Duo to re-enact Civil War drummer's march from North Side to Gettysburg

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Jim Smith played Taps on Friday for Peter Guibert, something that Guibert, a drummer at the Battle of Gettysburg, likely did many times for others.

What's more, Mr. Smith, clad in a Union uniform, did it on Guibert's old field drum.

Mr. Smith, 70, a retired mechanical engineer from Greensburg, acquired Guibert's drum in 1982, restored it and pulled together details of the Pittsburgh native's life.

On Sunday, Mr. Smith begins a walk to Gettysburg, retracing the 19-day trek that Guibert made to mark the battle's 50th anniversary in 1913. The ceremony Friday at Guibert's North Side grave was a muster of sorts.

"Peter would be honored," said Nancy Guibert, whose late husband, Clarence, was Guibert's grandson.

Mr. Smith, a New York native, said he visited Gettysburg for the first time when he was 10 and noticed a poem -- about "The muffled drum's sad roll" -- on a marker there.

A love of drums and the Civil War grew in Mr. Smith, who has learned many of the 30 or so cadences that Union drummers used to help officers regulate camp life and coordinate actions on the battlefield. The drummer's other main duty, he said, was to play Taps at funerals.

Guibert, a Pittsburgh native, joined the 74th Pennsylvania Regiment in 1861. After the war, Mr. Smith said, he returned to his hometown and worked as a barber and peddler.

"He had bands, and he was a musician," Mr. Smith said. "He'd play anywhere at the drop of a hat."

On May 26, 1913, 70-year-old Guibert and a friend, John Conroy, left the North Side and marched to Gettysburg for an anniversary bringing together Union and Confederate veterans. Guibert played his drum along the way, and newspapers chronicled the pair's journey. Guibert was 89 when he died Dec. 7, 1933.

His drum passed to family member Betty Mower, of Delmont, who called Mr. Smith in 1982 after reading a newspaper account of his Civil War-related interests. Mr. Smith quickly bought the instrument.

"Betty saved Peter's drum from oblivion," Mr. Smith said during the ceremony in an old part of Highwood Cemetery, off Brighton Road.

In all, about a half-dozen of Guibert's descendants attended the ceremony, which included a band, Civil War re-enactors, a rifle salute and Mr. Smith's recitation of the muffled drum poem.

On Sunday, Mr. Smith and a friend, Ray Zimmerman of Acme, taking the role of Conroy, will depart West Park for their own march to Gettysburg. West Park, on the North Side, was Guibert's own point of departure.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Zimmerman will take a route that Guibert is believed to have taken. And, with Mr. Smith wielding the sticks, Guibert's drum once again will sound in small towns along the way.

"We'll have small parades through town, and we'll stop and do some educational entertainment," Mr. Smith said. He plans to remain in Gettysburg through the 150th anniversary celebration in July.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published May 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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