The Stonewall Brigade Band had its beginnings as the “Mountain Saxhorn Band” early in 1855.
With the popularity of the Saxhorn, which had been patented by Antoine Adolphe Sax in 1845, and with the location of Staunton halfway across the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains, it was natural for the group to adopt the name of Mountain Sax Horn Band. While the first president of the band was Edwin M. Cushing, it was David W. Drake, the founder, who secured the band’s first director.
Both Drake and Cushing were in their early twenties and enlisted other young businessmen in the newly-formed band. Mr. Drake had been a pupil of Professor Augustus J. Turner, a music teacher in Newtown, located just south of Winchester, Virginia.
Mr. Drake prevailed upon Professor Turner to move to Staunton, where he became instructor of music in the Wesleyan Female Collegiate Institute.
The Early Years
Within six months of Professor Turner’s arrival, the band had furnished music for the dedication of the Odd Fellows Hall, had held several concerts jointly with Professor Graham’s band of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute, and by 1857 had begun to travel. On Independence Day, 1857 the band went by train to Craigsville Depot to play a concert and two days later played for United States Senator R.M.T. Hunter, who was visiting in Staunton. The first formal public concert of the newly organized band took place on Friday Night, July 17, 1857 at Union Hall on Beverley Street in Staunton. Assisted by the Staunton Quartette and the Glee Club, the band played before an audience described as “the elite and fashionable of Staunton.” The program included solos by Professor Alby; a burlesque, Teetotal Society, by Professor Turner; and a rendition of Turner’s own composition, Gallopade. The admission charge was fifty cents per person or one dollar to any gentlemen accompanying one or more ladies.
During the 1850’s the band began a long-standing tradition of playing for all civic occasions and political rallies such as those held for President Fillmore, President Pierce, Presidential candidates Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge, and the ardent secessionist William L. Yancey. The band headed all political processions regardless of party affiliation. All churches were accorded its services. During June 1858, it presented concerts twice in Union Hall, one for the Methodist ladies, who were holding a fair, and again for the Presbyterian ladies, who were conducting a similar fete. In March 1859, when the two rival candidates for Governor, William L. Goggin and John Letcher, were staying at the Virginia Hotel, the bandsmen serenaded both.
Off to War
Activities of the musicians took on a decidedly military aspect during 1858, when the state militia was reorganized to replace the old Staunton Light Infantry, which had been more of a social body than a military one. The West Augusta Guard was activated and the Staunton Artillery was formed. The frequent parades, reviews, musters, inspections, and overnight encampments of these units were shared almost invariably with the band. At this point in time the band became known both as the Mountain Saxhorn Band or Turner’s Silver Cornet Band, depending on the occasion for which it played. On April 4, 1861, Turner’s Silver Cornet Band, together with the Staunton Musical Association and the Glee Club, presented at Armory Hall the last concert that was to be given before the Civil War.
The Civil War
On Wednesday, April 17, 1861 Captain John D. Imboden, commander of the Staunton Artillery, was speeding westward from Richmond by special train. En route he received a telegram announcing that the Virginia Convention had passed the Ordinance of Secession. Imboden, anticipating the outcome of the issue, was hurrying with secret orders to move the Staunton military units as soon as he received official word. With the outbreak of the Civil War town bands (north and south) marched off with local battalions. The Augusta Guards became Company L of the Fifth Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. With it most of the Mountain Saxhorn Band also mustered into General Thomas J. Jackson’s First Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah. Of these band musicians who served during the war, one was killed, several were wounded, and one and probably one other were taken prisoner.
Throughout the conflict, the bandsmen performed a number of combat-related tasks, including guard and courier duties. From early 1862, they served as stretcher-bearers and surgeons’ assistants. In addition to entertaining the troops in the field, they frequently appeared in concerts in Fredericksburg, Richmond, Staunton, and elsewhere to help recruiting rallies, clothing drives, and war relief fund raising.
