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  • Caroline Martin

Military Drum 1812

Sitting high on a shelf in the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society Research Library and Archive is a battle worn drum from the War of 1812. Many Americans do not know much about the War of 1812 as it is generally skipped over in history class but it is important as it was a test on the United States to see if its newly formed government was strong enough to handle a second war for independence against Great Britain. If the United States had lost this engagement, the country we now take for granted could have ceased to exist.


The war lasted from June 1812 to February 1815. Some historians classify it as a theater of the Napoleonic Wars as it can be argued it was the British actions against France that angered the Americans, such as blocking trade and the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy. Many also argue it is a war of its own due to the United State’s not allying with France or sending troops to Europe.


Within the War of 1812 there were three main theaters: the Atlantic theater which consisted primarily of naval battles along the East Coast of the United States; the Southern Theater which consisted of fighting around the Gulf Coast, including the famous Battle of New Orleans; and the Great Lakes and Western Territory theater which was mostly comprised of land battles between the Canada–United States border. Our drum was most likely from the latter, partaking in the land battles between New York and Ontario.


Drums were an essential part of land battles as they were used as a line of communication between officers and soldiers who were often spread far apart. Whomever played the drum was extremely vulnerable to attack as they could not carry a musket and were a target of the enemy because of their role in communication. Because of this they generally stayed to the mid or back lines of troops. When a drummer was killed it was crucial that officers quickly found a way of communicating to their troops or else they risked losing control of the battle.


The Americans and British both suffered a series of losses. The end of the war was somewhat inconclusive with most historians agreeing it was a stalemate. The British initially believed they would be able to win the engagement quickly and regain some of their American territory but when that turned out not to be the case they settled for a peace treaty, the Treaty of Ghent, with both sides agreeing to end the fighting. There has not been a battle between the United States and Great Britain since then.


If you would like to learn more, materials in the archive at the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society can be made available by appointment. If you wish to see or donate to our archival collections please call 607-937-5281.

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