The design on this Civil War "Contract" Eagle drum is one of the most iconic examples ever produced by the U.S. Military. The eagle and shield design is more accurately referred to as the "United States' Arms." During the four year conflict, the Union government ordered around 32,000 drums, with up to 40,000 drummers filing out the ranks of the Union Army. Images of eagles had been adorning American drums in a variety of designs for decades and continued for decades after the Civil War. I have found no actual records indicating how many of the drums made during the War had the Arms or "Eagle & Shield" design, but they have seemed to have captured the image of what a Civil War drum looked like. The ranks of service men were mostly filled with volunteer state regiments, but at the very core were the "regular army" veterans. Many of these soldiers were fresh off the frontier and only made up a small portion of the massive number of troops clad in blue needed to put down the rebellion. This drum is from one of those veteran, Regular U. S. Army regiments.
Sitting on a field of blue, the color of infantry, the eagle and shield appear beautifully painted and still exhibit wonderful detail and vibrant colors, conjuring up images of gallantry and the glory of war. Most of the eagle motifs of this era were started with a stencil and were finished by the hand of a skilled painter. The stencils were intended to save time and somewhat standardize the design. However, many of the drum makers as well as those who ordered the drums had their own ideas of what the design should look like, therefore resulting in the many variations found in the surviving Eagle drums. Prior to this period, the paintings on drums were done by hand in a "cottage-industry" environment and can even be considered "folk-art." Each drum became individual and unique, if not similar.
This drum was no doubt used hard as is evident of the rope and stick-ware found on the red-sponged, maple counter hoops. The medium brown varnished shell is made of a single ply of Ash (wood) held together by glue and a simple brass tack pattern at the scarf-joint. The tack pattern consists of three diamonds atop one another centered on the vent hole and flanked by a vertical tack border. The hoop mounted sling attachment and mechanical snare adjuster are also made of brass, and are in working condition along with cat-gut snares, all original to the drum. There is no leather snare-butt or snare-gate as the snares are basically knotted together and pinched between the skin and counter hoop. Opposite the butt area is a rectangular shaped snare gate cut into the counter hoop at the snare mechanism, allowing the gut snares to pass freely through the hoop.
The restoration included new flesh hoops and calf skins, 4-ply linen rope, 10 new leather ears and a leather knot washer. Both of the counter hoops were badly damaged, with the top hoop missing a portion of wood. A piece of clear plexi-glass was used to fill in where the wood was missing in order to keep the drum as original as possible, and to preserve the evidence of hard use accumulated over the years. The paper label inside the shell is in great shape, its brown appearance giving testimony to its true age. The term "contract drum" not only refers to the design painted on the shell, but also the dimensions of the drum: 13"(h) x 16"(dia.). However, there seem to be plenty of "variations on a theme" playing into things here, as well as most other areas of products made for the war effort. Standardization was better in theory than practice, thus the many designs that are sometimes referred to as "contract eagle drums."
W. P. Uhlinger was a small drum maker from Philadelphia whose business had failed in 1861. He continued to run the business for his creditors until 1865 when he was able to buy them out. Drums seem to make up only a small part of his business as he is not listed as a drum maker, but, rather as having dealings in hardware, sewing machines, and as a machinist in general as early as 1853. I have often wondered if Mr. Uhlinger was more of a retailer of drums rather than an actual drum maker. This drum bears a sharp comparison to the drums produced by William Ent of Germantown, PA, a close neighbor to Philadelphia. Wm. Ent is known to have been making drums as early as 1834 through 1862. One famous example made by Ent was given to Peter F. Rothermel, a prominent PA artist, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. Rothermel used the drum as a model for his world famous painting, "The Battle of Gettysburg.' The Arms painted on both drums are almost identical to each other including the white feathers on the underside of the eagle's wing, the six-pointed stars and gold chain around the eagle's neck supporting an American shield, completely covering his breast. Ent was also known for his distinct triple diamond tack design, which also appears exactly on the Uhlinger drum. Each drum maker had his own tack design to make his drum different from those of other drum makers. Coincidences like these can only add to the mystery and intrigue of collecting historical antiques.
With this drum designated for the Regular U. S. Army, and only a hand-full of drums with Uhlinger's label known, it's a safe bet that this battered Drum of WAR!, is considered to be a rare and valuable example of America's Civil War heritage.
Thoughts from the shop....
Lancaster County, PA.