Sumney Tavern to host 69th PA Irish Volunteers
The Civil War reenactment group will perform traditional Irish music in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
The 69th PA Irish Volunteer Civil War band started in much the same way its namesake did 150 years ago: around a campfire.
“After a battle, you’re sitting around the campfire, no cell phones, no boom boxes, and some of the fellas could sing,” Dr. Robert Levine, music leader of the 69th PA Irish Volunteer reenactors, said.
Levine, a renowned periodontist, joined the reenactment group as a private in 1994. He said that there are approximately 60 current members of the reenactment group, named after the historical 69th PA “Irish Volunteer” regiment, which was banded together from 1861-1865, and fought under their green battle flag in every campaign during the Civil War.
The volunteers became famous for holding the center of the Union line during Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s advance, during the Battle of Gettysburg.
As a reenactor, Levine participates in Civil War battle reenactment events, where fellow Civil War reenactors would come as close to living in period conditions, such as fighting, eating and sleeping the way Civil War soldiers did. This, of course, includes the soldiers’ pastimes.
Sitting around the campfire, waiting for the next day’s reenactment battle, Levine recalls fellow reenactors bringing out period instruments and begin to perform period songs, particularly those that the 69th PA Irish Volunteers would play.
By 1999, the 69th PA Irish Volunteer – A Civil War Band was formed. The band includes 12 members from the regiment, and features such instruments as the harmonica, spoons, Penny whistle, bass, banjo, fiddle and rhythm guitars, one of which is played by Levine.
“We have ourselves a good time,” Levine said.
The reenactors and musicians have performed at special concerts during battle reenactment events, such as at Gettysburg and Frederickburg, VA. They have also performed at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair, during Celtic Heritage weekend, and were the honor guard during the Irish Famine Memorial dedication in Philadelphia.
Preserving History with Live Music
The 69th PA Irish Volunteers band has also taken their music to help support projects that preserve and honor the memories of fallen Civil War soldiers. According to the 69th PA Irish Volunteers website, of the 1007 volunteer soldiers who left the Philadelphia at the onset of the Civil, only 56 would see its conclusion. Levine said many of the Irish soldiers volunteered for the Union almost immediately after immigrating to the states.
In light of this, Levine said band has raised over $95,000 to the Civil War Trust, which helps preserve endangered Civil War battlefields; and has helped erect nearly 70 tombstones for members of the historical regiment buried in Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia, who were too poor to have afforded a grave marker.
“It’s amazing ho many soldiers were put in the ground without a tombstone,” Levine said. “We do this so every mother’s son will be properly recognized.”
In an effort to raise such funds for The Civil War band has put out two CDs, “Rock of Erin” in 2002 and “In their Honor” in 2006.
Playing at Sumney Tavern
The Civil War band also regularly performs period and traditional Irish music at several Irish Pubs and restaurants for further fundraising, and will hold such a concert at the Sumney Tavern, located 1610 West Point Pike in Lansdale, on March 16, from 7 – midnight.
According to Levine, the Civil War band will perform four sets of traditional and Civil War period Irish music. Levine said, based on previous performances at the Sumney Tavern, he expects a well-attended evening of live music that many in the audience readily sing along with. However, he said that he and the Civil War band also perform out of a sense of duty to those who played on before them.
“It’s about remembering the guys that fought,” Levine said.
For more information, visit www.pa69Irish.com.