Have we found a drummer from the 79th NYVI?
by Andy Redmond
I [Andy Redmond] received the following from Tim Sullivan:
“His full name was William Porter Adams, born September 14, 1828 in Onondaga County, New York. He died on November 30, 1915 in New Sharon, Iowa, where his descendants lived and married into my own Sullivan family. He had a son named Clark. Clark's daughter Ada married my great-grandfather Walter in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Clark inherited the drum and passed it on to Ada, who left it to my great-uncle George, who gave it to my grandfather. My grandfather gave it to me when I showed interest in family history. He told me the family oral tradition that William Porter (Adams) was a drum-maker, and had been a drummer himself in the Civil War. All for me to find was what regiment William was a member of. A search revealed that the only drummer named William Adams in the Civil War had been a member of the 79th New York, Company I.”
I [Andy Redmond] thank Tim Sullivan and his family for the information and photos and offer some observations.
According to my research, there were over 40 William Adams’ listed in New York and only one listing for drummer (Co. I, 79th NY Inf.) The result is by no means proof positive that this particular William Adams is one in the same with our 79th drummer. There is a William P. Adams (Co. G, 40th NY Inf.) however, the info. lists him as a Pvt. From my past experience, there have been musicians of all stripes that were incorrectly identified so it is difficult to have any certainty.
Further, looking at Adams birthplace, Onondaga County is north-central New York, nowhere near New York City. If he enlisted close to home, there were many fine regiments raised closer than Manhattan, the principal area of enlistment for the 79th NYVI. (Onondaga County regiments included the 3d, 12th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 86th, 101st, 122d, 149th, 176th, 179th, 185th, 187th, 193d &194th.) A William Adams served in two of them, highlighted in bold type. So, is Wm. Adams a veteran of an Onondaga unit or, would our William Adams have traveled to New York City to enlist?
Also, the William Adams in question was born in 1828 making him 33 years of age at the outbreak of the Civil War, quite “old” to enlist and be ranked as a “drummer”, a pay grade lower than that of private. Perhaps he was principal musician or an instructor but, there is, of yet, no information to back this up.
Interestingly, it is William Adams age and claimed drum-maker assertion that supports the notion that he may have been a drummer in the 79th NYVI. The band of the 79th, led by Wm. Robertson, was considered among the finest in the country at the time and, if our William Adams traveled to NYC to make drums, would Adams be enticed to join if, for no other reason, to be around good musicians? I know…it’s a stretch…so, let’s follow our Mr. Adams into the years following the Civil War. After re-locating to Iowa, Adams was a member and active participant in the National Association of Civil War Musicians. From all accounts I have read, this organization was composed of fine fifers and drummers, performing at many G.A.R. functions and continuing the old traditions while composing new tunes and drum settings. Also, I have been told, a requirement for membership was military service in a music capacity. If so, judging by the two photos, William Adams was a drummer, no doubt.
My conclusion: Although his unit ordinal is not yet known for certain, William Porter Adams was a drummer during the Civil War. He was an active member of a veteran’s music organization and possessed the drum that is featured in the following photos. For now, it is enough that Mr. Adams used his musical talent to serve his country in a time of great crisis and later, performed martial music with the veterans and for the veterans.