Following the Drumbeats of the Yankee Drummer

I love to spend time in the library doing traditional research and interviewing people for my history stories, but it’s really cool to get to experience history as it’s happening in person.  That’s why I had embark on a mini-quest to find the Yankee Drummer today.

I previously wrote about the parallel journeys of two pairs of American military veterans separated by a century but connected by a passion for music.  Civil War drummer Peter Guibert and Comanche Indian War veteran John Conroy walked from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg in the spring of 1913 to join Union and Confederate veterans at the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg.  A hundred years later, their modern counterparts – Yankee Drummer Jim Smith and friend and fellow veteran Ray Zimmerman – are replicating the 1913 trek in order to educate the public about military musicians and commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg sesquicentennial.  The pair are joined on their journey by the brass-shelled snare drum that Peter Guibert played at the Battle of Gettysburg, now owned and restored by Jim.

The modern-day Peter Guibert and John Conroy marching along the Lincoln Highway. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Jim and Ray have been making their way through Western Pennsylvania this week and I really wanted to try and meet up with them before they got too far east.  Just before lunchtime I found the duo marching along the Lincoln Highway in the sweltering heat right outside of Jennerstown on their way to Stoystown!   In tow were trek coordinator Len DeCarlo and friend and retired teacher Greg Sweeney.  As I gained on the convoy slowing moving down the road and pulled over at a local watering hole I could hear the drumbeats from the antique drum that not only survived a brutal war but also the passage of time.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum. (Photo by Leonard DeCarlo)

I’ve really enjoyed corresponding with Jim and Len over the phone and through email and it was a pleasure to meet them in person, along with Ray and Greg.  I was afraid bad timing might cause me to miss them as I drove through the area, but lo and behold I spotted them! I couldn’t believe it! The group pulled over into the same little parking lot I was in to rest in the shade and grab a well-deserved drink of water.  The sweaty, dusty and sun-baked journeymen  shared stories about their amazing but difficult journey since setting out from Pittsburgh’s Northside on May 26.

When I met up with the Peter Guibert Trek, they had finally overcome a difficult walk up the Laurel Summit, just east of Laughlintown, which Jim said he could not have done with his friend Ray to motivate him.  According to the Len, the group is trying to average about ten miles per day in order to keep on schedule. Jim told me that yesterday they stayed overnight with the Metz Family, a local Jennerstown family who learned about the trek and offered the travelers their home as accommodations.  I imagine that Peter and John would have received the same hospitality along the Lincoln Highway on their way to Gettysburg, back in 1913.   In today’s world, it’s very touching to find that there still are kind and generous people out there willing to extend a helping hand and excited about historical projects like these.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

It was so awesome to see Peter Guibert’s drum in person.  What an amazing historic artifact from an incredibly important time in our nation’s history.  It’s incredible that this instrument has survived all this time. Until I spoke to Jim, I never knew that the role that military musicians (drummers, fifers and buglers) played during times of war was so important.

After a short break from the heat, the group set out again towards Stoystown.  Tomorrow they plan to perform at the 1806 Old Log Church in Schellsburg at 10:30 a.m. with Professor Guibert’s Blue and Gray 1913 Reunion Band.  Afterwards they will provide campfire entertainment at the Bedford Historical Society in Bedford at 2:30 p.m.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After I parted ways with the Peter Guibert Trek and headed back west I stopped at Walat’s, just outside of Ligonier Township on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30), to take a picture of the marker that Jim and Ray left there yesterday. Throughout the journey to Gettysburg, they plan to mark every spot where they decide to stop for the night, along with the date.  The next day, when they resume their journey, they will mark the same point with the day’s date.

If you see the Yankee Drummer, his drum and his fellow musician marching down your way, stop and say hi or give them a wave to encourage them along their trek! If you miss seeing them in your town, you can follow their progress at www.peterguiberttrek.com.

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6 thoughts on “Following the Drumbeats of the Yankee Drummer

  1. I’ve seen articles in June 1913 newspapers about Civil War veterans planning to go the huge 50th reunion at Gettysburg, and it’s fun to read about Jim and Ray replicating the trip to Gettysburg.

  2. The Peter Guibert Trek, reenacting the 1913 march from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the half-century Battle Commemoration, was one of the most outstanding events to take place for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The participants carried the original instrument and respectfully honored every American flag as the marched on the old Lincoln Highway with a distinct drum roll and salute. It was a most inspiring historical event! Congratulations to these patriotic men and veterans of the 21st Century.

    G. Craig Caba

    • Thanks for your comment! 🙂 I agree with everything you’ve said. The trek is such an amazing endeavor on so my levels – historical, musical, physical… These are such honorable men who are paying tribute to honorable men from a century ago. Were you able to see them march into Gettysburg today? I have been anxiously awaiting news about them. I wish I could have been in Gettysburg today!

  3. My kids and I were in Gettysburg June 10th -14th this summer. On the 13th my daughter Leila and I were following the driving tour and were just on the other side of the railroad tracks. I heard drums playing and followed the sound back to the intersection to find these amazing gentlemen being picked up by a horse drawn wagon with American Telephone and Telegraph sign on the side. We talked to the gentlemen and discovered their amazing story. This was a piece of history I did not know about. I felt very much in tune with history at that moment. This was our first trip to Gettysburg and we will definitely be making return trips in the future.

    • Hi Heather! I just saw your comment! That is so exciting you ran into the Peter Guibert trek as they were coming into Gettysburg. I hope you had a great time celebrating Gettysburg 150. I have never been to Gettysburg before, but I hope to get there someday! 🙂

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