The Origin of The 33rd

The present-day 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, Inc. was re-created, in 1996, by musicians from Central Illinois. The musicians were recruited from the same geographical area in Illinois as the original Civil War band, mustered at State Normal University (now called Illinois State University) in 1861, and, like the original band, come from all walks of life.  Our performances are a tribute to the soldiers and musicians of the North and South who fought for what they believed to be right.

 

Mustered at State Normal University August 15, 1861 Charles E. Hovey, President of State Normal University, became the first Colonel of the 33rd Illinois Volunteers when the unit was organized in McLean County, Illinois. The regiment at once became known as the "Normal" or Teachers' Regiment and attracted both teachers and students to its ranks. Because it was stated that the regiment would not obey orders unless they were absolutely correct in syntax and orthography, the regiment was at times called the "Brain Regiment." The  33rd fought throughout the Mississippi Valley and distinguished themselves at Vicksburg, having lost 11 of 32 men, all the rest wounded save one.

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The Regimental Band, led by Augustus Woodward of Lexington, Illinois and C.S. Elder also of Lexington, Illinois was made up of 17 bandsmen. The band was mustered on August 15, 1861 and mustered out on August 16, 1862 "... by order as to musicians." Due to financial issues within the military, bandsmen were a financial liability and the government could no longer afford the higher wage paid to the musician. The band provided enjoyment to the regiment and many bands continued service without authorization and the officers and men of the unit paid the added expense.

The Regimental Band was a major part of the soldier's life while fighting against many odds. The band played music that reminded them of home, kept their spirits high, and added to their emotional well-being. The Regimental Band led soldiers into battle and to their death as well.

Much of the music was rooted in the small town "Cornet Band" of the 19th century. The music of the cornet band accompanied the bandsmen as they mustered into service with the regimental band during the Civil War. Quicksteps, marches, ballads, polkas, and overtures played by the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regimental Band are the same pieces played during the 19th century and touched the lives of so many soldiers and civilians. The music of the 19th century provided comfort, encouragement and spirit of patriotism. Research into original scores devotes much of the time of the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, Inc. when not performing.

During the early part of the 19th century, rapid developments occurred in the design and manufacture of brass instruments. Starting in the mid-1830's, a popular movement featuring bands comprised of all brass instruments swept across the country. Instruments like the keyed bugle and the ophecleide lost favor with musicians as instruments with rotary valves and piston-type valves became available. By the 1850's there was one or more brass bands in nearly every village across the country. Some of these bands were truly excellent and featured classically trained musicians, although most were amateurs playing merely for the enjoyment of music.

The War of the Rebellion came along at the peak of popularity of the local brass band, and because the new brass instruments were better suited to outdoor use than their predecessors, military brass bands made their way into the American music scene. Early on almost every unit had a brass band or drum and fife corps to entertain the soldiers and aid in the recruiting efforts. The Federal Government authorized up to 24 musicians in a regimental band. However the typical size was 10 to 16 musicians. Where possible, existing town brass bands were signed up en masses, the men wearing the uniform of either North or South depending upon region. In fact, several bands wore the colors of both uniforms as more of the country fell into Union hands. The 13th Connecticut Infantry had no band when the unit entered service in 1862. But as they reached New Orleans later in the war, they were able to recruit a local professional band led by Charles Brother. The band had previously served with the Confederate Army at the Battle of Shiloh.

Charles Hovey

C.S. Elder,

 Lexington, Illinois
Christmas 1860 CSE

The details of these portraits of musicians from the 33rd’s past were gathered by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Veselack.  They were serious and steadfast students of history and genealogy. They researched all of the original band members during the years of about 1997-2004. 

 

Mr. Veselack was a retired band director from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois and a charter member of the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band as re-created in 1996.  Dick played cornet in the band and also served as a director as needed.

 

His wife, Liz, was a highly-respected McLean County genealogist with the McLean County Genealogical Society.

 

We are grateful to the Veselack's for their dedicated research into the history of the original 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band.