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  Fife Corps History   Military Fife Corps  


History of Fife and Drum

 Written by the Kentish Guards which also has graciously granted the RDMA permission to post


            The fife and the drum are prehistoric musical instruments; simple in design, they were first made before man’s written history. They were and are used in various forms and combination in nearly every culture and period of history.

            The first time they were used together in a form, which today, we would recognize as “fife & drum” was in Switzerland in the 15th Century. The Swiss had won their independence in 1291, and had become famous for their bravery and military excellence. The needs of extended marches and camp life encouraged the development of fife & drum music in the 1400’s. The rest of Europe took notice of this military music at the climatic Battle of Marignano (near Milan, Italy) in 1515.

            The Germanic Principalities adopted this military music in the 1500’s and 1600’s. The French employed Swiss mercenaries in the 1600’s and 1700’s, who brought their fife & drum music with them and influenced the rest of the French Army. During the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain the English Army had become very disorganized and undisciplined. The Hanoverians, who succeeded Queen Anne beginning with George I in 1714, reorganized the English Army, requiring troops to march in step to proper military music, which took the form of fife & drum (excepting Scottish Highland regiments which used bagpipe and drum). This was the model, which the English colonists in North America followed when they formed they local military organizations.

            In the military pattern, a company of about 100 men would have one or two fifers, and one or two drummers. When eight or ten companies were gathered together to form a regiment, their fifers and drummers were “banded” to form a regimental band. Thus a fife & drum corps is the musical unit of a regiment of 800 to 1,000 men. The regiment is traditionally the largest military unit “commanded by one voice,” so a fife and drum corps of 8 to 40 musicians (typically 16 to 20) is the largest size this musical unit historically achieved.

            The musicians provided music for the army on the march. As Napoleon would prove, march music is very effective in motivating an army to march long distances. The musicians were also used to broadcast various signals. Military camp life required a succession of daily signals: time to get up, breakfast call, sick call, assembly, lunch, duty calls, dinner, evening retreat, light-out (curfew). The “Tattoo” comes from the Dutch die den tap toe, which was a signal for the beer sellers to “turn off the taps” so that the soldiers could finish their beers and report back to camp. This signal consisted of the fife and drums marching up and down the streets of the garrison town or camp playing as they marched – at the end, they would stop marching, and conclude with a hymn.

            While the army was encamped (or billeted in a city) the “officer of the day” (supervising at that moment) would always have a drummer with him to give impromptu and emergency signals: to sound “alarm” at an imminent attack, or to call for a conference of the officers, or the sergeants, or to gather all of the musicians for some formal duty. Contrary to common belief, signals generally were NOT given during battles, excepting “cease fire” and related signals. The battlefield was too noisy and confusing, and, as the French discovered when they experimented with the idea in the 1750’s, the enemy can hear your signals. Sometimes the musicians might march in front of their army before the face of the enemy to taunt them and to encourage their own troops, but at a safe distance.

            Musical signals, however, were used to position the troops onto and off of the battlefield. Signals were given to make varying formations, turn in various ways, halt, march, extend and retract lines. An army on the march could be stretched-out or compacted by playing the appropriate music. An important daily duty, whether at camp, on the march, or just before and after a battle was the Parade. The Parade was a formal assembly of all personnel; here troop strength, and equipment could be inspected, unit orders could be given, awards and punishments conferred, and formal announcements issued. A “Trooping of the Colors” would display the flags, which the troops were to follow.

Music played an important part in this multi-millennia-old ceremony; musical signals were given to announce various parts of the ceremony and move the troops at appropriate times. This Parade, or Assembly, or Military Review is also the form of the Muster, traditionally called about four times a year to count and inspect the local militia and have them sharpen and demonstrate their military skills.

            Both the British Army and the English colonists used fife & drum in the Revolutionary War. Thus this music is strongly associated with the birth of America. It was still used by the American military into the Civil War, but by then the increased range, accuracy, and rapidity of firearms, the extension and rapid movement of battle lines, and replacement of long marches by transport on railway and steamship, made fife & drum obsolete. After the Civil War, the bugle was preferred, though fife & drum was used by shipboard Marine detachments until 1921.

            Fife & drum, however, blossomed as a folk tradition around the year 1876, the centennial of American independence. Nostalgic, patriotic Americans of this era recreated this music. Many local militia companies had become fire brigades and supported fife & drum corps as a town band. The music that these civilian groups played grew out of the military tradition, but was free to develop into more entertaining and artistic forms. This civilian, patriotic music became its own tradition, and continues today as a “folk tradition.” (Claude Levi-Strauss, a famous social anthropologist, defined a folk-tradition as an activity, which engages members of all generation in a society.)

            Fife & drum corps participate in parades and their own musters and tattoos, displaying their musical abilities. Some corps play within this folk tradition, which grew out of the 1870’s, while others specifically recreate authentic music of the American Revolution, or the Civil War. They are primarily located on the East Coast between Virginia and Massachusetts, most heavily in Connecticut. Groups are scattered elsewhere in the United States, and a few are in Switzerland, where they play in the American “Ancient” style, thus returning this musical form to its original homeland.


