Drum from Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
National Park Service Museum Collections
American Revolutionary War
Restored snare drum. The drum and drumsticks were reportedly carried by Luther W. Clark at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
Wood, sheepskin, linen. H 41.9, D 39.4 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 349
Wood. L 37.5, D 2.1 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 444
Wood. L 37.1, DIAM 2.1 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 445
On March 15, 1781 Major General Nathanael Greene and his army of 4,400 Americans contested the British invasion of North Carolina at Guilford Courthouse. Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, commanded the tough professional force of 1,900 British soldiers. Greene deployed his men into smaller groups to take advantage of the terrain.
The Courthouse battle was fierce. The veteran British troops were severely crippled. Cornwallis lost a quarter of his army and almost a third of his officers. Greene lost only six percent of his men. With greatly diminished ranks and depleted supplies, Cornwallis withdrew to the coast, 200 miles away.
The battle fought at Guilford Courthouse was the largest and most hotly contested action of the Revolutionary War's Southern Campaign. It is considered the high-water mark of that campaign in that it changed the course of the war and contributed to the eventual American victory at Yorktown seven months later.
The drum and fife regulated the Revolutionary War soldier's life. By commands of music, the soldier was notified when to awake in the mornings, when to attend drill, when to stop for meals, and when to report for pay. While on the march, music assisted with cadence and order, helping men to march in time. Music encouraged soldiers to press a march or attack with vigor.
Orders were also given using whistles, blowing horns, and bagpipes. Music and songs in camp lifted soldiers' spirits following exhausting duty. They helped build fellowship in the regiments.
Drums have been used to convey commands since ancient times. They provide distinct sounds that can be heard for great distances. The drum was the very voice and tongue of the commander. After the adoption of firearms, the fife came into use. Its peculiar piercing sound transcended the noise of men and gunfire, and added melody to the drumbeats. By the Revolution, armies had adopted a system of commands given by the drum and fife, which could rapidly communicate orders to whole armies at one time.