A couple of weeks ago, while “saleing” with my daughter, I came across a fascinating book called, A Treasury of Civil War Tales: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Turbulent Era When Americans Waged War on Americans by Webb Garrison. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1988) One of the stories in this book was about the young drummers and buglers on both sides of the war that served during the American Civil War. All of these boys were under 18 with one very special one being only nine years old. Here is his story…
After being told that the U.S. Army was not “enlisting infants”, John Lincoln Clem went from command to command in his attempt to serve his country. He finally found a home with the Twenty-second Michigan unit not as a member but as a mere tagalong. The men liked the boy though and before long they were “passing the hat each month to collect thirteen dollars for Johnny’s pay.” The men even found him an old drum and Johnny “became a Union drummer boy in every respect except for official enrollment.” However, once the real fighting began and by the time of Shiloh, he was enrolled. The newspapers made Johnny famous calling him “Johnny Shiloh”. Before long “Johnny Clem came to be admired throughout the North and hated everywhere in the South.”
“At Chickamauga, Johnny was a sight to see,” said an aide to Major General George H. Thomas. “When we decided to move in and break the Confederate siege, Johnny rode a caisson to the battle line. He waved a musket that someone had trimmed down to size for him…a Rebel chased the piece of artillery on which Johnny rode…he (the Rebel) shouted out, ‘Surrender, you damned little Yankee!’ Johnny Clem didn’t say a word. He just raised his sawed-off musket and took the fellow down.”
Now Johnny was touted as the “drummer boy of Chickamauga”.
Perhaps he had had enough of the horrors of battle and bloodshed, but a few months after this battle, Johnny left the field to become “a courier for the rest of the war.” When the war was over, Johnny applied to West Point “but couldn’t qualify because his education had ended during the third grade.” Never one to give up, Johnny appealed this decision.
When “General U.S. Grant, who had been Johnny’s commander at Shiloh” and was now the U.S. President heard of Johnny’s plight, he personally “bypassed the U.S. Military Academy” and gave him a Presidential appointment to “second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in December of 1871.”
In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “and now, the rest of the story”…
The nine year-old drummer boy who just wouldn’t quit spent fifty-five years in the uniform of a United States soldier. He retired in 1916 as a Major General.