Major Pembleton’s Baby Drummers

Major Pembleton’s Baby Drummers. NSHS RG2856.PH9-57

Major Pembleton’s Baby Drummers, depicted in the photograph above, were a familiar feature at turn-of-the century Grand Army of the Republic reunions in Nebraska. Musician and Civil War veteran M. L. Pembleton (1846-1915), who resided at York, recruited his wife and several of his nine children to form the band. 

It was a novel attraction at the 1897 GAR reunion in Lincoln. The Nebraska State Journal on September 14 noted the excellent music “by the Pembleton baby drummers. The number was very attractive. Two snare drums were placed upon a small platform and were played by two little tots, son and daughter of M. L. Pembleton of York. Mr. Pembleton and his wife played the larger drums. The little people were dressed in the national colors and their performance was very taking.”  

A native of Pennsylvania, Pembleton came to this state in 1876 following service in the Civil War and the Pennsylvania National Guard as a drum major. He also served as a drum major in the Nebraska National Guard. and helped organize the Nebraska State Band Association in 1883. Pembleton as a drum major and band leader became a familiar figure at GAR reunions statewide and at national encampments as well, serving with the National Association of Civil War Musicians, under the auspices of the GAR.  

Pembleton lived at Wahoo, Stromsburg, and York during his life in Nebraska. He died on May 20, 1915, in York, of a heart condition and (according to the York Republican, May 21, 1915) of “the many complicated ills that followed him ever since the war.”  – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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