Park Ranger Chris Mekow, broadcasting from the visitor’s center of the national park named after the famous 1862 Civil War battle, taught students military drumming commands and their importance to battle operations before modern communication technology, such as radios. Capt. Adam Aycock, USS Shiloh’s commanding officer, taught the students that, “Soldiers in the Civil War used drums because they were the only instruments loud enough to be heard over gunfire.”
The 20 students attending – from a class arranged into a “team” that was named after ships that are forward-deployed to Yokosuka -- each received a Civil War-style drum kit before the event, consisting of a simple tin can, drum skin, and drum sticks. Each student decorated his or her drum kit with patriotic symbols, like the bald eagle or military insignia, relishing their American heritage.
Sleepy students gathered at 07:45 a.m. with Mekow’s “wake-up call,” as he pounded his drums and recreated what it would be like for a Civil War soldier to start the day.
During the Civil War, drums were used to signal various commands to troops. Other cadences were a signal to the troops to “charge,” “fire,” “retreat,” etc. The typical minimum age requirement for battle drummers was 16 years, but the youngest drummer to serve was an eight-year-old boy named Avery Brown.
William B. Hazen, who served as a Union Colonel in the Battle of Shiloh, wrote after the war that he would select drummers as stretcher bearers during his battles. Hazen believed they were the only men who had enough courage, steadiness under fire, and determination to go into the battlefield with guns blazing and to take the wounded to doctors.
“We found that having the students make their own drums and learn the cadences during the instructional period reinforced learning about how a commander communicates on the battlefield,” said Dale Wilkerson, the national park’s superintendent.
The students were excited as they saw Mekow on a large screen explaining and demonstrating how the young drummers commanded troops during the Battle of Shiloh. Along with the 20 students in attendance, five USS Shiloh sailors volunteered to perform alongside them. Each did very well reenacting commands on the drums, noted Mekow.
Ensign Alyson Eng of Holmdel, New Jersey remarked, “This was such a fun opportunity to interact with our Team Shiloh Middle Schoolers. I’m so grateful that they let me play the drums with them. This makes me want to learn so much more about the Civil War and our ship’s heritage.”
The teleconference was a unique experience for members of the three Shiloh namesakes, all involved, who were able to connect with the community and to learn about their Shiloh military heritage. After the virtual lesson, students and sailors practiced the “drum calls” together, having a wonderful time and connecting with their country’s history. One student recounted, “The drumming was much harder than I thought it would be! It would take me half a year to become a drummer in the Civil War.”
Dale Duncan, Team Shiloh’s Social Studies teacher, commented, “I appreciate the opportunity to do this. It allows us and our students to connect in a very special way to our nation’s military parks and our active-duty service members.”
USS Shiloh is forward-deployed to Japan in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.