Cobbler’s Frolic, November 5 at the Atheneum!
While looking at a high-res version of this photo from the Library of Congress, taken during the Union occupation of Atlanta in the autumn of 1864, I noticed this roughly-lettered broadside posted to the corner of the Atlanta Intelligencer building at the corner of Whitehall (now Peachtree) Street and Alabama, near the railroad depot. The broadside advertises a concert:
Mr. I. Smith
Leader of the Band
of the 33rd Mass.
The Laughable Pantomime of the
at the Atheneum
Saturday Night Nov 5th
“Mr. I. Smith” would be 37-year-old Israel Smith, Principal Musician of the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry, of New Bedford. Before the war he had led that town’s brass band, prompting the local paper, the Mercury, to write in 1857, “the efforts he has made and the excellence of the band under his leadership, demonstrate the value of his skill as a musician.” According to an 1859 city directory, he lived on Pope’s Island, smack in the center of New Bedford harbor.
As for the performance seven years later in Atlanta, there’s this description of the show from Three Years’ Service of the Thirty-third Mass. Infantry Regiment 1862-1865 by Adin Ballou Underwood:
Peace and quietness reigned in Atlanta. Not a hostile gun was heard there for two months, till a brigade or two of Georgia Militia appeared on the scene one day, and they were quietly made to skedaddle. Everything went “merry as a marriage bell” with the soldiers, and the few inhabitants that still lingered there. Hooker’s old Corps that had been so hard marched and hard fought, relaxed itself, and the bronzed and staid old veterans became gay and festive. Games, parties, dances, serenades, suppers, concerts and an actual Theatre, divided the time with drills, picket and parades in the gay garrison town. One night while the Thirty-Third band was serenading Gen. Sherman, he proposed that it should give a concert in the theatre for the benefit of Mrs. Welch, the widow of the late Masonic Grand Master of the State, whose house he was occupying as headquarters, and who was very poor. The experiment was promptly undertaken. Friends of the beneficiary were to do the star singing. The band rode to the theatre a few times in hacks to rehearse, and on the night set, gave the following programme which was duly printed: The concert was a success artistically and financially, and netted $200 for the beneficiary. Several similar concerts were given with varied programmes, “Thirty-Third Mass. regiment Quick-step (I. Smith) band;” Clarionette solo, J. Calnum;” “Lecture, Woman’s Rights, A. P. Hazard;” “Lord Lovell,” by the same; “Quartette by the Glee Club of Knapp’s Battery,” being some of the additions. Then the season hegan to wane; prices were rather high for enlisted men, getting only $13 a month, and it was rather necessary to get up something striking. A bright idea struck Hazard, and he got up a play. So the following addition appeared on the programmes for October 29th, printed on old blank discharge papers:–
Afterwards the farce, “The Lover’s Serenade” was given. Hazard was musician, author, actor, stage manager, printer, bill poster and property man. The theatre had a great’ run till the very last night before the march, when it took $667. The season lasted four weeks, seventeen nights, and the band took $8000 in all. It gave $2000 to Mrs. Welch and out of the balance kept enough to pay its numbers the amount due from the officers according to their enlistment agreement to the end of their three years. The last night before the city was evacuated, the last train that left it was kept waiting till midnight to take away one of the stock actors. The yield of this bonanza suddenly stopped.
As Underwood notes, a $1 theatre ticket is no small sum for a private earning $13 per month, before any deductions against his pay. It must have been one helluva show to take in $8,000 in seventeen performances — upwards of $500 per night. Of course, the notion of Union soldiers willingly raising (at Uncle Billy’s suggestion) $2,000 in Yankee greenbacks for the benefit of an Atlanta widow doesn’t exactly fit their reputation as the demon horde, either.
And then there’s Underwood’s description of the band’s earlier performance for the president, after which (perhaps understandably) Smith and his fellow bandsmen were a bit full of themselves:
About this time [Spring 1863], while the corps was busy corduroying the vile secesh roads of the neighborhood, it was relieved from that delectable duty one day to be reviewed, together with the Twelfth Corps, by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armies, good President Lincoln. And how the soldiers did reverence that tall citizen, as he rode along the lines on the little mustang, with that beaver [hat], the like of which some in the lines had not seen for two years! While he was at General Hooker’s headquarters, the band of the Thirty-Third was sent for, to go up by special train, to play for the President’s entertainment during his visit there. On its arrival, the five other bands that had been ordered there also, including some excellent ones, were informed that their services were no longer required, as the band of the Thirty-Third Massachusetts would be sufficient. It is said, on competent authority, that Israel Smith, the leader, Amasa Glover, “the irrepressible,” (as he came to be called) the managing man, and the other members of the band, felt rather “stuck up” for some time at this great compliment. They must have realized some contrast between this occasion, when they traveled in state in a special car on the railroad, and enjoyed the delicacies which they managed somehow to have at army headquarters — and a certain other occasion, when they went to visit and play for the Second Massachusetts, when they were treated, doubtless by necessity, on army rations, including ‘army commissary,” that cheers, and does certainly inebriate, if the thirsty soldier does not practise rigid self-denial. The band had· to foot it home, lugging their instruments with them. The hour, of departure was after taps; the road, a mixture. of Virginia mud and snow to the depth of three feet; the distance, seven miles; with these conditions given, and some knowledge of the personnel of the band, and the imagination can easily supply the rest. The load became, in some cases, too heavy, and it is asserted that the devious way of the band could be easily traced next morning, or, rather that morning (of arrival), by the brass instruments sticking out of the snow, strung along like a skirmish line, where they had been thrown away. The amount of frozen music temporarily buried that night will probably never be known.
Israel Smith returned to New Bedford after the war, where he and his wife Sophia raised a family and he worked as a music teacher and musician. He was still living in Winchester, Massachusetts as of 1910, a widowed octogenarian living with his daughter and son-in-law.