PITTSBURGH — Fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest of the U.S. Civil War, a survivor of that fight marched 200 miles from Pittsburgh to the site of the battle for a reunion attended by both Union and Confederate veterans.
On Sunday, another veteran, Jim Smith, 70, of Hempfield, Pa., will start out on the same trek as part of the observation of Memorial Day, when Americans honor their war dead. By a stroke of luck, Smith will be carrying the same drum — a throaty field snare — played by his spiritual forebear, Union Army veteran Peter Guibert.
“Getting Peter’s drum was a fortuitous happening,” said Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired mechanical engineer.
Smith, a drummer and hobbyist who restores musical instruments, was profiled by a Pennsylvania newspaper about 30 years ago when he started a fife and drum crops in western Pennsylvania.
That story caught the attention of Betty Mower, now 87, whose uncle, Otto Guibert, had recently died. Mower had inherited a relic from her uncle’s attic, which she knew only as “Grandpa Peter’s army drum,” she recalled at a Friday memorial service for Peter Guibert.
Mower had considered throwing away the drum, which she had not been allowed to touch as a child, but thought it would interest Smith and got in touch with him.
“When it had been up in the attic, it got encrusted with coal dust and it looked pretty decrepit,” Smith said. “It sat for quite a while, but I eventually got around to restoring it.”
Smith became curious about the drum’s owner, and after scouring military and civilian records, learned about Guibert’s journey to Gettysburg.
He plans to recreate the march with Ray Zimmerman, 65, another Vietnam veteran. The men aim to arrive in Gettysburg in time for ceremonies to mark the 150th anniversary of the battle, which was fought from July 1-3, 1863.
Some 50,000 soldiers from the North and South died at Gettysburg, which is regarded as a turning point in the war that preserved the United States as a single country and also led to the abolition of slavery.