A Happy Legend
Soon after Christmas in 1862, the members of the Fifth Virginia Volunteer Infantry (Stonewall Brigade) were detailed for picket duty along the Rappahannock River, below Fredericksburg, Virginia. The band exchanged serenades on several evenings with the Union band across the river. This was a time of quietude and good will; gifts of tobacco and apples were sent across the river while presents of coffee and candy were dispatched in return. Much later in the war, the long-awaited spring campaign began to open in the Wilderness of northern Virginia May 5, 1864. The Fifth Regiment, near Locust Grove, advanced far enough to the north to hear the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” played by one of Ulysses S. Grant’s bands. The Stonewall Brigade Band responded with “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and the serenade was concluded with the Federal rendition of “Home, Sweet Home.” In the years after the war, the true story of how the band members kept their instruments after the surrender gradually evolved through retelling and elaboration into a rather interesting legend which persisted throughout the twentieth century. The aging, war veteran members grew a story that it was a result of General Grant’s awareness of the Fredericksburg Christmas event and that he responded with a personal order that allowed the Stonewall Brigade Band to retain possession of the only complete, unbroken set of Confederate Band instruments in existence — Saxhorns, invented by Antoine Sax of Brussels, Belgium. In fact, General Grant was not at Fredericksburg to hear the Christmas serenade and was not at Appomattox at the actual surrender ceremonies to issue such an order. Subsequent research reveals no such directive was ordered. In all likelihood the instruments remained with the members because they actually were their personal possessions and, fortunately, were considered by the Union to be personal possessions and not arms or other material of consequence to the terms of the surrender. Nevertheless, the “story” persisted and it influenced the band also to “grow” a particular affection for General Grant. When President Ulysses S. Grant stopped in Staunton on June 30, 1874 on his way by train to White Sulfur, West Virginia, the Staunton townspeople, and particularly, the band greeted him with fond enthusiasm. The band played several musical selections in tribute to the President from the portico of the American Hotel across from the Staunton depot. “…in response to an inquiry, Mayor Trout identified the musicians as members of the Stonewall Brigade Band. Grant, raising his hat and bowing, murmured, “The immortal Jackson!” Such only reinforced the fable that Grant had singled out the Stonewall Brigade Band for special treatment and the band went on to honor the man by playing for his funeral service in New York in 1885 and again for the dedication of his tomb. Albeit an untrue story, its prestige served the band well in subsequent years when many financial and structural organizational woes bedeviled the band. The band’s rich heritage, this myth, and the character of the membership bolstered spirits to overcome many serious threats to the band’s continuous existence.
Late Nineteenth Century
By 1875 the band was formally known as “The Stonewall Brigade Band”. The band included ten Civil War veterans and eight of the original founders of the band and. Edwin M. Cushing had continued as president of the band from the earliest years.
Before and soon after the Civil War, the band played concerts on the street corner of Main and Water Streets above the bridge (now called Beverley and Central Avenue), in the courthouse square, once on Reservoir Hill, and on West Main Street opposite Trinity Church.
During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries the band became known nationally. In April 1889 the band went to the Washington Centennial in New York City and engaged in numerous parades and concerts.
Here the band played for President Harrison and ex-President Cleveland. In 1893 the band was engaged for a two-week period at the Columbian Exposition, World’s Fair, Chicago, where the band acquired the first-ever manufactured over the shoulder bass horn, called a helicon. This was the precursor of the famed Sousaphone. The Helicon is still in the band’s possession and is used by the brass ensemble for performances of period music.
The band also marched in six Presidential Inaugural Parades (Taft’s, McKinley’s, and two each of Cleveland’s and Wilson’s) and played at Cleveland’s Inaugural.
A crowning privilege came when the band was given the opportunity to sponsor a United States Marine Corps Band concert, under the direction of John Philip Sousa. The Marine Band played before a packed Opera House, now the Staunton City courthouse. After the concert, Dr. Sousa played several airs on the band’s historic bugle, which was used in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. During the Civil War Junius T. J. Tinsley, a soldier of the Stonewall Brigade was mortally wounded while blowing it to sound the charge. It was at this time that the bell was shot off the bugle. The historic bugle is still in the band’s possession and has been played by such renowned musicians as Herbert L. Clarke—The Sousa Band’s Cornet Soloist, Arthur Pryor—The Sousa Band’s Trombone Soloist, and W. Paris Chambers—composer of the popular “March Religioso”.
Gypsy Hill Park
The city purchased thirty acres of the Donaghe farm in 1876 and purchased additional land to total eighty-five acres by 1889 when the name Gypsy Hill Park had been adopted. On Friday 1 November Arbor Day, 1889, the band played while fifteen hundred trees were planted in Gypsy Hill Park. Thus began the continuous series of concerts that has lasted to the present. The first bandstand was erected soon after and was a tall gazebo in the circle of trees south to southeast of the current bandstand.
Termites infested this first bandstand so the uprights were cut off and the bandstand lowered five feet.
During World War II, the termites again took their toll and a temporary structure was placed several yards from the original site, facing west.Listeners could pull their cars onto the grass while children ran, danced, and marched around the bandstand as the band played.
