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Find: Drumming Out

Being Drummed out of the Army
Are you familiar with the historical military practice of drumming a soldier out of the army?

This process of dishonorably discharging a soldier had its origins in the British army in the 17th century and was later picked up by the American military. Soldiers could be drummed out for a variety of reasons, from thievery to desertion.

Usually, during a drumming out, the guilty man’s head was shaved, the insignia and buttons taken from his uniform, and a sign detailing his crime hung around his neck. Sometimes he was dressed in felon’s clothes or white feathers were placed above his ears, and other times a rope was put around his neck and he would be led by the smallest drummer boy. The convict would then be marched between the lines of his fellow soldiers to the tune of “Rogue’s March,” and he would be taken to the entrance of the camp, where he was sent on his way with orders to never return.

“Rogue’s March” was often played by drums and fifes, though if they couldn’t be found, a trumpet was sometimes substituted and the process was called being “blown out” of the army. During the Civil War, “Yankee Doodle” was sometimes played instead of “Rogue’s March.”

The point of drumming out a soldier was to make his departure from the military humiliating enough that others would be discouraged from committing the same crime. So in addition to being drummed out, the local newspaper would sometimes write about the man’s crime to make it public. However, drumming out eventually fell out of favor as a punishment, and by World War II it had largely been dropped altogether in the U.S.

On Fold3, you can find a variety of records about drumming out:

  • A photo of a man being drummed out of the Union army for theft
  • A Civil War muster roll abstract for John Riley, listing “drummed out” as the manner in which he left the army; also contains details of his court martial for “absence without leave” and “drunkenness on duty”
  • An excerpt from the General Orders of the Confederate War Department remitting James T. Wilder’s sentence of being drummed out of the army
  • An excerpt from the documents of a Revolutionary War artillery company listing drumming out as one of the permitted sentences of a court martial
  • Veteran describes drumming out process during the Civil WarAn excerpt from the World War II War Diaries observing that “old time practices” of drumming a sailor out of the fleet “have not entirely disappeared but they are not regarded with official favor.”
  • A Revolutionary War diary entry in the Pennsylvania Archives describing a drumming out ceremony
  • A list of crimes and punishments (including drumming out) in a Pennsylvania regiment in the Revolutionary War
  • A newspaper article describing the process of drumming out during the Civil War
  • A newspaper article describing a drumming out ceremony in the British army in 1863

Do you have any stories about ancestors being drummed out of the military? Tell us about it! Or if you’re interested in learning more about drumming out, start a search on Fold3.

58 Comments

  1. I think it’s very important to note that, until fairly recently, members of the military could and did receive a dishonorable discharge for being gay. You can read more about them here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/07/us/gay-veterans-push-for-honorable-discharges-they-were-denied.html?_r=0

    Researchers should not assume that people who received a dishonorable discharge were actually dishonorable.

    • Many of those put out for “being gay” were actually discharged for fraudulent enlistment. Rules for military service were changed several times over the past 3 decades but if you knowingly fraudulently signed a contract with the government or knowing violated the terms of your contract after the fact, you broke the contract and deserve to be discharged. Unfortunately we love revisionist versions of history and these people will or have already likely had the character of their discharge changed by the VA.

    • There are several types of discharge. The honorable discharge is for completion of service without major infractions. There is also a general discharge as well as the more serious dishonorable discharge. Most of the discharges I have seen have been general, usually for repeated AWOL and other poor performance issues. To get a dishonorable usually does involve a very poor service record.

    • Actually, that hasn’t been the case since at least 1970. Just being gay was not a Courts-Martial offense under the UCMJ. Removal was an administrative action under AR. 635-212, which also covered malingering, bed-wetting and othe indicators of physical or mental unfitness. The worst that could happen was being given an Undesirable Dischage (cannot receive VA benefits), but those actions generally resulted in a General Discharge (can still get VA benefits).

    • Guess that depends on your point of view wrt to homosexuality in the military. Not everyone thinks it is a good thing to allow.

    • That is subject to good order and discipline.

    • That is an excellent point! I’m glad things are changing, but not quickly enough.

    • It is a dishonorable act to enter into a binding contract of any sort when questions of any kind are answered with lies/deceit.

      Especially in the case of military service.

      It isnt an issue of gay or straight. It is an issue of lying on your enlistment contract, signing it, and then swearing the oath.

      One fabrication after another and the training facility hasnt even been reached at that point.

  2. I don’t care about gay or atraight, any more than i do about color, gender, creed or politics.

    All DDs or BCDs are the result of violating rules that are posted and agreed to by all who choose to wear the uniform. If the rules are changed, so too are the acceptable behaviors.

