Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

The Unknown Military Musician

Posted By on December 22, 2010

In a box of pictures kept by Hannah [Rickert] Riegle of Specktown Road in Lykens Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, was the above picture of an unknown person, possibly a member of a military band, holding an instrument that is not often seen today.  Hannah was the wife of Harrison Riegle (1840-1899) who served in the Civil War.

At the Civil War Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one exhibit case near the entrance is devoted to the musical instruments that were used by the regimental bands.  A picture of that case shows one picture that resembles the horn in the picture from Hannah’s picture box.

The picture is of an over-the-shoulder brass bass saxhorn, also known as a “backard blaster.”   Instruments of this type were designed by bandleader Allen Dodworth for use by military bands in the 1850s and 186s.  The purpose of the rear-facing horn was so that the infantry could hear and march in step to the music that was coming from in front of them.  After the Civil War, when military bands more often marched in parades or gave concerts, the bells were bent upward or forward so than the parade watcher or audience could better hear and appreciate the music.  The instrument in the photo at the top of this post is definitely of the type that would have been used in a military band during the Civil War.

As for the uniform in the picture, it has not been found in any reference depicting Civil War uniforms for musicians.  The Gratz Historical Society Library has a government publication depicting uniforms worn by various U.S. regiments.  The uniform for an infantry musician is similar to that of the cavalry or artillery and is pictured below.

The above uniform bears no resemblance to the one worn by the unknown person at the top of this post.

It is possible, as some  have speculated that Hannah’s “musician” picture is of Harrison some time after the war when he may have played in one of the local bands.  There were bands in Loyalton in Dauphin County, Hegins in Schuylkill County, and other communities.  There are no family stories that he ever did play in a band, but such thinking is reasonable.  Finding a picture of one of these bands in the 1870s would help and the uniforms worn, if any, possibly will match that worn by our unknown musician.

In trying to identify the person in the picture, I first looked at the regimental roster of the 103rd Pennsyvlania Infantry, the regiment in which Harrison Riegle was enlisted.  That regiment had no official regimental band.   Harrison was enrolled as a private, mustered in as a private, and mustered out as a private.  But one confusing fact is that in the 1890 Veterans Census, Harrison Riegle reported that he was a “Musician.”

The picture could be of Harrison, although in no other record is he identified as a “musician.”

The final comparison should be to other existing pictures of Harrison Riegle.

Another picture in Hannah’s photo box has been identified as Harrison Riegle’s Civil War photo.  That picture is an official military photo that bears a 2 cent revenue stamp on the rear and the photographer’s name, Fred Clark, Eby & Kunkel’s Building, Harrisburg.  Revenue stamps were used on official documents to pay the required tax.  The military picture would have been taken in 1865, the year he enlisted.

The picture of the “musician” is of a person who seems older than the Harrison Riegle in his “military” picture, and there is no tax stamp on the back.  Perhaps the “musician” picture is of Harrison, but at a later date – after 1871 when the tax stamps were no longer needed.

Other pictures of Harrison Riegle are shown here for comparison.  The next picture was taken about 1872 or 1873 as a tintype and the portraits of Hannah and Harrison were cropped out, enlarged and framed.  These framed portraits were found in the attic of the Riegle-Hoffman homestead on Specktown Road and now hang in one of the rooms in the Gratz Historical Society Museum.

The last picture of Harrison Riegle is a recent crop and enlargement from a family portrait that was taken around 1888.

Is the picture of Harrison Riegle or of someone else? If it is of someone else, then who?  Both Harrison and Hannah had many relatives who were Civil War veterans.

Is the picture of a Civil War soldier whose rank was “musician?”  If it is, can anyone explain the uniform.  And if the picture is from the Civil War period, why is there no revenue tax stamp on the back?

A reasonable conclusion is that this is someone from the Lykens Valley who Hannah [Rickert] Riegle knew and could very well be her husband Harrison Riegle – taken in the post-war period with an instrument that he perhaps learned to play while a member of the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry.


2 Responses to “The Unknown Military Musician”

  1. Patricia says:

    When it comes to the question of the tax, you may have answered it yourself. You said the tax was required on “official documents” perhaps this is not an official document. The civil war and its participants were subjects of photographic interest. Perhaps a photographer happened to be around and took this picture. The picture then could have been sent home by someone who happened to be passing by, who passed it on to another and so on, or took it directly there. Or maybe the subject held onto it until he got leave. There are many ways the photo could have escaped the tax. When it comes to civil war uniforms, especially in the early part of the war, uniforms were not standardized. Many families made uniforms for their soldiers based on what they were told, based on the fashions of the day etc. Others who could afford it, had tailors make them a uniform, again based on the notions of what a uniform should look like. Even when uniforms were produced in mass for units, many states produced their own uniforms. It was not till late in the war, that uniformity appeared across states and across different units. Even then you still had individualism, and lack of material to deal with. You can go to any sutler (where you buy civil war uniforms) and see the variety and see all the options available even on a supposedly standard uniform. I happen to shop at Civil War Emporium, for they are very helpful in getting to me what I want. Perhaps you should talk to someone like them and see what they can tell you about the uniform.

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