Drummers Three

By MIKE PATRICK

I want to share three stories about drummers, two historical and one of fiction.

When researching my family roots years ago, I discovered that my great-great grandfather is buried in Sabanno Cemetery between Cross Plains and Cisco, located in Eastland County, Texas. His name was Virgil Miller Williams (1843-1894). His father (my 3-great grandfather) Joseph Henry Williams, was born in 1804, Pickens, South Carolina. Later in life while living in Georgia, Joseph joined the Confederacy and became a drummer for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Military drummers were typically either young boys or older men. In addition to providing cadence for marching, drummers learned as many as sixty signals to give the troupes for their various duties like mess call, sergeants gather, charge, withdraw. When they weren’t drumming in battle, they helped carry wounded soldiers on litters back to safety. He died during the war in 1863. 

Virgil M. Williams

Joseph must have come by his drumming skills naturally because his father (my 4-great grandfather), Edward “Ned” Williams, was a drummer, too. Edward was not his original name; neither was Williams. He came from England to fight in the Revolutionary War but this redcoat was a turncoat and joined with the “Liberty Boys.” Jimmie Cox changed his birth name so the British could not find him. In a newspaper article written to honor him in 1903, the Clayton Tribune (Georgia) states that he was a drummer for Gen. George Washington in the battles of Brandywine, Princeton, and Camp Valley Forge. He later served in the War of 1812. Every Independence Day, Ned went on top of the highest mountain to beat his drum in celebration. He died in 1845 at the age of 107.

Reflecting on the circumstances of war for these two ancestors, I thought of Katherine Kennicott Davis, who penned a Christmas song in 1941 as the United States was entering World War II against Germany and Japan. Originally entitled “Carol of the Drum,” it was first recorded by the von Trapp Singers of “Sound of Music” fame in 1951. Later, the carol became known as “The Little Drummer Boy.” 

In the lyrics, the singer relates how, as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the Nativity of Jesus (stanza 1). 

Come they told me…
A new born King to see…
Our finest gifts we bring…
To lay before the King…
So to honor Him…
When we come…

Without a gift for the infant (stanza 2), 

Little Baby…
I am a poor boy too…
I have no gift to bring…
That’s fit to give the King…
Shall I play for you…
On my drum?

the little drummer boy played his drum with approval from Jesus’s mother, Mary, recalling, “I played my best for him” and “He smiled at me” (stanza 3).

Mary nodded…
The ox and lamb kept time…
I played my drum for Him…
I played my best for Him…

Then He smiled at me…
Me and my drum…

Whether we have gold, frankincense, and myrrh to bring to him or something that seems of little value to anyone else, may we give him what we have…

…pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

Bonus: Here are three groups singing this classic:

The Harry Simeone Chorale (1958) https://youtu.be/DT1fA59oH7Q

Pentatonix (2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ_MGWio-vc

For King and Country (2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzEX3QMuVPM

Mike Patrick is retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator at Hendrick Medical Center

Mike Patrick

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