Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tootin' Your Horn

               A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the time I was the bugler during infantry training in the Marine Corps. It was not exactly a glamorous job but it did provide me with a certain distinction, albeit, a dubious distinction in the eyes (or should I say ears) of my fellow Marines. I admit to having enjoyed a certain pleasure in blowing Taps each evening at 10:00 as the melodic sound echoed off the surrounding hills. I had a different kind of pleasure at 4:30 in the morning knowing my blaring out Reveille would be a jolt to each man’s REM.

Bugles, and thus buglers, have played an important role in military life for nearly as long as man has been traversing this old earth. A fascinating use of horns is found in the book of Joshua, chapter 6, where God instructs the Israelites to circle the city of Jericho once a day for six days with seven priests carrying seven trumpets marching before the ark of the Lord while blowing the trumpets. This instrument is called the yowbel. Throughout the circling of Jericho the seven priests blew their horns. On the seventh day they did the same thing, only this time they circled the city seven times before blowing the horns. Then the command was given to sound the “war shout.” When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted and the walls of the city collapsed. Now that’s cool!

Ancient horns were usually made from the horn of animals, such as the shofar, used in Jewish religious rites which are still used today. Another horn used back in antiquity was the conch shell, salvaged from some denizen of the sea, and is used throughout many regions of the world for reasons that range from a calling of the gods (in Fiji the horn is called davui) to a conch shell being used to spur on Tongan football players. In the Far East it is used extensively in Buddhist ceremonies. The taqowa‘ was a Jewish military trumpet which is mentioned in Ezekiel 7:14.

In the western world, the trumpet has become the instrument of choice primarily because of its shrill, penetrating sound that immediately grabs the attention of those nearby. However, the North Korean army made good use of trumpets during the Korean War. Just prior to an attack, North Korean soldiers would loudly blow trumpets creating a strident sound, accompanied by the clanging of gongs. This had a demoralizing effect on United Nations and American troops. So much so that many soldiers ran away in a frenzied state upon hearing the discordant sounds of the trumpets and gongs.

But it is the Civil War that once again attracts me, where the bugle played a critical part of daily life for the soldiers of both the northern Yankees and the southern Rebels. The bugler introduced an additional layer of orderliness and discipline in the lives of these warriors. They quickly learned to develop an ear which enabled them to discern the different bugle calls.

The first order of the day was the bugle-call known as the Assembly of Buglers. It was sounded at 5:00 AM, or during the winter months, 6:00 AM. This was preparatory for Reveille, whereupon the men would grumble and grouse as they rolled out of their blankets, preparing for the start of a new day. Some disgruntled soldier might call out, “Put the bugler in the guardhouse!”

The next call by the bugler was Assembly. The men would fall into formation where roll-call would be taken.  Following this bit of administrative necessity, the next sound of the bugle was, Stable Call. The soldiers (cavalry and artillery units) brushed their horses with curry-combs, while their mounts enjoyed their feed-bag. The next call was Breakfast Call. It is at this time in the morning that the troops had their chance to eat their first meal of the day. Next came Sick Call at 8:00 AM followed by Fatigue Call, which meant the troops “policed” the area – that is to say they walked about looking for stray debris which made the area unfit. This also included chopping firewood and filling water barrels and various other necessities of camp life.

Throughout the day various bugle calls would be sounded by the bugler, such as Drill Call, a monotonous, mundane repetition of military maneuvers intended to bring about quick, smooth responses by soldiers particularly when battle with the enemy was imminent. The next call was Boots and Saddles (again for cavalry and artillery). Although this call was originally intended as a time for practiced precision, later, during times of war, it was used to prepare men to be ready for engaging the enemy. Dinner Call came at noon, and in the hearts and minds of the men, it never came too soon.

Shortly before 6:00 PM the bugler blew Assembly followed by Retreat, where a roll-call was once again taken. This roll-call was followed by the bugle call Dress Parade of the infantry. The men stood in formation, having to endure more administrative clap-trap. This was followed by some lecturer, pontificating on whatever his supposed area of expertise was. The next call was Assembly of Guard, which consisted of those soldiers selected for guard duty, protecting the camp while their fellows slept.

At 8:30 PM the final call for Assembly was sounded where one last roll-call was made before the men were dismissed to their stockade Sibley tents. This last gathering is known as Tattoo. At 9:00 PM the bugler would blow Taps to end the day.

In many of these bugle calls a drummer might be used as well. And other calls were used when engaging in combat. But the bugle and the bugler have become an historical fixture in the annals of our American military.

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