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A piece of the Battle of New Bern returns

By George Olsen


July 28, 2006 – INTRO - About 150 years after its initial stop in New Bern, a piece of Civil War history is coming back to New Bern for good. George Olsen has more.

It's not the size of the piece that's inspiring excitement among those associated with Tryon Palace.

01:33 It's a Civil War drum. It's 13 X 16 inches, so it's not a huge drum.

It's what it has to say literally, well, sort of about its past and present.

01:33 The drum itself is much in its original state, the original paint. On the outside of the drum it has the Old North State stenciled in a circular cartouche with a star in the center of it, but what makes it very interesting to us is the series of inscriptions on it, both on the inside and the outside. These are handwritten inscriptions.

Dean Knight is a registrar, librarian and archivist at Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens who traveled to Asheville earlier this month and placed the winning bid for the drum which was offered during an auction from the collection of the noted North Carolina artist Bob Timberlake. Those inscriptions tell a lot about where the drum has been, including one stating exactly which date the drum was captured during the Battle of New Bern. There's also inscribed information relating to the drum's origins prior to its initial arrival in New Bern. And there are even clues about exactly who removed it from New Bern after the March 1862 battle.

01:33 But what's very interesting to us is an inscription of the inside bottom head that says L.L. Lamb, Fitchburg, MA and the letters LLL. We know that in 1860 there was a census taken in Worchester County, MA and there shows up on that census a Levi L. Lamb, a mechanic aged 21, so that puts him in the right age category to be fighting in New Bern in 1862.

That's because the 21st Massachusetts Volunteers took part in the 1862 battle. Tryon Palace paid around $28,000 for the drum which has been in the possession of Bob Timberlake since the early 1970's. But while, for auction purposes, a monetary value had to be placed on the object, Knight places its real value outside the amount of funds that changed hands.

01:33 We assess value because it can be used as an interpretive tool. It gives us leads, it gives us information about what was going on in New Bern, who were the people in New Bern, and it just excites research, and that's really what we're about, telling a bigger and broader story of what took place in New Bern at different times in New Bern's history.

For all the questions the drum seems to answer for itself, it also asks a few as well.

01:33 It also has an inscription on the inside that says New Bern, March 14th, 1862, and there's a third one that says this is number H. Now we're all puzzling right now over what number H is. We don't exactly what that means. We want to talk to people who have made drums. Maybe drums are like flutes and clarinets that are built in certain pitches and keys or something of that nature and maybe the H is the significance of style or sound of the drum but we don't know that.

The drum just came into the possession of Tryon Palace Thursday. The hope is they'll be able to trace the drums whereabouts from the time of the L.L. Lamb inscription on the drum to present day.

17:35 I discovered there was a Mr. Levi L. Lamb in November term of 1878 in the Crawford County Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas was charged with habitual drunkenness. Now, this is in Pennsylvania. We know our Lamb was in Massachusetts. Did he leave after the war from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania? Is it the same Lamb? It seems the dates sort of match up. It seems unusual to have a Levi L. Lamb. We don't know if there's a direct tie there but that's the type of thing that excites research, that helps us do research and helps us to draw a bigger picture.

Plans on the exhibition of the drum are still in the making. Short-term plans may put it in the New Bern Academy, but ultimately Knight says it should end up in the History Education Center under construction at the old Barbour Boat Works near the palace grounds. Dean Knight is the registrar, librarian and archivist at Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens in New Bern. I'm George Olsen.