Mad In Pursuit Notebook

elmira cornet band

Elmira Cornet Band

Among our large-format Civil War photos, this one stood out as unusual -- it has no attribution other than the name "Elmira Cornet Band" on the drum; it's a photo of musicians; and it features a black man. So, what's the story? Are these military uniforms or simply band uniforms?

Elmira 1861Findings. The Library of Congress has this photo in its archives. Its researchers used information in "Uncle Beebe, and American Civil War Narrative" to identify the photo as men from the 33rd Regiment of the NYS Volunteers, taken July 1861.* However, in the LoC print, the photo is labeled on the mounting in a contemporary hand: "Band of the 8th New York State Militia,** Arlington Va, June, 1861."

Maybe the NYS 8th Militia was incorporated into the 33rd, but I can't find any evidence for this. And I'm clueless about military organization. And I can't find any information on whether men of African descent were integrated into state militias by virtue of local decision-making.

Whatever... the picture is a classic and apparently gets swept up into the search results whenever someone is looking for historic photos of military bands.

I did find one reference to the band itself. It was in a pdf that dealt with the draft in Elmira NY. I reproduced a piece of it here. The purpose of the news clip was to show that men in upstate New York rejoiced in the privilege of being drafted to serve in the Union Army. They were contrasted with the NYC curs [including Irish immigrants] who balked at the call and rioted. The 330 Upstate conscripts "fortunate enough to draw a prize in the splendid scheme" held a parade... and at the front of the parade was the Elmira Cornet Band.

Ah, patriots...

Library of Congress. "Elmira Cornet Band," Thirty-third Regiment, of the New York State Volunteers, July 1861. Title and date from supplied by Library staff based on information in: Uncle Beebe, an American Civil War narrative by John Dowling. London : Athena Press, c2003, p. 31

The photo is also included in the educational material accompanying Ken Burns' "The Civil War" by PBS, here.

*This regiment was accepted by the State of New York on May 22, 1861, organized at Elmira, New York, and mustered into United States service for two years. The Regiment mustered out on June 2, 1863, at Geneva, New York. [wikipedia]

**The 8th New York State Militia was mustered in United States service for three months at Washington D. C. on 25 April, 1861. The regiment was ordered to proceed Washington D. C. on board the steamer Alabama on 23 May, 1861, and arrived at Annapolis, Maryland, on 25 April, 1861. [source]