Military Fife and Drum Corps






Photo Courtesy of the Old Guard, USA [2003 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA]


The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

(3d U.S. Infantry)

Written by the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps which has graciously granted the RDMA permission to post



The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is the only unit of its kind in the armed forces, recalling the days of the American Revolution as they parade in uniforms patterned after those worn by musicians of our Continental Army.  The crisp drill and patriotic music of The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps provides a tangible demonstration of The United States Army’s dedication, discipline and precision to the Nation and the World.  The unit was created in 1960 and is assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), at Fort Myer, VA.  The Corps travels extensively as an official representative of the United States Army, and averages nearly 500 performances annually.


Dressed in Colonial-style tricorn hats, white wigs, and red greatcoats, the Corps brings added dignity to official ceremonies and civic functions. The Corps performs at all White House Full Honor Arrival Ceremonies for foreign Heads of State and has performed in every Inaugural Parade since the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, in 1961.  At Home the Corps has performed for NASCAR events, NFL events, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500 and the Tournament of Roses Parade.  On the International Stage, the Corps has been a part of the Virginia International Tattoo, The Nova Scotia International Tattoo and traveled to Australia, Panama, Germany and Belgium.  The 69-member Corps uses 10-hole fifes, hand-made rope-tensioned drums and single valve bugles, all modern adaptations of traditional military signal instruments.  The marching strength of the unit is normally 21 Soldiers and a Drum Major.


 The Drum Major of the Corps wears a light-infantry cap that is made of leather and covered with bear fur.  As a badge of distinction, he or she wears a white leather baldric draped over the right shoulder and hanging across the body.  The Drum Major uses an espontoon, a weapon carried by infantry officers during the 18th century, to issue silent commands to the Corps.


The music played by the Corps is representative of traditional field music and has been carefully researched, largely from original 18th and 19th century sources.  The Corps thrills audiences with tunes such as “Washington’s Artillery March,” “Downfall of Paris,” “Duke of York’s March” and “Yankee Doodle.”  Additionally, the Corps’ performances include a breathtaking drum solo that is a real show of professional dexterity. The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is America in retrospect — rekindling the "Spirit of '76" in today's Army.





Photo courtesy of the Kentish Guards


The Kentish Guards

Written by the Kentish Guards which also has graciously granted the RDMA permission to post



            The Kentish Guards are an elite militia company formed in East Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1774, then having two fifers and two drummers (this being appropriate for a company-sized unit). The Kentish Guards never disbanded, and are the sixth oldest military unit in the United States in continuous existence. Sponsoring a succession of musical organizations, in 1966 they formed a regimental-sized fife and drum corps, the Kentish Guards Fife and Drum Corps. The KGF&DC is one of only five fife and drum corps in the United States that are part of a legal military organization, and also serve as the official fife & drum of the Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands, formed in 1876 of historic military units who had fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and those between.


            Both the Kentish Guards Militia and the Fife & Drum Corps wear the blue, white and red uniform that was worn by the Guards between 1790 and 1820, and readopted in 1928. On the snare-drum shell is the canton (upper left corner) form the Kentish Guards’ Flag: a red field with a Rhode Island anchor and a federal eagle; over the eagle’s head are sixteen stars and on the eagle’s chest is a shield with sixteen stripes, as there were sixteen states in the United States when this coat-of-arms was designed, around 1800.


            The Corps plays a variety of music from the traditional fife & drum repertoire as well as authentic pieces; these include a medley of tunes taught by their fife instructor in 1774, William Williams. The KGF&DC has the rare opportunity to play in the “military tradition” for the Kentish Guards Militia; the Corps plays for the ceremonial inspection of the Militia by the state Adjutant General, at Gubernatorial Balls, and other official ceremonies. Thus the Kentish Guards Fife and Drum Corps are uniquely centered in the fife & drum tradition and the military history of America.


The Kentish Guards Fife and Drum Corps

1774 Armory Street

East Greenwich, Rhode Island 02818-3747





Photo courtesy of the Pawtuxet Rangers, RIM


Pawtuxet Rangers

Written by the Pawtuxet Rangers which has graciously granted the RDMA permission to post



            The enforcement of the Sugar Act by the British in 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townsend Acts of 1767 and other claims against the colony produced a stagnation of business and general resistance in the Colony of Rhode Island. Initially, this took the form of quick raids against British vessels that had been placed in Narragansett Bay and along the coast to stop illicit trade. These included boarding and burning of the sloop Liberty in Newport in 1769 and the Gaspee in Pawtuxet in 1772. Defiance had also taken place in Boston with the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The battles of Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill would occur in less than two years.


            The Pawtuxet Rangers were chartered by the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations on October 29, 1774 to protect the village of Pawtuxet, which was a thriving fishing village and a seaport very busy with commerce. The responsibilities of the Company soon expanded to include the manning of the fort on Pawtuxet Neck, thereby helping to protect the 400 miles of Rhode Island coastline from incursions by the Royal Navy. Since Newport was occupied and burned during the war as was Bristol, the need for the militia proved to be real.


