Marching to the beat of a historic drum

“The battle of lighthouse point”

“O ne’er shall I forget the night the stars were bright above me,

And gently lent their silv’ry light when first she vowed to love me.

But now I’m bound to Brighton camp, kind heaven then pray guide me,

And send me safely back again, to the girl I left behind me.”

As early as the American Revolutionary War in the 1700s, “The Girl I Left Behind Me” became a popular fife melody, often played as men left town to fight for the cause. Most likely it originated in England.

The tune withstood the test of time and continued into the Civil War and beyond. In fact, in 1864 the Dunkirk Journal reported that cannon fire announced the arrival of the homecoming train bringing back the remnants of men from companies D and E of the 72nd Regiment after their three years of service. The reporter noted that this was reminiscent of the scene at the station three years before, “on the memorable 30th day of May, 1861, when these gallant companies, with full ranks, over 200 strong, left their homes to peril their lives in defense of the honor of the National flag.

Then, as now, a large throng assembled to witness the event waving adieus as the train swept from the Depot to the gay music of ‘The Girl I Left Behind.’

The reporter also sadly observed that, “Of that brave array, the precious contribution of our county to the cause of the Union, a handful only some 25 or 30 returned. A few others remain in hospitals, and still others have reenlisted, determined to see the struggle through.”

Music has always been integral to human existence for nearly all occasions, with war and military life being no exception. “The Girl I Left Behind,” although having melancholy sentiments, has an upbeat melody that is easy to march to and can keep troops moving. This is just one of the many period songs that will be showcased the weekend of Aug. 17 and 18, during the “Battle of Lighthouse Point” Civil War Living History Camp and Reenactment hosted by the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum.

The 20th Maine/Calvert Arms Fife and Drum Corps will provide music. Throughout the two- day event this group of professional musicians will perform period music using authentic reproduction instruments and will offer presentations on the music and crucial role played by fife and drum corps during the war.

In full style uniform, this unit provided the battlefield music at national battle reenactments such as the 150th anniversaries of Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The group has also appeared in historical television documentaries and parades such as the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.

These reenactors are dedicated to preserving our nation’s history and commemorating the sacrifices of the men and women made during the Civil War. The group is comprised of people from throughout the eastern United States with most having ancestral roots to the war.

Some members of the group are descendants of the Chamberlain family. Their ancestor Joshua Chamberlain was well-known known for his leadership during the Battle of Gettysburg and his defense of Little Round Top. Members continue to research and practice throughout the year, ever mindful of their predecessors from the original 20th Maine, who when first mustered in, were threatened by sword from the commander because they couldn’t carry a tune.

Well known and favorite old-time songs will include Yankee Doodle, Battle Cry of Freedom, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Welcome Here Again/1812, Village Quick Step, Garry Owen, Dixie, Bonnie Blue Flag, Carry Me Back to Virginia, Yellow Rose of Texas, Road to Boston, and a regional favorite – Buffalo Gals as well as many others.

As mentioned last week in “Historic lighthouse hosts battleground,” the battle scenarios will depict a fictional episode as if a confederate unit has taken the lighthouse grounds as feared during the actual war, with union forces attempting to recapture it. Reenacting groups that will fall in together include the 64th Virginia, artillery, cavalry, the fife and drum, medical, and a brothel. Spectators can walk through camp to observe daily life and ask questions. For Saturday, the schedule includes raising of the flag (9 a.m.), drill (11 a.m.), safety inspection (1:30 p.m.), weapons demonstration/battle scenario (2 p.m.), court martial (3 p.m.), and a fife and drum concert by the 20th Maine/Calvert Arms and candle light tour (7 p.m.). Sunday’s schedule includes a Civil War period church service (10:30 a.m.), church social (11:30 a.m.), safety inspection (1:30 p.m.), weapons demonstration/battle scenario (2 p.m.), surrender (3 p.m.), and camp closing (4 p.m.). Refreshments will be available throughout the weekend.

Make it a good week and take advantage of this opportunity. For students and those interested in American social studies and history, the event provides more than any textbook can. In addition, it shows how much fun it is to learn about history. Visitors will also be supporting the on-going financial needs of the two local museums. Tickets will cost a nominal fee of only $2 per person. Call 366-5050 or visit for more information about the upcoming weekend, daily tours, and monthly ghost tours.

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