This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Music in the Field

15 August 2014

It was a warm day. The air smelled of canvas tents, horses, and cut grass. The soldiers had begun their daily drills so there had to be music. Three boys came to hear the army band play.

The exact time and place of this photo postcard are unknown. This army band of about 28 are wearing uniforms appropriate to the decade 1910 to 1920. Standing at attention behind them are the drums and bugles of the field musicians. The photo has faded and I have improved it with digital software but I am still uncertain about the complexion on the faces of the musicians. Are they African American?  If they are, they may be members of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments – the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" which were two all black units of the U.S. Army. formed in the second half of the 19th century.

The photographer wrote a caption in the corner:

Guard Mount
In The Field

A Guard Mount was when one unit was assembled to exchange duty with another. There was a specific bugle call for this order.

The scene in front of the band might have resembled this image from a postcard of 1918. A band performs for a large company of soldiers arrayed in some kind of drill line. They are near tents and are watched over by officers on horseback.

This birds-eye view is entitled Musical Saber Drill, Fort Riley, Kansas. The soldiers are practicing basic cavalry swordsmanship, but minus the horses. No doubt it is always best to first learn this unmounted. The field is overlooking the Kansas River of Ft. Riley, a military installation once known for a brief connection to the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment and General George Armstrong Custer.

The postcard has a postmark of SEP 23, 1918 from Junction City, KS Camp Funston. This camp was one of 16 training camps set up around the country in 1917 to prepare new recruits and draftees for military service in the war against Germany. 

It was addressed to Mr. Emil E. Forderhase of Berger, Missouri in Franklin County.

Sept 22 - 1918

Mr Emil Forderhase. Dear Brother
Am going to send you this card for pleasure
Sure would like to see you little fellow
again Guess you will be a big man if
I get back. Cant tell exactly when
that will be. Guess you missed me
every evening as you went to bed
and also during the day Say Emil how
do you like school. Just study hard for
it is good to have a good education
always can make use of it. Am glad to
have a much as I have. Even is good
here where I am Are several boys here that
cant write or Read. Tell Ida that I read a
letter that Amelia sent to Benj Meyer & in
that letter she wrote to all of us.
As ever Harry

Harry's full name was Harry Walter Forderhase and he was 24 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1918.  The American Expeditionary Forces under General John J. Pershing had already seen their first major action in the spring. They would see much more as summer ended during the so-called great Hundred Days Offensive, also known as the Second Battle of the Somme. By September there was still no expectation that the war in Europe would end soon, and America was now sending 10,000 soldiers a day to the battlefields of France.

Harry Forderhase was one of over 4 million American men who were mobilized for America's military contribution to World War One. I do not know if he was ever put on a ship for France, but his veteran record states simply that he was released from army service in January 1919. Perhaps more significantly, Harry survived the Great Influenza epidemic of 1918, as the Kansas army camps were later determined to have been an epicenter for this horrific contagion that killed millions more people than were taken by the war.

Emil Forderhase must have been very pleased to have his brother return to the farm in Berger, as he was only 10 when Harry joined up in 1918. The Forderhase family, though they were a generation or more removed from the old country, lived in a rural farm community where nearly every neighbor was of German descent.

In the postwar years, the family stayed together, as Harry, the oldest boy of 5 children, took over the farm in 1920. They were all still there in the 1940 census, single and unmarried – Ida, Harry, Oscar, Olivia, and Emil. The two youngest worked in a hat factory, where Olivia was a seamstress and Emil was a crown finisher.  They probably did not need to write many postcards or letters to each other.


The days of saber drills and cavalry training are over in today's modern army. But the generals of 1914-1918 considered the horse and saber the preeminent force for war. This British film shows a group of raw recruits getting instruction in how to wield the saber. There are of course no horses. And sadly in this era of silent film, no band music either. I hear a waltz. Maybe the Blue Danube.

This Pathé video should start in the middle at 7m 58s, but the beginning is well worth watching too.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to read more letters to home.


Howard said...

Another great post Mike. It is fascinating how powerful music was, and still is. A source of comfort can also be used to inspire men to go to battle in conflicts they knew little or nothing about. No other art form can manipulate the human spirit as much as music can. I find the idea of 'military music' quite bizarre, just like 'military intelligence'. You never hear the phrase 'combative art' unless used in the sense of the most confrontational subversive art. Definitely not in a military sense. Most war paintings are anti-war, even official war art like Nevinson, Orpen or Nash. Yet there is a genre of military music. A friend of mine joined the Territorial Army many years ago here in the UK just because it was the only place he could play his bassoon with other musicians. He didn't last long before he left.

Postcardy said...

One of my early posts was about Christmas at Camp Funston.

Kristin said...

Zooming in it does look like several of the band members are African American. It also looks like several are white. Could be there were just light since I don't think there were mixed race units at that time. Interesting how close the boys were able to get.

Little Nell said...

That opening sentence took me straight there. What a touching postcard to send.

Wendy said...

So much to focus on and reflect on with this post, Mr. Mike. I'm with Kristin -- for sure this must be the Buffalo Soldiers plus 3 young admirers eagerly waiting their turn to enlist.

And what? No YouTube to demonstrate the special bugle call for duty exchange?

Anonymous said...

Not even a street name needed to deliver the postcard! Another interesting glimpse of music in action.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Harry's writing style conjures up a very nice man. But how sad him knowing some who can't read or write.

Karen S. said...

Such an interesting story, true life out on the field, music had to be a comfort. I like the first photo of the three lads coming to listen too.

Anonymous said...

Music or the beat of a drum always seems to have been part of Army life. what do you think the three young boys are holding in their hands? I hope they weren't scolded for being late home

La Nightingail said...

I was happy to read that Harry survived the war as well as the influenza outbreak. A lucky fellow & it seems he went home to a good life with land to work & kin to work it with him.

Deb Gould said...

I laughed out loud at your " is always best to learn this first unmounted..." All around great post, as usual. I'm amazed at how much you know about music, instruments and the history of it all...

Sharon said...

Very interesting.

I have previously read about soldiers dying in camps of illness but don't think I had read about the influenza epidemic. When I get some time, I would like to read more about this.

Alex Daw said...

Mike - you never cease to amaze me with what you find. That Pathe video is just amazing. So scary to watch them practising the art of war. I felt sorry for the ones that weren't really good at riding horses - some of those jumps were a bit awful to watch. What a drama it all was.

Sherri said...

I love the way you always find a musical twist to play in all your posts. The video was interesting-those poor men didn't even have uniforms yet before they were being trained on the saber. It's kind of chilling to watch them train with such a close weapon, so unlike the weapons of today.


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