Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Elijah "Hawk" and Nathan Kendall and their fifes

I wrote last week about Elijah L. Kendall (1828-1900), buried in the Chariton Cemetery, who was both honored Civil War veteran and the father of Nathan E. Kendall, governor of Iowa from 1921 until 1925. 

The Kendall in the photo here this morning, holding a fife and flanked by two drummers, is Elijah's baby brother, Nathan W. (1842-1925), of Russell. Oldest and youngest, these were sons of Abbot G. and Sarah Kendall, among Washington Township's first settlers. They arrived with their family in what became the old Greenville neighborhood during 1851. Elijah named his son, Nathan, after his brother, Nathan.

In addition to being linked by blood, the Kendall boys also were linked by service. Both enlisted as privates in Company C, 18th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, during 1861, and both served honorably, both as fifers, until war's end.

Nathan, about 19 when he enlisted, was appointed officially as Company C's fifer soon after enlistment; Elijah, in his early 30s, seems to have been assigned as fifer after he had been handicapped to some extent by combat and the vicissitudes of camp life.

At the time, each U.S. infantry company had its own fifer and drummer, sometimes more than one. Artillary and cavalry companies generally used buglers. All of the musicians' duties were tactical --- to signal maneuvers on the battlefield and to count cadence for marches; practical --- to regulate camp life by learning and performing up to 18 signals ranging from reveille to retreat; and ceremonial --- company musicians generally formed the regimental band when an occasion called for one.

When this photo was taken --- perhaps at the 1921 annual reunion in Chariton of the 18th Iowa --- Nathan Kendall and his drummer comrades, Owen Kinsman of Pasadena, California, and Albert James Phillips of Des Moines (I'm not sure which is which), were the last surviving members of the regimental band and had performed for those attending the reunion. They are posing near one of the cannons that until World War II flanked the Civil War memorial at the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn.

I have no idea what became of Nathan's fife, but we have Elijah's in the Lucas County Historical Society collection, along with tintypes of the two brothers (in the background to the right), Elijah "Hawk" Kendall in full beard on the left and Nathan, clean-shaven, on the right.

These came to the society during 1968 from Tom Kendall Murrow of Des Moines, a grandson of Nathan Kendall and a retired judge of the Ninth Judicial District, and his sister, Wilma.

The fife had been among the belongings of Gov. Nathan E. Kendall, who died during 1936 and had no children. The executor of the Kendall estate gave the fife to the governor's nephew, Tom Murrow, in 1937 as the estate was being settled.

And somewhere, perhaps buried deep in the bowels of the Historical Building in Des Moines, there may be a vintage recording of Nathan W. Kendall playing his fife. I found this little item in The Herald-Patriot of Sept. 19, 1918:

"Nathan Kendall, of Russell, was in (Chariton) Monday, en route to Des Moines. When he was in that city during the state fair he met a couple of old army comrades and together they played the old army calls, the reveille, dirge, etc. Mr. Kendall plays the fife. They were overheard by Curator Harlan, of the state historical society, who has requested that they meet in Des Moines again and play the calls for phonograph records, which will be placed in the historical building, and Mr. Kendall went to Des Moines Monday for that purpose."

Nathan died in his 83rd year on Jan. 13, 1925, and is buried in the Russell Cemetery.

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