Civil War History and the Dallas Museum of Art: The Bugler

American Civil War soldier? In the European art gallery at the Dallas Museum of Art? No…

But this original painting created by Edouard Manet in 1882 offered a chance for reflection on uniforms of the mid-to-late 19th Century in North America and Europe. Most Civil War bluffs are familiar with the Zoauves uniform which started in the French military in North Africa, got fashionable, and became a trend for some regimental uniforms during the American Civil War. Weaponry technology also migrated across the Atlantic, both directions. I find it easy to consider the American Civil War in its own little bubble of existence, but understanding it on the global scene is important. Not just politically with the questions of abolition, economy, and neutrality, but in the sense of military history.

Looking closer at the painting and reading the interpretive panel adds details for art appreciation. This piece is “less finished” than Manet’s other paintings, leading some to guess that painting is actually unfinished. The swift brush strokes have been interpreted to add to a sense of nervous energy and the bugler himself seems to glance hesitantly at the viewer.

The bugler in the painting is mostly like French and not personally connected to the American Civil War, but there are a few accounts of buglers during the 1860’s conflict.

This story was published in The Little Bugler by George Monroe Roger who volunteered as a teenager and wanted to join his older brother’s Union cavalry regiment:

So my brother put a bugle into my hand, and said, “When you learn to blow that, I will have you a uniform made and get you a horse to ride.” (He belonged to the cavalry.) Now,
this learning to blow the bugle was what the soldiers would call a poser , for I had never attempted anything of the kind, and had no reason to think that my talents ran in that particular direction. But, with the vision of a gay uniform and a fine prancing horse before me, I applied myself diligently, and after struggling very hard for some time, and wasting much wind, I at last was able to blow some of the more simple camp-calls, and got my uniform, ornamented with golden tape and many brass buttons. And now, with bugle swung round my shoulders , with sword at my side, and mounted upon a gaily caparisoned charger, was getting as much glory out of life as a youth of my age could imbibe without danger of an explosion.

Many buglers were not as lucky as Roger believed he would be, and the musicians were often on the front lines giving the audible signals to troops in battle.

Bugle calls are associated with many aspects of American Civil War soldiers’ experiences, including mundane camp life, attack signals, and funerals. One Civil War tune poked fun at the bugler for interrupted every moment of military life and the choruses mimic the sound of the bugle.

1. The shades of night were falling fast,
Tra la la! Tra la la!
The bugler blew his well known blast,
Tra la la la la
No matter be there rain or snow
That bugler still is bound to blow

Up-i-dee-i dee-i da !
Up-i-dee ! Up-i-da !
Up-i-dee-i dee-i da !

2. He saw, as in their bunks they lay,
Tra la la! Tra la la!
How soldiers spent the dawning day
Tra la la la la
“There’s too much comfort there,” said he,
“And so I’ll blow the ‘Reveille’.”

3. In nice log huts he saw the light,
Tra la la! Tra la la!
Of cabin fires, warm and bright,
Tra la la la la
The sight afforded him no heat,
And so he sounded the “Retreat”

4. Upon the fire he spied a pot
Tra la la! Tra la la!
Choicest viands smoking hot
Tra la la la la
Says he, “You shan’t enjoy the stew,”
So “Boots and Saddles” loudly blew

5. They scarce their half-cooked meal begin
Tra la la! Tra la la!
Ere orderly cries out, “Fall in!”
Tra la la la la
Then off they march through mud and rain,
Only to march back again

6. But soldiers, you are made to fight
Tra la la! Tra la la!
To starve all day and march all night
Tra la la la la
Chance, if you get bread and meat
That bugler will not let you eat

7. Oh hasten then, that glorious day
Tra la la ! Tra la la !
When buglers shall no longer play
Tra la la la la
When we, through Peace, shall be set free
From “Tattoo”, “Taps” and “Reveille”

(If you want to hear this song performed, check out this version created by Bobby Horton: )

Finding the portrait of a bugler in the European art gallery brought these lighthearted Civil War sources to mind, but as I studied the painting closer I kept thinking about the international impact and military history influence of each war upon the next war or historic phase.

4 Responses to Civil War History and the Dallas Museum of Art: The Bugler

  1. A very interesting painting; thanks for sharing. For the U.S. Army horse cavalry there were over 100 different bugle calls. I have been playing taps for military funeral and graveside services since high school, and I am currently the “BUGLER” for my American Legion post. Fortunately I am only called upon to play “assembly” and “taps” in the course of this duty.

  2. The uniform is closer to the French Chasseurs (light infantry) that was adopted by the 14th Brooklyn, rather than Zoauves. Manet also painted The Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Museum wouldn’t let me take the original so I had to settle for a print and frame it to hang in my law office

  3. French infantry were still wearing that uniform in August of 1914. Made them an easier target for the Germans, unfortunately. The French switched to “Horizon Blue” shortly after.

  4. They still play bugle music at all hours on some US army posts. I had a list on my refrigerator door for a time, listing all the calls and what time they came. Of course, now the are all recordings. There were some 20 different calls signaling different times or events of the day.

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