    • I agree whole heartedly. There are rules. If you swear and promise all statements are true, any infractions are fraudulent. As a former Marine Sergeant, I don’t care if they are gay, straight, or bi. I want to know my back is covered and I have nothing to worry about. I will protect you as you protect me.

  3. What about colored soldiers during the civil war? Were they subjected to the same process?

  4. My father who who served 22 years would leave the service for one day after his three year enlistment was up then re-enlist in the Army. Once you are discharged in the military they can not charge you with any real or made up charge. He always said it would take a act of congress to charge him.

    • Not so.
      In 1973, I worked as a brig-chaser at Treasure Island (San Francisco Bay). One of the sailors I escorted to court-martial had served two enlistments (receiving an honorable discharge each time), then spent almost all of the next enlistment UA (that’s Navy-talk for AWOL). He was awarded reduction to seaman recruit, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, six months in the brig, and a dishonorable discharge.

  5. After WWII thousands of soldiers were given administrative discharges by local commanders. most of these turned into undesirable discharges and later declared illegal but for a soldier to clear their name that had to appeal in person, if they had died the family was still stuck with the soldiers illegal discharge status and the deceased vet was denied benefits they should have been entitled too if the commanders had followed the law and let them be honorably discharged instead of short cutting the process just to get the men off the rosters. a vast injustice to the vets and their families.

  6. I’m confused, what did the one day do? Where can I find any info on the process. It doesn’t make sense. I believe I’ve read of people who’ve had their discharge status changed long after they left the service to change their benifits. Can anyone clear this up for me?

  7. Were any women who disguised themselves as men ever “drummed out?”
    Revolutionary War, Civil War or other wars?

  8. I recently discovered that my grandfather was dishonorably discharged from WEII after going AWOL during WWII and then escaping and being recaptured in Italy. I discovered this through military records online. He never has shared this with family so I don’t want to approach him on it. The documents say he was sentenced to a life of hard labor in Disciplinary barracks in NY but as far as I can see, he has always been a free man. Had my mother shortly after the war and 5 other children. How did he get out of hard labor or jail? Was it common for DD to get out of their sentences after they returned to the U.S.?

    • All these questions can be answered by having his SSN and full name and writing to the Department of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines (Navy). And getting his DD 214. That will or should show what chapter he received. I’m a 20 + Retired Soldier. You can also get all of his medals from the same website. It’s a different address, but you can still get all this information. Good search.

    • KC, my grandfather was DD and court martialed in WWII. He was sentenced to 5 Yrs. during those 5 yrs he fathered my mother. After writing and getting copies of all record for him I found out he only served 2 of those 5 yrs. I have papers in those file shoeing his early release date. So your grandfather was more likely released early as mine was

    • K c ,
      Have a comment on your finding — I would think you have the wrong person in the records you found. Everyone has 100s if not 1000s of people with the exact same name. Usually need name, DOB, and place of birth – and even then many still match only difference is the place of birth.

      Many of the comments (above and below) are just plain wrong – they are opinions not FACTS. Opinions are always “right” as it is someone’s belief, whether it is right, correct or wrong does not matter. They are protected by the first Amendment.

      Facts are Facts and easily determined by evidence or other authority. Do NOT conflate the two – as they do not compare, ever !

      Have you compared the records you cite to known facts of your GF (DOB, Place of Birth, or His Enlistment date/place, or best the service number.not the SSN in WW2). I would NOT put a bunch of faith in the records you found in a matching name, until you eliminate ALL Doubt by confirming with indisputable facts such as DOB and place of birth. The mere fact He is free and the other got life should have indicated you had the wrong person…..why not confirm the records as the same name means nothing — 1000s, possibly 10 of thousands have your exact name and you would not want to have their records attributed to you would you?

      As to the above (as to the present law and back to the 1970s, post vietnam):
      A Dishonorable Discharge is ONLY Given after General Court Martial, comparable to a modern Felony Charge/Trail (Murder, Rape, ect..), only in the military courts. No VA Benefits
      A Bad Conduct Discharge is ONLY Given after a Special Court Martial, comparable to a modern Misdemeanor Charge/Trial (Drunk Driving, Theft, ect.) only in the military courts. No VA benefits.
      Lets this be said, the military courts are not all that concerned, indeed explicitly are outside usual Constitutional Protections – as the UCMJ (Uniform Code Military Justice) is the Law the Military operates under and it is generally up to the CO (Commanding Officer) what happens, and they are not lawyers, or Judges, but mere Officers (so they have a college degree).

