What Was the Point of Taking Musicians into Battle? Here’s Your Answer.

Great question, although I confess to not giving it much thought.  Then along comes Susan with this email.

I was touring around Prescott today and happened to visit Fort Wellington, which was hastily erected during the War of 1812 to keep the ‘Murricans at bay.

During the tour, our guide, who himself is a re-enactor and was dressed as a rifleman, was giving the talk on differences on ammunition and use of the rifleman (basically a sniper) versus the infantry. Essentially the infantry on both sides would get within 50m of each other and just blang away with muskets, which were not accurate at all. However, the rifleman had a rifle that was very accurate, and deadly up to 300m. So they hid in trees, behind bushes etc and picked off high-priority targets like officers and….musicians.

Musicians? Of course he asked us to guess why. I guessed that the band played morale-boosting music, which was part of the reason (Sadly, another visitor’s guess that it was in order to eliminate the bass solo wasn’t quite the reason why 🙂

But more to the point, in the heat of battle, with loud guns and cannons blanging away all around, an officer’s voice shouting commands wouldn’t be heard. But music could be heard, as can be witnessed at any re-enactment. Soldiers were drilled to listen for certain tunes played by the band; that way they knew which regiment was to attack, and which to retreat, and so forth.

So if a rifleman took out a musician, and most bands were indeed just a fife and drum. Eliminating even just one of the two would help impair the enemy’s ability to understand the battlefield commands, which must have thrown a serious monkeywrench in the works at times.

Cool, no?  Thanks for sharing the info!

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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