The US Marine Band at Gettysburg
In anticipation of the dedication of the new cemetery in Gettysburg to be held in November 1863, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles approved a request by an “agent of the grounds” to have The United States Marine Band present at the ceremony.
“The [Navy] Department has no objection to the Band being sent to Gettysburg, Pa., to take part in the ceremonies to this sacred purpose,” Secretary Welles wrote in a letter to the officers of the Marine Corps dated Nov. 3, 1863. The band proceeded with President Lincoln by train to Gettysburg, via Baltimore and Hanover Junction, on Nov. 18. Overseen by Leader Francis M. Scala, the 27 members of the band, including John Philip Sousa’s father, trombonist Antonio Sousa, serenaded the president and guests with a lunchtime concert on the train. There was a Marine Officer also assigned to this mission.
Aboard the train that carried Lincoln was another band also, the 2nd US Artillery Band who boarded in Baltimore. The two bands played on the trip, the Marine Band even leaving the train to play in Baltimore while the train while being uncoupled and moved one by one to the Northern Central Station.
Although the 5th NY Artillery Band had arrived in Gettysburg earlier and had played a street parade, interesting enough, there was no music at the arrival ceremony when Lincoln finally made to Gettysburg at dusk. This despite three bands in town. Perhaps the musicians were hungry…
The Birgfeld Band from Philadelphia would arrive later with the governor of Pennsylvania.
However, later that evening the Diamond was filled with bands, glee clubs and serenaders who roamed about. Spectators crowed the area outside the Wills House where Lincoln was staying and called for a speech. Lincoln obliged with a few words:
“I appear before you, fellow-citizens, merely to thank you for this compliment. The inference is a very fair one that you would hear me for a little while at least, were I to commence to make a speech. I do not appear before you for the purpose of doing so, and for several substantial reasons. The most substantial of these is that I have no speech to make. [Laughter] In my position it is somewhat important that I should not say any foolish things. [A voice from the crowd: If you can help it.] It very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. [Laughter] Believing that is my present condition this evening, I must beg of you to excuse me from addressing you further.”
Lincoln had important business to tend to for the next day…..
The next day, the members of “The President’s Own” performed the hymn “Old Hundredth” during the consecration and dedication of the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg, honoring those who served. According to an article in the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle, it was played “with great effect, in all its grand and sublime beauty.”
Here is an article Lincoln and the Marine Band at Gettysburg by Ed Pierce
Lincoln and The Marine Band at Gettysburg