      General Discharge, Less than Honorable’ — anything really
      VA Benefits.
      Honorable – was a completed enlistment term without any remaining problems, one could be in trouble and stay in till enlistment ends – it really depended on the CO and the size of the unit, large units were more tolerant,smaller, less so –kinda like the USA and towns, Large Cities are more jammed and see more crime so lesser punishments, small towns are slower crimes, more punishment. It really is not very “fair and just” to most people, problem is most people do NOT know and do not care.
      As to being Gay in the service, up to recently is was a Punitive Discharge and one could be charged and go through a Court Martial — or just discharged. See above as to explaining COs. I doubt it was fraudulent enlistment as all this is in fine print and how many of you read the fine print of terms and conditions (Apples is 18 pages now in 2015).

    • Where did you find military records on line and were they free?
      [email protected]

  9. I received a less than honorable discharge for taking bad advice during the worst time to my knowledge in recent history of recruitment dishonoring my service where I served very honorably. It aint your grandpas army. Dont trust your recruiter. They will say anything for a promotion because we think it takes the American dream these days. That is why tech support is going to India.

  10. I wish we could still do this to some Soldiers maybe half of them wouldn’t try and get kicked out all the time. Army gets more easy every year that passes and more and more standards are being lower because people are to afraid to have their feelings hurt or maybe an NCO took it to far in the past smoking a joe. This article just goes to show how much the US ARMED FORCES has became a bunch of cry baby’s because things like this no exist. Now I’m not posting this to get a whole bunch of replies back about how the army is doing this to become more equal( NO). I join this army and am still in it to be treated with respect and be held to very high standards above the average civilian to where if I screw up I am example that needs to be drummed out because it would be my own damn fault. Now don’t get me wrong I love my job I am Grunt 11B Infantrymen I just see everyday how much we are limited on what we say and things we may do and this as a whole is killing are army weather you or anyone thinks so differently. Some programs are good like SHARP or EO. But a Soldiers need to know when they screw up weather they learn by exercise/ corectively train or by be kicked out and made example of depending on severity of the crime or mistake.

    • Now, let me tell you how it was back in the day, why I’ll have you know…

      I hate PC, as a reserve Navy/Marine corpsman/medic from 1967-1970 (medical honarable discharge) I also saw the rise of drugs and fragging because dirty civilians didn’t want to be soldiers in an unpopular war. It wasn’t that bad in the Navy, and certainly not in the Marines, but too many officers didn’t care either, or were too scared of their troops to be the kind of hardasses the troops needed.

      What didn’t change was the institutional memory of the service, and the attitude of the NCOs that form the heart of any army. The expectation of victory was still strong and the rock bottom conviction that “given our head” (ie not having company level divisions made in the Oval Office) we would win.

      Society changes, I never would never have believed that women could successfully serve aboard ships, but aside from too many pregnancies they are doing a great job.

      Do I think we need to toughen up? Sure! Are we making some good changes? Well, I think the idea that someone in each unit is now supposed to know which end of their weapon the pointy things come out of is a great change. The number of rounds expended for a hit in Vietnam was a disgrace. Still, the technical skills and training of today’s troops puts my generation to shame. Now if every troop was expected to be able hit a target at a decent range…

      But while watching a troop being drummed out might have a positive effect on good soldiers it will never change the fact that some look at a BCD as preferable to military life.

  11. I agree with a lot of what the last posting states& however, I obey to your characterization of civilians who did not want to serve in an unpopular war as “dirty”. Why call them that? I had a childhood friend whose last letter to me (I was in France) explained how excited he was to be going home soon to then marry…he was convinced that war was a needed one, his parents didn’t agree, nor did I at that point. Next thing I knew he was MIA and quite certainly blown up as his (First Cavalry) unit engaged in battle (1966). That war left many broken hearts and destroyed lives..why is a civilian necessarily “dirty” for not wanting to be part of it?

    • Forgive me, the adjective is one to be applied to all civilians from all time and in all countries. I don’t remember the name of the Kipling poem about the conversion of a civilian into a soldier with a right and proper kit, but that was the context I meant in using the word. I too lost friends there two from my very small high school.

    • It goes back to the saying, “Nobody likes to fight, but someone has to know how.”

      Ours is a representative democracy where WE collectively choose our representatives who choose our president (in case you thought we elected any of the presidents).

      When our country is put into a position where we are called upon to protect our country, our way of life, and whatever our leaders determine to be important for the moment, we have an obligation to rise to the call.

      The decision to run away when called upon, instead of taking note of who you vote for before the fecal matter hits the proverbial fan is unpatriotic and dishonorable at the very least. And cowardly as well.

      Because defending your country and its way of life is your obligation as an American citizen.