The Stonewall Brigade Bandstand
In February 1976 Frank B. Holt, a member of the band since 1923 and Past President of the Staunton Kiwanis Club asked the Kiwanis Club to raise funds to build a new bandstand. This won the immediate support of Mayor Frank Pancake, also a Kiwanian, and a committee was formed under the direction of Gifford Mabie and Kiwanis President Bruce Grover. Director Robert N. Moody drew up the acoustical specifications and dimensions for the new bandstand which was designed by architect Neal Goodloe, also a member of the Kiwanis. Contractor Roland Harshbarger coordinated the construction of the Gazebo bandstand without remuneration and much of the labor was donated by members of the Kiwanis and Jaycees. Much of the material that was not donated was sold to Kiwanians at cost, and a roofer, Fred H. Painter, donated his time to install the wood shingle roof. The dedication service for the new bandstand was Saturday, July 3, 1976 at 8 pm, featuring keynote speaker U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr., and included a concert appropriate for celebrating the two hundredth birthday of the U.S.A. The City of Staunton provided an addition to the rear of the Gazebo in 1996, including restrooms, dressing rooms and storage for chairs and other equipment. The bandstand was rededicated on Flag Day, 2001 by proclamation of Mayor John Avoli in honor of the Stonewall Brigade detachment of the Virginia National Guard and the Stonewall Brigade Band and is now officially the Stonewall Brigade Bandstand.
The Oldest Continuous Community Band
The Stonewall Brigade Band is the nation’s oldest continuous community band sponsored by local government and funded, in part, by tax monies. While a number of community bands have their beginnings earlier than the Stonewall Brigade Band’s 1855 founding, all of the other bands have gone out of existence at some time and then been reorganized. The Federal Music Project in Staunton under the Works Progress Administration during the 1930’s employed a dozen bandsmen and is credited with helping the band survive the depression. The Stonewall Brigade Junior Band, in existence from 1941 to 1947 is credited with helping the band survive loss of members to the armed forces during World War II. The Junior band became the Beverley Manor High School Band in 1947, the first public school band in the area. The following year the high school students were all moved to Wilson
Memorial High School, and the band there continues today as the offspring of The Stonewall Brigade Band.
For a timeline of the band’s leadership:
The Band Today
In recent years the band has furnished music for the dedication of numerous facilities, including the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace, the Augusta County flag, the Augusta County Library, The Museum of Frontier Culture, the Augusta County Government Center, McKee Bakery, and the Woodrow Wilson Museum. The band plays for many civic, historical, and patriotic occasions. Included among these are the visit to Augusta Expoland by Ronald Reagan in 1976, Christmas concerts to benefit the Valley Mission, a trip to Winchester to play for the United Daughters of the Confederacy memorial to General Turner Ashby, Memorial Day Services at the National Guard Armory, and annual Commencement ceremonies at Mary Baldwin College. In 1996 the band played for the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone at St. Francis Catholic Church, having played for the cornerstone laying 100 years before. In 2003 the band played for the 150th anniversary of Christ Lutheran Church, having played for the laying of the cornerstone in the late 1800’s.
It also performed for the Virginia State Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 2004, it performed at the Manassas National Battlefield Park in commemoration of the battle fought there in 1864 and at the Pamplin Foundation’s “Celebration of America’s Wars” in Petersburg, Virginia.
For impromptu engagements, the band uses its “Circus Band Book” sight-reading from a selection of popular tunes, waltzes, dances, and marches. Other small ensembles from within the band include a flute choir, a saxophone ensemble, and a brass ensemble, which performs in late 19th-century attire on period instruments.
The band conducts its annual Fall-Winter-Spring series of rehearsals each Monday night, from 8 to 9:30 p.m. in the band room at the entrance to Gypsy Hill Park. Members learn new music and improve their performance skills in preparation for upcoming concerts. During these months the band reviews pieces needing added attention from the previous season, prepares a Christmas Concert, and sight-reading new compositions received “on approval” from the various publishers. The band members vote on the purchase of the music after playing through the selections. In mid-February the music committee and director select and program the music for the summer concert series and the remainder of the winter and spring rehearsals are spent on rehearsing each week’s concert.
From The Stonewall Brigade Band, by Marshall Moore Brice. Condensed with additions by Frank Holt (1985) and Robert N. Moody (2003).
The Stonewall Brigade Band by Marshall Moore Brice (Professor of History, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA), McClure Printing Company, Inc., Verona, Virginia—Copyright 1967, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-30663.
(Copyright ownership – Stonewall Brigade Band, Inc. 2000 by gift of Elizabeth Brice Lendian).
The Stonewall Brigade Band by Marshall Moore Brice (out of print) is available for reference in the Staunton Public Library, and for loan from the Augusta County Public Library and the Massanutten Regional Library (Harrisonburg, Va.). Copies are available for purchase by special arrangement from the Stonewall Brigade Band, Inc. Address inquiries to: Treasurer, Stonewall Brigade Band, Inc., 3 Gypsy Hill Park, Staunton, VA. 24401.