'Yankee drummer' makes trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg
By Deborah A. Brehun
Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 9:12 p.m.
One hundred years ago this week, Civil War veteran Peter Guibert started out on a trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Guibert, who was a Yankee drummer boy during the war, stepped off from Allegheny City Hall on May 26, 1913 ,and arrived in Gettysburg 19 days later. Along the way, Guibert played the same brass-shelled snare drum he carried during the war.
Jim Smith of Hempfield will begin his own journey to retrace Guibert's steps, playing the same drum, this weekend in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the battle.
“Somebody has to do it. And it looks like it is fallen to me,” said Smith, a Vietnam War veteran. “Peter walked to the 50th reunion when he was 70 years old. I was born 100 years later and now I am 70 and I will walk to the 150th reunion. We have a kind of kinship.”
Smith said he will walk and play the drum as he travels along Route 130 through Jeannette and Greensburg and then along parts of Old Route 30 to Gettysburg. The trek will bring Smith through the Ligonier Valley on May 30.
Smith said his interest in music is inherited. His family was always involved in drumming and bugles. His grandfather started a Boy Scout drum and bugle corps. At age 14, Smith joined the group and discovered drumming.
“I became enthralled by the battlefield drumming style,” he said. “I guess you could say I have spent a lifetime as a sheepskin fiddler.”
Smith said he acquired Guibert's drum after a newspaper story about his collection of antique drums was published in 1982.
“After that story, several people called and said they had an old drum,” he said.
One of those calls was from Betty Mower, a distant relative of Guibert.
Mower told Smith about an old Army drum that belonged to her uncle's father. When her uncle died, she inherited the drum. It was covered with coal dust from the attic where it was stored and was in poor condition. But, she took the drum with hopes to find a place for it.
“As I was leaving, I asked Betty who owned the drum and she gave me a photo of Peter taken in 1910,” said Smith. “We was wearing a Grand Army of the Republic uniform and holding silver- tipped drum sticks.”
Several weeks later, when Smith took the drum apart, he found one of the drum sticks inside.
Smith said he has spent the years since purchasing the drum researching Guibert and his career as a drummer boy and musician.
“It took years to discover the true story about the drum,” he said.
While searching for Guibert's obituary, Smith discovered that the drummer boy served in the Bull Run and Gettysburg battles with the 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry and that he walked to Gettysburg.
“Guibert was the first veteran to arrive for the 50th reunion on June 13. We plan to arrive on that same date,” said Smith. “The Gettysburg reunion was a big deal at the time. More than 50,000 veterans showed up at that 50th reunion,”
Smith said the project has consumed many years of research.
“This was done long before we had Internet capabilities to research,” said Smith. “It has been a long process of discover.”
Smith said Guibert told his story during camp fire entertainments and in the march as he traveled along the route to Gettysburg. Smith plans to do the same.
With help from trek coordinator Len DeCarlo, Smith has planned several events along the route.
DeCarlo of Mt. Pleasant will drive ahead of the group and pronounce the drummers are coming.
“Jim and I have known each other for 30 years,” said DeCarlo an Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam theater as a weapons mechanic on fighter jets.
As the trek coordinator, he made the trip by car 8-10 times from Greensburg to Gettysburg scouting the area with Smith.
“We don't have a lot of records of the original trip but we will duplicate what we do know about. Where there are no records, we will play it by ear.”
A former editor of the Mt. Pleasant Journal, DeCarlo also worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 27 years where he wrote news releases and external communications.
“When it comes to working with media, I am at ease talking with communities and telling them about the trek,” said DeCarlo. “I have talked to hundreds of people, they are always enthusiastic and supportive of this venture.”
DeCarlo said the project is a tribute to the military service and veterans. To know this man went through the Civil War and did what he did and went back for 50th anniversary reunion, made a deep impression on him.
“It is an impressive accomplishment for him and anybody who went through that,” said DeCarlo. “We are trying to show an appreciation for what veterans went through and the role of music in combat at the time.”
