Drumming out

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Drumming out is the historical act of being dishonorably dismissed from military service to the sound of a drum. In modern figurative usage, in which the term is sometimes altered to "drub[bing/bed/etc.] out," it may refer to any act of expulsion or dismissal in disgrace.[1]

Satirical cartoon of depicting Napoleon being drummed out
Satirical cartoon representing Napoleon's exile to Elba.


One of the earliest recorded references to drumming out occurs in Alexander Pope's Moral Essays, 3rd epistle, 1731–1733: "Chartres was a man infamous for all manner of vices. When he was an ensign in the army, he was drummed out of the regiment for a cheat; he was next banished Brussels, and drummed out of Ghent, on the same account."[2]

It also occurs in a figurative sense in Thomas Amory's 1766 Life of John Buncle: "They ought to be drummed out of society."[3]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

The earliest known discharge of an American soldier for attempted sodomy involved the drumming out of Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin in March of 1778 during the Revolutionary War. The diary of Lieutenant James McMichael contains a record of the sentence being carried out:

"March 15. — I this morning proceeded to the grand parade, where I was a spectator to the drumming out of Lieut. Enslin of Col. Malcom's regiment. He was first drum'd from right to left of the parade, thence to the left wing of the army; from that to the centre, and lastly transported over the Schuylkill with orders never to be seen in Camp in the future. This shocking scene was performed by all the drums and fifes in the army—the coat of the delinquent was turned wrong side out."[4]

The sentencing order, approved by George Washington, called from Enslin to be drummed out, never to return. [5]

American Civil War[edit]

American Civil War officers drummed out of service might have their heads shaved and their uniforms stripped of insignia and be paraded in front of their comrades. Fellow officers were forbidden to touch the person being dishonorably discharged, but in more than one case after the war had ended, a drummed-out man was found dead after receiving a beating from his former comrades.[6] When someone was being drummed out, the tune "Rogue's March" would be played.[7]

Modern usage[edit]

At the Virginia Military Institute, cadets who are convicted of honor code violations are removed from the school and a formal announcement of the former cadet's offense is given in the morning after the corps is woken by drums.[8] In the past, this ceremony was performed with the dishonored cadet present, with the corps performing an about face as he passes between cadets lining the route to the gates. In recent years, the former cadet has not been present.[8]


The opening to the 1965 NBC series Branded used the ceremony in its opening credits.

In the 1983 film The Lords of Discipline, one of the main characters is dismissed from the fictional Carolina Military Institute in such a ceremony.

In the Married... With Children episode "All-Nite Security Dude," Al is drummed out of his position as school security guard.


  1. ^ "Drum". thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  2. ^ The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq: Moral essays. books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  3. ^ "Drummed out of the army". phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  4. ^ James McMichael, Pennsylvania Archives (Second Series), William Henry Egle, ed., v.15, Harrisburg, PA: E.K. Meyers, State Printer, 1890. p. 217
  5. ^ "George Washington Drummed Out Soldier for 'Infamous Crime' of Attempted 'Sodomy'". CNS News. 3 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Robert Niepert. "Crimes And Punishments In The Civil War". floridareenactorsonline.cm. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  7. ^ "Civil War Harper's Weekly, June 1, 1861". Harper's Weekly. Retrieved 2008-09-11. Drumming out Albany volunteers who refused to take the oath. 
  8. ^ a b Matt Chittum (1997-03-09). "The honor code is 'simple and all-encompassing'". Roanoke Times. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012. 

See also[edit]