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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada





Report H E 9

Fortress of Louisbourg



The drum, with its solid tone audible above other sounds, possesses the unique quality among musical instruments to regiment the movements of large numbers of men. For this reason it served for centuries as the chief instrument of the military for conveying orders to the soldiery from their superiors both in their garrisons or camps and in battle, for according honors to men of high rank, for paying last respects at military funerals, and for issuing official pronouncements. Brought to Europe by the Turks during their invasion of the continent in the middle ages, the drum first appeared in France when the English army under Edward III captured Calais in 1347. [1] Thoinot Arbeau, in 1588, published Orchesographie, a treatise on dance, in which he described the usefulness of the drum for marching purposes, noting that "if three men are walking together and each- of them wishes to go at a different rate ... they will not be in step ... That is why, in a military march, the French have employed a drum to beat the rhythm according to which the soldiers must march, all the more because the majority of them are no better exercised in this than in any other branches of the military art." [2]

Elaborating on the same theme, Marshal Saxe declared in 1757 that there was nothing

more common, than to see a number of persons dance together during a whole night, even with pleasure; but, deprive them of music, and the most indefatigable amonst them, will not be able to bear it for two hours only; which sufficiently proves, that sounds have a secret power over us, disposing our organs to bodily exercises, and, at the same time, deluding, as it were, the toil of them."

Any music set to common or triple time, Saxe added, would help them march. Even those with no ear for music could not help but be affected by the sounds

because the movement is so natural, that it can hardly be even avoided: I have frequently taken notice, that in beating to arms, the soldiers have fallen into their ranks in cadence, without being sensible to it, as it were; nature and instinct carrying them involuntarily; and without it, it is impossible to perform any evolution in close order ... [3]

It was not only in marching that the drum proved useful, however. M. de Guignard, in L'Ecole De Mars published in 1725, wrote that the French had imitated "Etrangers, avec lequels nous avons servi dans la derniere Guerre" and placed a drummer in the quarters of each regiment so that sergeants-and corporals might be summoned quickly to receive their orders. This, he declared, "est beaucoup plus commode pour ces commandemens extraordinaires, que celle qu'on avoit avant cela, qui étoit de crier, A l'ordre, ou d'aller de chambre en chambre, ce qui retardoit de beaucoup l'exécution." [4 ]

The importance of the drum as a military instrument gave prominence to those who played it. The qualities expected of a drummer during the reign of Mary Tudor in England certainly far exceeded anything expected of the ordinary soldier of the day. He was to be

faithful, secret and ingenious, of able personage to use their instruments and office of sundry languages: for oftentimes they be sent to parley with their enemies, to summon their forts or towns, to redeem and conduct prisoners, and divers other messages ... If [they] should fortune to fall into the hands of the enemies, no gift nor force should cause them to disclose any secrets that they know. They must oft practise their instruments, teach the company the sound of the march, alarm, approach, assault, battle, retreat, skirmish, or any other calling that of necessity should be known. They must be obedient to the commandment of their captain and ensign, when they shall command them to come, go or stand, or sound their retreat or other calling. [5]

Francis Markham, in 1622, noted that the fife was "only an instrument of pleasure ... and it is to the voice of the Drumme the soldier should wholly attend ... [it] being the very tongue and voice of the Commander..." The drummer had to be careful not to sound an incorrect beat, since such an error could cause a whole army to perish in battle. The soldier, for his part, had to "be diligent and learn all the beating of the Drumme..." Agreeing that the drummer should be a man of many accomplishments, Markham added that no one should "strike or wound the drummer as he is rather a man of peace than of the sword, yet he is a man of valour and courage, his place is at the Captain's heels even in the middle of the battle ..."[6]

Among the perquisites, at least during the 16th century, which may have come to drummers because of their special status was lodging in the better establishments. In a work published in 1582, Luis Gutserres de la Vega reported that the "'best Inne or lodging is to be prowided [sic] for the Captain, and the seconde is likewise to be given to the Auncient bearer [Ensign], and the Sergeant of the bande [Company], next unto them must be lodged the Drumme-plaiers and the Fluite."'[7] Such privileges in lodging for drummers had disappeared by the middle of the 18th century, if indeed they had ever existed in the French service. There was, however, one highly visible indication of the French drummer's importance: his uniform was elaborately trimmed with the king's livery.

A surgeon serving in the American Revolution, Dr. Thacher, wrote the following in his journal in June of 1781:

A splendid world is nov open to our view, all nature is in animation - the fields and meadows display the beauties of spring, a pleasing variety of vegetables and flowers perfume the air, and the charming music of the feathered tribe delights our ears. But there is a contrast in music. What can compare with that martial band, the drum and fife, bugle-horn and shrill trumpet, which set the war-horse in motion, thrill through every fibre of the human frame, still the groans of the dying soldier, and stimulate the living to the noblest deeds of glory? The full roll of the drum, which salutes the commander in chief, the animating beat, which calls to arms for the battle, the reveille, which breaks our slumber at dawn of day ... and the evening tattoo, which commands to retirement and repose; these form incomparably the most enchanting music that has ever vibrated on my ear. [8]

While a trifle overstated and florid for modern tastes, Dr. Thacher's remarks serve to point out the effect the sound of the drum could have, even on someone who experienced it quite regularly. The "animating beat" of the drum was one of the sounds most familiar to the inhabitants of 18th century Louisbourg. Though directed primarily at the garrison, the drum beats served the civilian population as well by signaling such things as the opening and the closing of the gates and the publication of ordinances. These beats must also have reassured the townspeople of the military presence there to protect them. Much time and effort has been expended to recreate visually life in the fortress. Equal care should be taken to duplicate one of the most important sounds of life in the community.