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National Museum of American History, Behring Center


Catalog #: 58146M    Accession #: 204703
Credit: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History

Dimensions / Weight

Dimensions: 0.5" H x 14" W x 0.5" D

Physical Description

Iron fife

Specific History

This fife from the period of the American Revolution was unearthed on Red Bank battleground in 1880 near the New Jersey Monument.

General History

A fife is a small transverse flute, pitched to B flat. There are six holes and no keys.

"The drum and fife regulated the Revolutionary War soldier's life. By commands of music, the soldier was notified when to awake in the mornings, when to attend drill, when to stop for meals, and when to report for pay. While on the march, music assisted with cadence and order, helping men to march in time. Music encouraged soldiers to press a march or attack with vigor."

"Orders were also given using whistles, blowing horns, and bagpipes. Music and songs in camp lifted soldiers' spirits following exhausting duty. They helped build fellowship in the regiments."

"Drums have been used to convey commands since ancient times. They provide distinct sounds that can be heard for great distances. The drum was the very voice and tongue of the commander. After the adoption of firearms, the fife came into use. Its peculiar piercing sound transcended the noise of men and gunfire, and added melody to the drumbeats. By the Revolution, armies had adopted a system of commands given by the drum and fife, which could rapidly communicate orders to whole armies at one time."
from National Park Service Collections American Revolutionary War: Guilford Courthouse


Country: United States
State: New Jersey
War: War of American Independence
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