Quality Exclusives

Off Topic: Scoping a Civil War Artifact

Shown is an image of the Noble & Cooley label inside the drum, as seen by ITI’s V5 Videoscope. Source: Instrument Technology Inc.

When Jay and Carol Jones of Granville, MA-based Noble & Cooley Drum Co. learned that one of the firm’s Civil War-era military drums had surfaced, they wanted a closer look. So they called Instrument Technology Inc. (ITI) of Westfield, MA.

“We knew that drummer boys who went into battle often opened their drums and inscribed their name, the date and the date and place where they saw action,” says Jay Jones, current company president and great-great-great grandson of James Cooley, who, along with Silas Noble, founded the drum manufacturing company in 1854. “When my wife received a call from a Civil War antiques broker saying he’d heard at a trade show that he had a Noble & Cooley drum with a supposed history of having been used at the Battle of Gettysburg, naturally, we were intrigued.”

The drum arrived at their facilities with even the side ropes and leather ears in tact. Because the drum is so old, they did not want to damage it by removing the skin heads in order to look inside. The single piece of steam-bent wood that forms the drum barrel was inaccessible, except through a 5/8-inch diameter hole in the wood designed to let air escape when the drum is played.

An area commercial photographer, James Langone, happened to be doing work for Noble & Cooley at the time. He also had worked with ITI.

“When Jim told me about the capabilities of ITI scopes, I knew right away what he meant,” Jones says. As a mechanic, Jones has used a borescope. “If there was a scope that could help us look inside the drum, I wanted to give it a try.”

The scope for the job was ITI’s V5 Videoscope.

Says Jeff Briers of ITI, “We knew a videoscope would offer the crisp, detailed images they needed. Their request was different from most of our customers, but we knew we had the right scope for the job.”

Stationary photos of the interior were viewed on the compatible screen. The images clearly showed a label, which, though a bit torn in a couple of places, was from Noble & Cooley. It matched one of the original labels saved in the company’s archives that depicts the company as “Manufacturers of Military and Toy Drums.”

“Our records indicate that many of the drums we made in the Civil War era were used by the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 10th Regiment,” says Jones. The owner of this drum was in the hands of James Forrest of the 28th Pennsylvania Mil, Infantry Company F. He went on to serve in the 187th Infantry and the 131st all of Pennsylvania. The soldiers also were present at Yorktown, Fredricksburg, Salem Heights and many other active fighting locations.

Unfortunately, there were no writings inside the drum to confirm the connection to any of the battles. The only writing was a number, “No. 8,” which denotes the drum size. “We were a little disappointed,” Jones says. “But treasure hunts don’t always turn out the way people hope.” They did, however, see a knitting needle, a pencil and a small stick at the bottom of the drum. “Maybe we weren’t the first ones to want a look inside,” he adds.

The intrigue won’t stop with this drum. The company is trying to locate the Lincoln drum, a special drum that was made for Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Crafted with silk cord and sterling silver ears, the piece was noted in James Cooley’s diary: “Finished the Lincoln drum today,” he wrote. “It is the finest one ever made.” The company believes this drum was used by the Massachusetts Volunteer 10th Regiment. At this time they are following up with a few leads, but are not sure where it is and if they will ever find it.
    Instrument Technology Inc. (ITI)
    (413) 562-3606

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