“We spent many hours and hundreds of trips exploring the routes he might have taken,” said Smith. “Len and I covered a lot of ground together over the last 30 years, in all kinds of projects.”
Ray Zimmerman of Acme will portray Guibert's friend John Conroy and walk with Smith to Gettysburg.
“Conroy was a veteran of the Indian Wars and he marched with Peter,” said Smith. “He was assigned to carry the bass drum, fife, harmonica and clothing.”
Smith said he is really looking forward to making the trip with Zimmerman.
“I can't imagine anyone who could be a better Conroy than Ray,” said Smith. “He is a right-hand person for me, he is very adaptable and flexible. Ray is steady as the Rock of Gibralter.”
Zimmerman said he met Smith one year ago when he joined the Armbrust Veterans Association Honor Guard.
“When he told me the about the trip, it sounded exciting,” said Zimmerman a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War. “It is just an honorable thing to do. We need to do something for all those musician. Jim has a good project going.”
Zimmerman said actually making it to Gettysburg will be quite an accomplishment.
“I am is looking forward to watching Jim teach the crowd about what went on back then. It will be a learning experience for everyone.”
Trek timeline and scheduled events listed
The Armbrust veterans group will present a firing squad and colors at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Guibert's graveside in Highwood Cemetery in Pittsburgh prior to the start of the trek.
The trek begins at the Grand Army of the Republic monument in West Park, near the Allegheny General Hospital at 8:30 a.m. May 26.
On Memorial Day, a reception will be held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall at 2:30 p.m.
Smith and Zimmerman will make a stop at the Elliott parking lot in Jeannette on Tuesday and the Greensburg Courthouse plaza on Wednesday . They will travel through the Ligonier area on May 30.
Smith said Guibert formed a Blue and Grey 1913 Reunion Band that performed during the original trek.
Smith re-established the Blue and Grey Band and they will perform in Schellsburg at 10:30 a.m. June 2. Members of the band are Gregg Sweney of Derry, Joel Cribbs of Youngwood and Bert Alpaugh of New Alexandria.
Other scheduled events includes a campfire entertainment at the Bedford Historical Society at 2:30 p.m. on June 2 and a parade with Scouts in Everett on June 3.
“We plan to get to Chambersburg by June 8. Guibert entertained on the town square there,” he said. “And when they got to Gettysburg, he played a free concert and was a featured act in a Vaudeville program in Gettysburg.”
The Gettysburg Foundation and vistor center will conduct a ceremony at the end of trek. The band will perform for visitors center and in downtown Gettysburg.
Other impromptu activities are sure to happen, according to Smith.
“We will just see what happens,” he said.
Smith and Zimmerman plan to walk 10 miles a day. They invite people along the route to join them.
“We are trying to do what Peter did,” said Smith. “He stayed at houses on the way or pitched a tent in yards and hoped to be invited in for dinner and lodging. We are open for complimentary meals and accommodations.”
Proceeds collected along the route will be used to erect a memorial for military musicians. Donations may be made to the Northside Leadership Conference/Peter Guibert Trek fund.
“We want to raise funds for a memorial to field musicians,” said Smith “The work they did up to Civil War was largely lost. We want to make sure it is on the record.”
Smith will be using 20 pairs of drum sticks each day. The sticks were made of wood from trees that stood on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Smith said 500 blocks of wood were made into drum sticks by a woodturner in Lancaster. A Danville shop engraved the commemorative sticks and they will be signed at the completion of the trek. The souvenir drum sticks will be available to purchase after the trek.
“Why would anyone climb Mt. Everest — because it is there and somebody has to do it,” said Smith about the adventure. “And,I am totally blessed to have folks like Ray and Len to help. We each have different sets of skills and personalities that compliment each other. That is a big plus when you try to manage something like this.”
For more information, call DeCarlo at 724-547-2009 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111
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