From the very first tone the distinctive sound of the bagpipes is recognized, love it or hate it the instrument brings strong emotions. In the earliest times each clan maintained its own piper who was awake first to play a morning tune to motivate the others. From ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Scotland and to currently the United States the bagpipe is the musical instrument deemed a weapon of war because it's sound notes the end of the anticipation period, waiting time is over, it is the time for action.
Numerous references are made of the bagpipes being played during the days of the Roman Empire with many references that Nero knew how to play the pipe with his mouth and the bag thrust under his arms" (Sachs, p. 141). This reference concerns bagpipes, and has been positively dated. One possibility relates that Nero was playing a bagpipe not a fiddle while Rome burned, but this is only a conjecture. When the Romans conquered Greece they took the pipes back to Rome. It is in the first century AD with Emperor Nero that we have the addition of the bag. More than likely the Romans brought bagpipes to Scotland during their invasions.
The Spartans were the first to use the pipes with drums to march in formation. "They were the first to use a drum with the pipes and the first to have massed pipers playing the same tune ". Aristotle advised that it was the music of their pipes that added to their fearlessness: Imagine a body of men, three thousand massed infantry advancing in step in utter silence. Silence must have been enforced, because otherwise, the tune would have been lost. A rhythmical advance would not have been possible. The pipers would need silence also to concentrate on the unison of playing. . .
Current as well as ancient versions of bagpipes have two main factors concerning the sound. The sound is always continuous without any breaks, and the volume of each individual note never changes. Various tones do however have slightly different volume levels. The steady drone note can enhance the music, but as utilized in battle this tone can be an incredible irritation, and when the bagpipes were utilized as a call to war, these powerful tones incited or motivated the troops into action. "The notes of the pipes have a shrill and penetrating quality that can be heard at distances up to nine miles, and are not easily drowned out even by the sounds of battle".
A Scotsman states, "It was the pipers duty to stand on the battlefield playing stirring tunes to rouse his comrades out of trenches and into battle. The effect on troops who were often cold, frightened and demoralized was miraculous".
Roman military followed the Spartan’s concept of intimidation through instruments and used pipes and drums to added fearlessness to their troops throughout Europe and into the British Isles. The use of the bagpipe among the Ancient Celtic people was common and the troops were called to war by the harp or a bard, however, but only a portion of the troops could hear tones, so it became necessary to for the piper to go first, actually lead the troop into battle. The end of the eighteenth century and into the early 1900's there are written accounts of pipers playing and leading into battle but the practice of the piper leading into battle was abandoned due to the extremely high mortality rate due to the exposed position and usually was the first to fall. Over 1,000 pipers were killed during World War 1 due to being this easy of a target, and going into war, imagine the fear these player must have felt as they picked up their instruments knowing that the bagpipe that leading the troops was almost like painting a big bulls eye on their body. The only known piper from World War I that survived was Harry Lunan. He described that "his piping experiences in the war...was . . .an honour. 'You were scared, but you just had to do it, they were depending on you' ".
The decades before the American Civil War led to some of the highest numbers of American Immigrants. The foreign born mostly settled in the north portions of the county, Union territory and a great portion of these immigrants were from Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland. The "Highlanders” were men with Scottish birth, with complete dress that included kilts, bonnets, and came with bagpipes. At the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 these Highlanders were a part of the Union army with their piper proudly leading the way.
The bagpipe is considered a weapon of war because of both the moral boost to allied troops and the fear it gives to the enemy. The bagpipe’s high-decibel tones make its presence known immediately with power and influence in battle as in life. The unrelenting power of the pipes has carried them across cultures oceans and time itself. From the origins and development of the pipes, their use among the ancient civilizations, especially the Romans, and recently in the past century in modern warfare and life, the bagpipes have proven themselves to be an enduring force in both war and culture and will continue their influence for generations to come.