Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 2, 2014

A drummer boy's gift plays on

Andover Stories
Tom AdamsAndover Historical Society

---- — The spirit of giving often graces our lives at unexpected times and in extraordinary ways. In August 2012, it found its way to the doors of the Andover Historical Society.

On that warm, rainy morning, a gentleman from North Reading walked into Blanchard House with a mysterious package and an even more enthralling story. In this carefully wrapped parcel was a battle drum and drumsticks carried by an Andover teenager into our nation’s Civil War, along with his photograph and the saber and belt worn by his brother.

The story behind that 150-year-old drum, its bearer and his family underscores the spirit of giving.

The Smart family emigrated from Scotland in 1842. The father, Hugh, a flax dresser, found work in the Andover mills. His contributions to the business were recognized in later years with an honorarium — a hand-tooled, silver watch made in Waltham (which still works to this day).

Among his children, two sons — Alexander and George — embraced the patriotic swell and joined the Union ranks. George Means Smart mustered out on July 6, 1861 with the Union Army as a drummer in Company H, First Heavy Artillery. Just 15 years old, George left Andover for the last time that evening aboard the Providence Railroad heading to Fort Warren and Boston before continuing on to Washington, D.C.

It was just a year later that his father, Hugh, traveled to Fort Albany in Virginia to care for George as his son’s health began to fail. After serving his nation in battle, George finally succumbed to “chronic disease and ague” (most likely dysentery and fever) on July 7, 1862. It was Hugh who brought George’s mortal remains home, and likely, too, his drum signed by members of George’s company.

While his brother, Alexander, although wounded in the hand, returned and began years of service in the carriage mills in Amesbury, George’s drum and drumsticks began their second life upon their return to Andover following his death. These cherished artifacts helped to tell and retell of a young boy’s sacrifice for his then-torn nation and became a common thread passed down through each generation of the Smart family.

Until the celebration over the armistice ending World War I, the drum was rarely touched. As the story goes, the last time the drum was played was on Armistice Day in November 1919. Family accounts say the drum made its way around the neighborhood sounding the celebration before returning home.

For the next 60 years, it sat quietly on an upright piano near the entrance to the family home. About 40 years ago, the drum passed to a new Smart generation for the last time. It found a place of honor in a guest bedroom where, except for an occasional gentle dusting, it lived a quiet life.

Some 20 years ago, the family began to consider whether the drum and accompanying heirlooms might be better off in a historical society where they could be professionally conserved — and their amazing story more widely told. Those conversations ultimately led our gentleman donor to our front door.

The drum now has a new life as a treasured part of our collection. So, too, does the story of George Smart, of his father, Hugh; and of his family. It was an honor for me to hear those stories, to share them with you and to now include them as part of our vibrant and living history. The Andover Historical Society is forever grateful to the Smart family descendants for donating these incredibly well-preserved artifacts and for the stories that will continue to bring them to life.