During the Civil War, drummers and buglers were allowed to enlist in the army without meeting the 18-year-old minimum age requirement for a combat soldier. Some estimates noted that 100,000 boys younger than 15 enlisted in the Union Army as musicians. Some 300 were even younger than 13.
It was the duty of the musicians to signal the soldiers when to eat, when to sleep and when to awaken. They also set the pace during marches. During a battle, they sounded out to let the soldiers know when to shoot and when to retreat, using their instruments. In the heat of battle, officers shouting orders could not be heard over the din, so the musicians’ louder bugles and drums were used as signal devices. These young musicians were also required to help remove the wounded from the battlefield, and act as runners or curriers between outposts. They could be required to assist a surgeon in a field hospital—holding down a soldier who was having a limb amputated, and then disposing of the severed member.
They were not, however, allowed to carry guns. Instead, they were issued a thin sword, which they wore proudly around their waist. There were occasions, however, when they might pick up a rifle to save their own life, or that of a fellow soldier.
One such youth from Reedsburg, Frank Pettis, was eleven years old when he enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer boy. His father, Amos, played the fife and also enlisted with his son. At the age of 12, Frank began his military service with his teacher, Captain A. P. Ellinwood, in Wisconsin’s 19th Infantry, Company A. He served from February 22, 1862 to August 9, 1865.
Pettis was present at every battle the 19th unit fought—from Suffolk, VA, and New Berne, NC, to the sieges of Petersburg and Richmond, where the colors of his regiment were the first to fly from the Confederate capital building in Richmond, VA.
After the war, Frank returned to Reedsburg and went to work in his father’s tailor shop. Several years later, at the age of 20, he became a miller.
He was a life-long member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the Reedsburg Drum Corps. He died in 1918, at the age of 68. At his funeral the Reedsburg Drum Corps, with muffled drums, preceded the hearse to Greenwood Cemetery where he is buried near his former teacher and Captain, A.P. Ellenwood. Frank Pettis left five grown children.
Young Frank Petties is depicted with his drum in Reedsburg’s military memorial in Nishan Park, on the “Courage” panel.
Frank Pettis - About age 12
One of the locations in New Bern, NC where Frank and his unit served during the war. Frank is on the lap of another soldier on the porch.
Enlargement from above photo: Frank Pettis on the lap of Lewis H. Cahoon in 1864.
The blockhouse near New Bern, NC, where the Wisconsin 19th Infantry, Co. A served in 1864.