Posted By Norman Gasbarro on June 8, 2011
Returning Civil War veterans, undoubtedly impressed with the pomp and music provided by regimental or brigade bands during their wartime experience, brought the experience home with them. There was a rapid growth of town and village bands in the post-war period.
There is an account of an early band in Gratz in 1856, the Umholtz Band, that played for the Sabbath School Picnic near the Hoffman Church in Lykens Township. But after the war, such bands are found more often in the records. The Gratz Cornet Band, founded some time before 1869, provided music for a parade in Hegins, Schuylkill County, and in 1872, they marched north about three-quarters of a mile from Simeon’s Church on Center Street to a picnic grove in a wooded area. This became an annual event known as the Harvest Home Picnic. In February, 1873, there is a record that the band spent $775 for a set of silver instruments and commissioned new blue unforms from a merchant tailor in Lykens. This band also played at a school celebration in Williamstown, at the Millersburg Fair, and had a special band wagon on which they rode around.
Grand Army Day was also an annual celebration in the years after the Civil War. An 1887 record shows that bands from Gratz, Georgetown, Fisherville, Lykens and Williamstown paraded around the Gratz Fair Grounds. The Gratz Coronet Band played to welcome new residents to town, for private birthday parties, for church picnics, and in concert for community events.
In addition to the coronet band in Gratz, a Fife and Drum Corps was organized around 1875 and records show it was still in existence in 1892. A “string” band was formed around 1886 and may have been the group referred to as the Gratz Orchestra in the early 1890s. Most of the new groups didn’t last long. By 1898, in celebration of the victory over Spain, a citizen band marched in a parade in Gratz.
By the time of World War I, the sons and grandsons of the Civil War veterans made up the musical groups found in Gratz. The Umholtz family continued to take the lead both in the organization and leadership of the musical groups. Milton Oliver Umholtz, was the leader of a Gratz band that played all over the Lykens Valley and sponsored annual “band fairs.” Milton O. Umholtz was the grandson of Civil War veteran Edmond Lloyd Umholtz (1843-1882) who served as a drummer in the war and was a member of both the 177th Pennsylvania Infantry and the 210th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Additional information is sought on Civil War veterans who returned home and participated in community bands. Readers are invited to comment.
The portrait of Milton O. Umholtz and the picture of the early Gratz band are from A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania, as is much of the information on post-Civil War Gratz bands found in this post.