The Cowden Drum
From the time the first William Cowden immigrated from Ireland in the 1840’s, the Cowden family has played a prominent role in the history of Philadelphia generally, and in the Northeast section of the city in particular.
The elder William Cowden joined the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War, and his son, also named William, while only in his early teens, enlisted as a drummer boy, as was customary at the time.
During one of the Virginia campaigns in 1862, the marching band of the 114th Regiment, to which the younger William Cowden belonged, after spending the night sleeping in a ditch unseen by the rest of their compatriots, missed the call to evacuate their newly won turf. The band members awoke to the bayonets of their Confederate captors, and were taken to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond—their instruments confiscated. The 114th Regiment wore the exotic Zoave uniform, as seen in the photograph from 1864.
The imprisoned musicians of war were eventually repatriated in a prisoner of war exchange. The people of Frankford magnanimously took up a collection to replace the instruments appropriated by the band’s Confederate captors. This drum is believed to be one of those replaced instruments, and its later use by the younger William Cowden at the Battle of Gettysburg is documented in our acquisition records at the Historical Society of Frankford (HSF).
The drum was donated to the HSF by the Cowden family in 1963—exactly one hundred years after the Battle of Gettysburg—along with the musket used by the elder William Cowden at the landmark Battle.
The younger William Cowden later went on to join the newly reorganized Philadelphia fire department, and right up to the present, several of his descendants have distinguished themselves as local firefighters. He died in 1913—fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg— while still a resident of Frankford.
The Benjamin Rush Chapter of Questers visited The Historical Society of Frankford and became aware of this drum and it’s history. The idea of conserving the instrument was discussed and raising of funds began.
The Questers is an organization devoted to studying, preserving, and sharing knowledge of history and antiquities. An estimate of work needed to bring the drum back to it’s former condition was obtained by HSF from Lara Kaplan, object conservator. A matching grant from the Pennsylvania Questers was applied for and received.
On July 1st 2020 the check from Pa. Questers was handed to HSF President Jerry Kolankiewicz from Benjamin Rush Quester Mildred Noonan.
The drum was handed over to Lara to begin the restoration.
It is unknown when the repair will be completed at this time. Many months of detailed restoration work are required. When it is returned to the HSF, It will be on permanent display. The exhibit is being planned and lecture in the future will be scheduled.