Two 'drummer boys' plan march from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 7:45 p.m.

On May 26, 1913, former Yankee drummer boy Peter Guibert walked from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of a Civil War battle.

Exactly 100 years later, Jim Smith of Hempfield will replicate that journey, carrying Guibert's drum.

Both were 70 years old as they undertook the 185-mile trek.

Smith and Ray Zimmerman of Acme will step off from West Park on Pittsburgh's North Side at 9 a.m. May 26, 2013

Along the way, Smith will perform for audiences in “educational entertainments,” using Guibert's brass-shelled Civil War snare drum.

“What I'm doing all stems from the drum. I'll be doing the same as Peter,” Smith said. “I'll either walk or crawl into Gettysburg.”

Guibert entered the Civil War at 17, serving with the 74th Pennsylvania, a German speaking regiment, and the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served on the front line in several battles, including the first Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. He became known as “The Wizard of the Drums.”

Guibert was born in January 1844 in the Alsace-Lorraine region along the border of France and Germany. He emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 1. When the war ended, Guibert returned to the North Side, his childhood home, and became a barber and a licensed peddler.

On May 26, 1913, Guibert and John Conroy departed from the site of the old Allegheny City Hall. They walked the entire way to Gettysburg, arriving on June 13, 1913, even though Civil War veterans were offered free rail passage to Gettysburg to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle.

Historical records indicate Guibert and Conroy averaged 15 miles per day as Guibert lugged two drums, cymbals and a calliope.

Smith, originally from Palmyra, N.Y., was born one century and one month after Guibert. As a student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, he was a member of New York's All-State Band and the Eastman-Rochester Youth Symphony. Smith worked his way to an engineering degree at Purdue University by teaching and playing in bands. He served in the Navy as an engineering officer aboard the USS Rowan in the Vietnam War.

Smith learned of Guibert three decades ago, when he was given his drum.

Smith, a drummer and conservator, restores antique drums for museums and private collectors and builds reproductions of Civil War drums. He became known as “The Yankee Drummer” and has performed in 28 states, Japan, Switzerland, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Over the past three years, Smith said, he has traveled from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg at least 50 times in an attempt to replicate Guibert's route.

A May 26, 1913, article in the defunct Pittsburg Press told the story of Guibert's trip. Adams County newspapers reported he arrived in Gettysburg on June 13, 1913, noting he refused the government's offer to ride the rails.

A Chambersburg newspaper reported Guibert “entertained citizens in the town square June 8, 1913.” The Gettysburg Times on June 17, 1913, reported, “Mr. Peter Guibert, who walked to Gettysburg, performed at the Walter's Theater, doing his wartime musical act.”

On the 75th anniversary of the battle, the Gettysburg Times noted the late Guibert was the first veteran to arrive for the 50th celebration.

Smith initially could not find Guibert's name on the Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park. He later discovered Guibert's name was misspelled.

“I found Peter's name listed among the musicians' names on the monument,” Smith said. “I found him listed under the 74th Pennsylvania and found his name in the Gettysburg National Park Service database, but it was misspelled. Living on Pittsburgh's North Side, he had a mule and wagon. He was a barber and a licensed peddler who played his drum during any event. Along the way to Gettysburg, he entertained people.”

On Friday, a ceremony will be at 2:30 p.m. at Guibert's grave in Highwood Ceremony on Brighton Road.

Smith and Zimmerman will depart on Sunday, but will back-track for a 2:30 p.m. event on Memorial Day at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.

Their itinerary has them arriving in Jeannette on May 28, in Greensburg and Latrobe on May 29, in Ligonier on May 30, in Bedford on June 2, in Breezewood on June 4, and in Chambersburg on June 8.

Smith, who plays drums with the 28th Pennsylvania Regimental Brass Band, will perform on Guibert's drum in Gettysburg in a concert with the Federal City Brass Band, a Baltimore-based group that uses original Civil War instruments.

Like Guibert, who “entertained townspeople along the way,” Smith plans to do the same, with “grins and greets.”

Michael Kraus, a curator at Soldiers and Sailors, said that Peter Guibert was one of those historical figures who are no longer widely remembered.

“It's unlikely that people read about Guibert,” Kraus said. “He's pretty obscure, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to him and use the 150th to highlight what he did. ... Jim is going to be the one to call attention to him.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. Christina Gallagher contributed to this story. She is a staff writer for Trib Total Media and can be reached at 412-380-5637 or

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