      Running is dirty because someone else has to pull your load, do your work, take your bullet, ride your wheel chair, be the guest of honor at a military funeral.

      Other than that their is no reason.

  12. There is another form of discharge the navy uses. It’s called an other than honorable .This discharge is not dishonorable or honorable but is used to drum a person out of the navy. The good news is the veterans administration can make a decision to grant va benefits based on an investigation.

  13. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. My dad was Navy, a doctor on a hospital ship in the Pacific during WW2.

  14. I was in the USMC and witnessed a drumming out ceremony in about 1959 while in Headquarters Company of the 8th Marines. It was a very solemn event, one that I still remember 55 years later.

  15. Well my son was given a dishonorable discharged because he was still married, his wife was pregnant by another man and he went out with another female soldier. Doesn’t matter that the base in Houston was.the one that Officers were having affairs with young recruits. In fact during the hearing He told On them. Why was he held at a higher standard that the officers. In fact THEY got madder because he told on them..He refused to tell them he was having an affair…..the girl told, he was discharged and she got off with a light punishment. In fact that was the same base all the Officers got busted at. They were going to give him 20 YEARS. ( For an affair?) So he plead out and got a dishonorable discharge. So. ..Do as the Officers say…not what they do!

    • That is so very unfair!! There are so many unfair things that have happened over history but I think now we are all calling people to account for such behavior, at least I hope so. My mom told me my dad would eat on the train with the enlisted men rather than in the separate officers’ dining car. He was Navy, WW, Doctor/Lieutenant Colonel.

    • That is so terrible………..

  16. I really know there are good officers out there . I have at least 8+ grandfathers who fought in the American Revolution war. At least 5 who fought in the Civil war. 1 who fought in the Spanish American War. 2 who fought in WW1 Various uncles and my father fought in WW2. My uncle fought in Viet Nam And my son who fought in Iraq. . . We are a military family who is all American…Sad for my son. He suffers from PTSD also. He couldn’t even finish college because of mental illness….Soldiers get broke by War and are just kicked aside….and even worse they have a hard time getting medical treatment. He is still eligible for VA care. They just don’t have room or time for everyone they take care of Sad huh?

  17. There was a show call “Branded” in which a military officer was drummed out. Same actor who starred in “The Rifleman”. Chuck Connors was his name. The show Branded only ran 1965-1966.

  18. I think they should bring drumming out back as it would keep a lot of guys from going awol.

  19. i witnessed the last Marine to be drummed out of the Corps at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, VA in the Spring of 1963 or 1964. I was serving aboard a Ship and had gone to the Dental Clinic at NOB. I noticed a large gathering of people near the main gate and heard drums. I could not get near enough to see exactly what was happening but the following day there was a story in the Virginia Pilot Newspaper and a lot of news coverage on TV and the Radio about the Marine who was Drummed Out of the Marine Corps at NOB Norfolk.

    There was a such a huge public outcry over this treatment of a U. S. Marine the practice was discontinued and as far as I know it was never done again in the U. S. Military.

    DON HOLLAND
    MCPO USN RET

  20. Airman 1991 – 1993. Early outs due to warend. Waking problem. Mucous from tear glands. Sleep tests. Complaints of eyes. Only sleep tests. Being late caused 5 rating of 5 to be a 3. Supervisor giben rec ognition of 89h supply inventory sheet improved, not Airman Cecil Odell Turner
    After “Hypersomnolensce, sleep apnea, Narcolepsy, and normal” RESULTS.
    And only Nuerologist and not Opthamologi

    • I SPENT OVER 30 YEARS IN THE NAVY, SO, YES I AM AWARE OF ALL THIS. THE FACT REMAINS, I WITNESSED THE LAST “DRUMMING OUT OF THE CORPS” CEREMONY IN THE US ARMED FORCES, AS I STATED.

  21. In the past decade most of you are aware of military personnel having taking oaths, signing papers (e.g., non-disclosure, various other documents critical to protecting this country). Also, during that same period there are the “hue & cry” groups. I’m in agreement with his comment about wanting to serve with those who would protect his back. The military is an honorable profession designed to provide our nation’s defense. If a violation can be shown to aid an enemy …. drumming them out is military business, not up for discussion by civilians. Adding a TV special to document such an event would be appreciated.

  22. Your word is your bond. If you take an oath to follow rules on you word and your bond is to be true to your word.

    It is just that simple.

