battery of flying artillery, and the Washington Horse Troop. These uniformed corps constituted the flank companies of the main body of military in citizens' clothes. Description is beggared as the mind tries to recall them. Some wore the old-time furred high hats, many wore caps, occasionally one was bareheaded, and at intervals the " beaver" of an enthusiastic trainer was decorated at the side with a large black feather and cockade. The taste in dress was equally bizarre. The swallow-tail coat of the period was the rule, but it was found in company with the frock-coat, roundabout, pea-jacket, blouse of every color, and the red shirt from the Bowery precincts. The exhibit of trousers was as miscellaneous in shape and color. Some of the gallant crew had the lower garment tucked in the boot-leg, and occasionally one wore knee-breeches, then not wholly discarded, and a few were arrayed as Indians, or in the costume of Christmas fantasticals. At rare intervals a company appeared in regulation broadcloth crossed with white belts, high hats, and cockades, and, being armed uniformly, presented for the moment quite a martial appearance, which, however, served only to bring the rest of the Falstaffian army into ridicule. The armament of the gallant militia was so varied as to be sublime, and could not have failed to strike terror into the soul of any foreign spectator. Some of the heroes of the parade carried an old " King's arm " that had done service in 1812, or in the Revolutionary and French wars, in the hands of their fathers and grandfathers ; others had a more modern flintlock or a fowling-piece. A few had bayonets, and a few more possessed belts and cartridge-boxes. Those who had no other weapon of offence armed themselves with cord-wood saplings, canes, umbrellas, and broomsticks, carried proudly at shoulder arms. Viewed as an army, this host of patriots was fearfully and wonder-fully made ; viewed as a pageant it was sublime. " Saxe," said a polite French visitor, who had been under fire at Marengo and at Waterloo, and had been invited to assist in reviewing our gallant militia, " I have seen ze troops of ze grand Napoleon, and ze soldiers of ze terrible Russe, and ze John Bull zat you make run, sare, but I nevare see such troops as zese, sare-nevare !"
The fun of training-day was phenomenal, but it had to be paid for. After the glory of the review came the terrors of the court-martial. In a few weeks those who had failed to turn out for inspection, as by law directed, and those who had not equipped themselves in such martial array as the statute required, found themselves standing in the impressive presence of a circle of epauletted officers, whose sternness was equal- . led only by the amount of gold-lace that bedizened them. Then woe befell the unlucky wight who had hoped to escape detection as an artful dodger of his duty, or the careless trainer, whose bayonet, cartridge-box, or musket had not materialized itself to the inspector's eye. All delinquents were incontinently fined in sums varying from 25 cents to $5, and those who had not the money to pay were promptly filed off under guard and consigned to the iron grasp of Marshal Davids. The unhappy defender of his country's honor had no alternative but to furnish the hard cash, or to rest his martial bones in Eldridge Street Jail until such time as his fine had been liquidated, at the rate of one dollar for each day of imprisonment. 'Twas ever thus, that those who would dance must pay the piper.
The military system of the city and State was a far-reaching one in the days when I first took delight in stealing out to follow a parade through the streets. It will surprise the miltiaman of to-day to learn that Colonel Tappan commanded the Two Hundred and Thirty-sixth Regiment of Infantry, and that the late Colonel Devoe was commandant of the Two Hundred and Sixty-ninth Regiment. One reads the history of general training-day in the record of Maj.-gen. James I. Jones, who commanded the Thirteenth Division of the State militia, composed of the Fifty-ninth and Sixty-third Brigades of Infantry. In the latter command were the Seventy-fifth Regiment, under command of Col. Frederick S. Boyd; Two Hundred and Forty-ninth Regiment, Col. George Dixey ; Two Hundred and Fifty-eighth Regiment, Col. John P. Wake; and Two Hundred and Sixty-ninth, Colonel Devoe. Brigadier-general Hunt was in command of the New York State artillery, and the First Brigade, located here, was composed of the Second Regiment, Governor's Guards, Colonel Pears ; Ninth Regiment, National Cadets, Colonel Slipper ; Twenty-seventh Regiment, National Guard (present Seventh Regiment), Colonel Jones. This formidable list of our local defenders gives one the idea of an army as great as that which the war for the Union called into existence. But it was a host on paper, for the most part, and experience demonstrated the advisability of adopting a policy of enlistment in later years.
When Major-general Macomb rode at the head of New York's martial array, the brigadiers were Lloyd, Kiersted, Sandford, and Morris. But my eyes did not take in the personality of the warriors until such time as Brigadier-general Sandford had been promoted to the dignity of a major-general, and the brigadiers whom I can personally recall are Generals Storms, Hall, and Morris-the saddle-maker, the music-dealer, and the poet. This quartet of soldiers were men whom I envied in my youth. Their cocked hats and glittering epaulets, their prancing steeds and clanking sabres, filled my soul with yearnings after the battle-field. As for the major-general, he was the god Mars incarnate. .How eagerly I always waited for his wild dash down the street at the head of a blazing constellation of gold-laced aides and outriders. When, towards mid-day, the command to march was given, it was a great day in New York. No such martial sight is vouchsafed in these degenerate days. In the ranks of the soldiers of that period marched the warriors of every nation under the sun. Throughout many regiments the uniforms of no two companies were the same, and the effect was dazzling. Looking from an upper balcony, one caught a bird's-eye view of the crimson coats of England, the green of Italy, the plaids of Scotland, the buff and blue of the old Continentals, the blue and red of France, the white coats of Austria, the bizarre uniforms of Poland and Hungary, and martial costumes of all colors, that seemed to be composed for the occasion. Verily, and in unexaggerated fact, the magnificent monarch who dazzled the eyes of the maiden Queen of Sheba was not arrayed like one of these!
As I write of these glories of the militiamen of other days, I am reminded of the day when my own regiment marched down Broadway en route to the front, amid the clapping of hands, and waving of hand-kerchiefs and cheers of assembled multitudes, and under escort of one of the commands of which mention has been made-the old Second Regiment. The three months' term for which we had enlisted was prolonged to two years, and to many of my comrades this meant death on the field of battle, to others wounds and imprisonment, and to all long months in camp and field that aged us as years age men else-where. We marched away to the burst of martial music, and with our full military band. When we came back it was with tattered remnants of flags, and with not more than T00 of the 800 who had marched away. To the sound of fife and drum the bronzed and bearded men who had gone out as rosy-cheeked youth marched up Broad way, dusty, weary, but crowned with the unseen laurels of patriotism. So had my fathers marched back from Lundy's Lane and Niagara, from Monmouth and Stillwater. I thought of it then with pride. I write it now with glad and thankful pen.