            There were two types of militia units during the Revolution: independent chartered commands like the Pawtuxet Rangers and Continental regulars. General George Washington repeatedly commissioned these militia companies either for garrison duty or as auxiliary forces to the depleted Continental Line. Members of the Pawtuxet Rangers served in many military actions: the Battle of Rhode Island, the Battle of Saratoga, the Siege of Boston and the surrender at Yorktown.


            Following the 1789 Treaty of Paris, the men of the Company returned home, only to be called upon once again to serve in the War of 1812. The men turned in their red coats to wear the traditional blue coats of the United States artillery companies, and became the Pawtuxet Artillery Company. The Company served in this capacity until 1847 when the Company was disbanded.


            When the nation’s Bi-Centennial celebrations were being planned, many of the chartered commands were re-activated to reenact the life styles of the Colonial soldier, who played such an important part in the history of the United States, The Pawtuxet Rangers’ charter was reinstated in 1974, two hundred years after the original charter date. The Company celebrated it’s 225th anniversary of it’s original charter in 1999.


The Pawtuxet Rangers, RIM

Armory Hall

59 Remington Street

Warwick, Rhode Island 02888-1648





Photo courtesy of the Federal Blues, RIM


Warren Federal Blues

Written by the Warren Federal Blues which has graciously granted the RDMA permission to post


             It was the year 1798, twenty two years after the Revolutionary War.  America was trading almost exclusively with England and the town of Warren was playing an important role in the growth of our country at this time.  Our French allies who experienced their own revolution in 1783 were having troubled times.  France was still struggling for balance in the world marketplace and unable to interest the United States in trading with them.  The French began to send out ships known as Corsairs to seize our American trade ships, terrorize our crews, and steal food to feed their starving people back home.  Six hundred American ships were sunk and 25,000 men were killed. These were troubled times.


            America under our second President, John Adams, and Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, began building a navy using oak and other hardwoods that were abundant in the area.  It was at this time (1796) the United States Navy was officially born.  In 1799, in a little town called Warren, a new 124 foot square rigger Navy frigate was being constructed to be named the USS Nathaniel Greene.  Samuel Slater's Mill built in 1793, began the industrial revolution and could produce the sailcloth that was needed and at one third the cost.  This material was transported by barge down the Providence River and up the Warren River to sail makers on Water Street.


            Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, a resident of Warren, was assigned to put together a 250 man crew and train them for when the ship was ready.  It was a difficult job, but he was pleased with his progress.  But there was one thing missing, Marines.  Marines were the Navy's policemen and their job was to keep men under control and from deserting the ship.  Their prime duties were to board enemy ships and, if need be, engage in hand to hand combat.  They also served as sharpshooters from small platforms near the ship's mast tops.  This new type of soldier was difficult to find and there was just one militia of this type in the area.  The newly formed company called: "The Federal Blues,"  chartered in 1798.


            When our country is threatened with foreign invasions it becomes the indispensable duty of every American citizen to place himself in a situation where he can be useful in repelling the attacks of it's enemies.  Residents of the town of Warren concerned for the town's well-being formed themselves into a military body and were granted a charter of incorporation not to exceed 64 men rank and file, constituted as an independent company of infantry, with one captain, one lieutenant, and one ensign.


            The Federal Blues Commander, Capt. Edgar Hebert, maintains to this day 64 members of militia, fifers, and drummers.


Federal Blues, RIM

42 Baker Street

Warren, Rhode Island  02885-3107






The Second Company, Governor's Foot Guards

The Second Company


             The Second Company of Governor's Foot Guards was established in the latter part of 1774.  While the original purpose of the Governor's Foot Guards was to provide escort for the Royal Governor of Connecticut, it was not long until their allegiance shifted away from the Crown.  On April 22, 1775, a day after the battle of Lexington, Benedict Arnold, the commander of the Second Company, secured powder, ball and flint from the King's powder house and marched the Company to Boston to assist the patriots in Boston.


             The Second Company defended New Haven against a large British force on July 5, 1779.  A member of the Second Company stalled the advance of the British by blowing up the West River Bridge allowing the neighboring militias time to reinforce the Second Company.


             One hundred twenty eight members of the Second Company also defended Washington, D.C. against Confederate forces in 1861.


            The Second company has escorted many notable figures in it's history including George Washington (July 2, 1775), 14 American Presidents, the Marquis De Lafayette, and Elizabeth the Queen of England (1976), as well as every Governor of Connecticut since 1775.


             The Field Music section which includes the Fife & Drum Corps was founded in 1775 to provide martial music to the Second Company.  The Corps is part of the Connecticut Military Department, an official State Militia and under the command of the Connecticut National Guard.  The Corps provides music for State functions as well as community events.


             The Dress Winter Reds ("the Reds") uniform consists of a scarlet coat with blue facing, silver buttons and braid.  The coat cuts away to end in a tail just below the back of the knees.  The cutaway reveals a white vest.  Over the coat are white cross straps. White pants with a blue stripe are worn along with black leggings, and a bearskin shako.


Second Company, Governor's Foot Guard

Goffe Street Armory

290 Goffe Street

New Haven, CT  06511-3302




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