Original Civil War Side Drum Dated 1862
Drums were very important to the movement and organization of Civil War armies. Drums sounded calls that helped to cadence an advance, convey the orders of an officer, or redirect lines during the heat of battle. Drums were as important as battle flags in helping to manage a large force during a battle.
There are a great variety of drums that were used in the Civil War. Drums range from basic wooden shelled drums with minimal artistic design, to elaborately painted drums that identified their ownership by a specific regiment. This is an original Civil War Drum of standard design with an old label inside the shell identified to “Robert W. Warren” and hand-dated “May 14, 1862.” The overall size 16 3/4" diameter x 14" tall. This height is typical of Civil War drums that averaged between 14” to 15” in height. Many original wartime drums were cut down in the postwar years for use in military and veteran parades. The leather pulls, hoops, catgut snares, and skins are all original on this drum, including the top skin with "R.W.W. Geneva" in old inked writing. The “R.W.W.” stands for Robert W. Warren. The number "27" is also impressed in the shell. This is most likely a mark made during the drum’s manufacture.
1850 federal Census records find Robert W. Warren living in Geneva, Walworth County, Wisconsin with his wife Mary and their children. He is listed as having been born in Vermont and was age 54 at the time of the Census. His occupation was listed as “Merchant & Miller.” Also living in the household were his son, Robert (age 8), daughter Mary (age 6), S. Gardner (a 39 year old Merchant Clerk) and Judith (age 23).
The published History of Walworth County provides additional biographical material about Robert W. Warren. He was born in Windsor, Vermont on October 5, 1798 and moved to Essex, New York as a young man. He was afterward living in Cranford County, Pennsylvania before coming west by ox wagon in the mid-1830s and settling in Geneva, Wisconsin in the summer of 1836. Warren was married to Mary Knapp of Cherry Valley, New York. Biographical information documents that Warren established a sawmill in Geneva and also operated a hotel for a time while waiting for the sawmill to become operational. He was reputed to be a “millwright by trade” and “very skilled.” In addition to the sawmill concern, Warren operated a mercantile business in Geneva.
Military records document that Warren’s son, Robert W. Warren registered for the draft at age 21 in Geneva, Wisconsin, but there is no record of military service during the war.
Another son, Seth K. Warren, was an artist who began in the early days of photography before turning his hand completely to painting.
Old paper label pasted on the inside of the drum shell with hand written date May 14th 1862.
“R.W.W. Geneva” initials on the top skin of the drum.
Civil War drums are not uncommon, but are highly sought by collectors. This example is one of the more traditional examples and can generally be found in the $850 to $1300 price range. Examples that have been cut down, are less desirable (even with regimental painting or an eagle motif) and command much lower prices. An example of an original, full size painted drum with eagle and regimental inscription, can command prices ranging from $3,500 to $8,000 depending on condition and provenance.
Drums are central to the history of the Civil War. Any original drum showing evidence of wartime use is an important relic of America’s past. This drum is a fine example of the type that marched many young men off to war in 1861.
Original CDV of Union drummer with a contract drum featuring a tack design as used in the Civil War.