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New England Civil War Museum Celebrates Field Music

The Sunday program included live tunes played by re-enactors.

"Just remember … these instruments were made for outside, so they are going to be loud …"

That was the warning from Civil War musician re-enactor Peter Emerick, to a group of about 60 at the New England Civil War Museum in Vernon on Sunday.

With that, Emerick and fellow re-enactor Peter Stevens jumped into a revelry call and a bunch of visiting scouts immediately popped their heads up and looked ahead with keen interest.

The Peters had made their point.

Music of the Civil War was the topic of the bi-monthly open house on Sunday at the museum, housed in a fully preserved Grand Army of the Republic Hall at Vernon's Town Hall, erected in 1889 as the Memorial Building to commemorate the war.

Emerick was the keynote, both as a speaker and fife player and Stevens provided the drumming. It was a nice coincidence that about a third of the crowd was made up of young people because many drummer boys and general musicians were not the required 18, but, "10 or 11 years old," Emerick said. THe young musicians trained at Governors Island in New York Harbor.

Many Civil War musicians served as stretcher bearers at the battlefields and wrote some of the most colorful accounts of the war from their vantage points, Emerick said.

But their primary duty was to play the tunes that called the soldiers to wake up, replenish the picket lines, break camp, prepare to march, come to supper and turn in for the night, he said.

They began with a song called "Three Camps," widely used for a revelry call in the Union Army. Emerick said the "fatigue March" would often follow breakfast as a signal to get the gear ready in camp.

Emerick said the breakfast call was always met with mixed emotions because the soldiers, though hungry, knew that often, "the worms were more nutritious than the meal."

The duo also played a stirring rendition of "Dixie" after explaining that the song was loved not only by those who fought for the Confederacy, but by  Abraham Lincoln.

"When you heard the drum and when you heard the fife, you knew it was time to do something," Emerick said.

The The New England Civil War Museum is open on the second and fourth Sundays of each month from noon to 3. For more information, call 860-870-3563 or visit www.newenglandcivilwarmuseum.com.

It is maintained and operated by Alden Skinner Camp No. 45, Sons of Union Veterans. It is located at 14 Park Place, on the second floor of the Vernon Town Hall.

Alden Skinner was a surgeon for the  14th Connecticut regiment.

The regiment was involved in 34 major battles and skirmishes and there is a display noting it on a wall at the museum.

The battles include Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania and Cold Harbor.

It's commander, Col. Thomas Burpee, was killed at Cold Harbor. The bullet than found him is on display at the museum.

It is one of several interesting pieces in the museum's collection, along with a regimental Bible, guns, swords, a cannon ball from the battle of Petersburg and uniforms.

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