    Secrets in service must end in the ear it was whispered to in secret.*
    From. Tales From The Trail
    From To America
    By Morgan Maine

  23. While all this ridicule and abuse was and still being practiced the real cowards hide behind their desks and ridicule others

  24. Why is it SOMEONE always has to post something about being gay. STFU about it already. It’s not a badge of honor. Who cares? Goody for you, you’re gay. Although I’m sure the gays now think the ASR that soldiers receive after completion of Army BCT is now “their” ribbon. Homosexuality has been around forever, don’t act like their revolutionaries or people to behold. Researchers need to note you’re abnormal.

  25. i joined the usmc in 1965
    in vietnam 1967 1968 1969 until medicaced
    came home a private
    civilian 1970-1974

  26. While serving in the Navy, 1958-1962, l observed a Marine drummed out of the Corps. Stripped of insignia, he was marched down each line of four ranks of his fellow Marines. At the head of each row, the Marines turned their backs on him, one by one, as he marched by. He was then marched to the gate where he was kicked in the seat of his pants and sent on his way.

  27. Poor old Chuck Conners got his saber broken and he was not even guilty. Matter of fact he was Branded. Cursed with a cowards shame. I have often wondered what do you do when you’re branded and you know you’re a man?

  28. What does Less than Honorable cover for offences?

  29. When I was in the Marines and stationed at the Marine Corps Air Facility (now MCAS New River North Carolina There was a “Drumming Out” of a Marine who was a member of one of the Helicopter Units stationed there . This was in 1961 .I didn’t know the Marine or what he had done , But I remember ALL Military personal on the Base being lined up on both side of the road leading to the Main gate and as he was march past my the military Police we were given “About Face and everyone faced away from him. At the Gate the Base Commander removed all insignia from his uniform (Green at the time) including all buttons,rank, ect and as he approached the White line denoting base Property the CO place his boot (or Shoe) on the ass of the Marine and “Booted” him out the gate.. There was a solo drummer who had followed the detail with the drum draped in black, After he was out the gate we were dismissed.. Have no idea who he was or whay he did….

  30. My husband was a Viet Nam vet who received an Administrative discharge after his second tour. He is now deceased. What is that kind of discharge and can it be upgraded?

  31. I served in the US Army from 1980-1984 as a battalion legal clerk. The UCMJ was my bible. The type of discharge received had nothing to do with what type of “crime” you committed. It depended on the level of court that it was carried to. Private Schmoe is half an hour late to work one morning. As punishment his Commanding Officer decides to issue an “Article 15” – Non-judicial punishment. The punishments available with an Article 15 are very limited and depend on the offense, the rank of the offender, and what grade of Article 15. There is Company Grade, and Field Grade. Company grades are the lesser of two evils and given by Company Commanders (Usually Captains or below…Full Lieutenants for the Squids out there, and punishments could range from extra duty, restriction to barracks, or loss of a pay grade for E-4 and below. Field Grades were issued by higher ups, Colonels or above… Again Captains for the Navy, and the punishments were more severe, from more extra duty, restriction to barracks, loss of rank, fines, etc. Basically an Article 15 is a slap on the wrist and detention. However, here’s the catch. Any offender, no matter what he/she was charged with could turn down an Article 15, and demand a trial by Court Martial. There are three levels of court-martial. Summary Court-Martial (These would most closely be related to municipal court in the civilian world), which any commisioned officer could preside over. Then there is Special Court-Martial. A Special Cout-Martial consists of at least a three member panel including a military judge (the accused has the option of being tried by a Military judge alone if he/she so chooses). A Special Court-Martial is considered a misdemeaner court. Finally you come to the General Court-Martial, which consists of at least a five member panel, including a Military Judge (the accused also has the option of a Military Judge alone should he/she choose to do so. General Court-Martials are the Felony courts. Here’s the kicker in all of these. If Private Schmoe refuses an Article 15 and chooses to go to court, if convicted, he now has a Federal conviction on his record.

  32. I only a civilian member of her Majesty’s Armed Services. I joined because I love my country. I signed the Official Secrets Act. To my mind people who betray their country are some sort of lower scum. The Death Penalty should be kept active for these people

  33. There’s a former soldier at Riley on Death Row. He was convicted in NC state Court of murdering an AF Capt.s wife & kids(off post). While on NC Death Row, he was found NG on re-trial. He had been given DD while in prison. He was given HD & pd up til his ETS which had occurred while he was in prison. At this point, he was free & clear. The dummy then re-upped, served 20 & retired. He was then re-called to AD. He was then GCM ed & sentenced to death. I have no idea if he’s guilty or not, but I cannot imagine any attorney allowing him to re-up. Case is under appeal in Mil CT.

    • I,of course, was wrong–I wrote Riley when I ment Leavenworth–one part of Kansas looks like the rest.