WONDERFUL POST-WAR DRUM WITH CASE PRESENTED TO DRUMMER ROBERT H. HENDERSHOT, KNOWN TO HISTORY AS “THE DRUMMER BOY OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK”

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Item Code: 410-170

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This drum and case was presented to Robert Hendershot who as a young drummer boy achieved notoriety and fame for his exploits during the Fredericksburg Campaign in December of 1862.

The drum has a beautiful light colored maple wood body in excellent condition with white metal rims and metal tension rods that clip to the upper and lower rim. Both of the original heads are present. The top has a “V” shaped split while the bottom one has shrunk and become separated from the rim. All of the original snares are present across the face of the bottom head.

Mounted on the side of the drum is an oval silver presentation plate surrounded by four five-pointed stars. The plate is engraved with “PRESENTED TO MAJOR R. H. HENDERSHOT “THE DRUMMER BOY OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK” BY B. H. BEALE WOMEN’S NATIONAL RELIEF CORPS NO.1 AT THEIR ENTERTAINMENT IN MUSIC HALL BANGOR, MAINE, APRIL 22ND, 1886.”

Inside the drum is a completely intact maker’s label for “THE CELEBRATED ARTISTS DRUM MADE BY J. B. TREAT.”

The drum itself meas. approx. 12.50 inches high x 16.25 inches across the head.

With the drum is a leather sling with a face of alternating rows of gold and blue bullion thread. Leather is in good condition but is showing some age.

The drum is housed in the original two piece case lined with red felt. The hard exterior has brass tacks around the top, bottom and sides as well as brass feet and mounts for a now missing leather handle. Maker’s brass label affixed to top reads “M. MAIER & CO. MAKERS 102 WOODWARD AVE, DETROIT,MICH.”

Robert Henry Hendershot was born in Moscow Township, Michigan in 1849.

After the Civil War began little Hendershot longed for the glory of battle. His widowed mother hoped that military life might instill some discipline in her delinquent son. He was a frequent runaway, and his aversion to school was such that he could not even sign his own name. He claimed to be 10 in 1861, but like many aspects of his life, that is in dispute.

At the time of his enlistment Hendershot was described as being 4 1/2 feet tall with a slight build, he had fair hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion.

In the fall of 1861, Hendershot was a fixture in the camp of the Jackson County Rifles. There, he incessantly practiced his drum calls, an activity that caused at least one recruit to call him ‘a perfect little pest.’ He apparently accompanied the Rifles to Fort Wayne, outside Detroit, where the unit became Company C of the 9th Michigan Infantry. Robert claimed to have enlisted along with the others, but said that the mustering officer rejected him because of extreme youth. In any case, he boarded the train that carried the regiment south, either as a stowaway or as a servant to the commander of Company C.

Hendershot formally enlisted in the 9th Michigan in March 1862 and was captured on the following July 13 when Confederate Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a pre-dawn raid on the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. During the action, Robert claimed that he fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire, a claim later substantiated by several 9th Michigan soldiers. After being paroled Hendershot was discharged because he suffered frequent and severe epileptic seizures. These had plagued him since early childhood.

Hendershot then joined the 8th Michigan Infantry where he came under the care of the regimental chaplain. Hendershot continued to suffer seizures and it was decided that he should be discharged. While awaiting his release from the Army, Hendershot accompanied the Union forces to the Rappahannock River during the Fredericksburg Campaign.

On December 11, the 7th Michigan Infantry volunteered to cross the Rappahannock River and drive Confederate sharpshooters from their nests in Fredericksburg. Hendershot wandered to the riverbank that morning and tried to tag along with the regiment by climbing aboard a boat, but he slipped and made the voyage across clinging to the gunwale. Newspaper accounts related stories of ‘a drummer boy, only 13 years old, who volunteered and went over in the first boat’ and who battled the Confederates and had his drum smashed by a shell. A correspondent for the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune wrote that the nameless boy belonged to the 8th Michigan Infantry.

Two weeks after Hendershot allegedly crossed the river, he was again discharged, for epilepsy.   He traveled first to New York, then to Baltimore and Detroit, staking his claim to being ‘The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock’ made famous by newspaper reports.

In the years to come Hendershot would entertain veterans and civic groups with his stories of the war. He was presented with drums and sticks by several organizations including a Hawaiian queen and a US President. However, in the 1890’s Hendershot’s claims to being “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock” were hotly disputed by others. Hendershots propensity to tell tall tales led many to disbelieve his claim.

With the help of the army Chaplain who was responsible for him during his time with the 8th Michigan, Hendershot defended himself. The Chaplain testified to finding Hendershot several days after he had disappeared from the ranks in front of Fredericksburg. When asked where he had been Hendershot told the Chaplain that he had crossed the river foraging. He said that he had taken a nice clock from one of the houses in town to bring to the Chaplain but the explosion of a shell caused him to drop it and it broke in pieces. He also said that he had found a Confederate deserter and turned him over to some Union soldiers. The Chaplain claimed Hendershot’s explanation was overheard by some newspaper men who then enlarged the story into one of combat and a drum destroyed by a shell.

Having vindicated himself Hendershot tried get a government pension but was denied. It seems that after his second discharge from the Army he joined the Navy. Hendershot claims that he was discharged but the Navy listed him as a deserter so his pension request was denied.

Robert H. Hendershot died on December 26, 1925.

This attractive drum and case is a tangible connection to one of the Civil War’s more colorful characters. [ad]

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