Thursday, June 10, 2010

Civil War Drummer Boy Johnny Clem Takes Arms

In a previous post we learned of the circumastances under which young Johnnie clem left home in order to enlist and fight for the cause. What follows here is an account of the manner in which the young Clem showed his mettle at the Battle of Chickamauga. The account is provided by Benjamin F. Taylor, military correspondent for the Chicago Evening Journal. Taylor writes:

You remember the story of little Johnny Clem, the atom of a drummer-boy, "aged ten," who strayed away from Newark, Ohio, and the first we know of him, though small enough to live in a drum, was beating the long roll for the 22d Michigan. At Chickamauga, he filled the office of a "marker," carrying the guidon whereby they form the lines, a duty having its counterpart in the surveyor's more peaceful calling in the flagman who flutters the red signal along the metes and bounds. On the Sunday of the battle, the little fellow's occupation gone, he picked up a gun that had slipped from some dying hand, provided himself with ammunition, and began putting in the periods quite on his own account, blazing away close to the ground, like a fire-fly in the grass. Late in the waning day, the waif left almost alone in the whirl of the battle, one of Longstreet's Colonels dashed up, and, looking down at him, ordered him to surrender: "Surrender!" he shouted, "you little d--d son of a -----!" The words were hardly out of the officer's mouth, when Johnny brought his piece to " order arms," and as his hand slipped down to the hammer he pressed it back, swung up the gun to the position of " charge bayonet," and as the officer raised his sabre to strike the piece aside, the glancing barrel lifted into range, and the proud Colonel tumbled dead from his horse, his lips fresh stained with the syllable of reproach he had hurled at the child.


A few swift moments ticked off by musket shots, and the tiny gunner was swept up at a swoop and borne away a prisoner. Soldiers, bigger but not better, were taken with him, only to be washed back again by a surge of Federal troopers, and the prisoner of thirty minutes was again John Clem "of ours," and General Rosecrans made him a Sergeant, and the stripes of rank covered him all over like a mouse in a harness, and the daughter of Mr. Secretary Chase presented him a silver medal appropriately inscribed, which he worthily wears, a royal order of honor, upon his left breast, and all men conspire to spoil him, but, since few ladies can get at him here, perhaps he may be saved. Think of a sixty-three pound Sergeant, fancy a handful of a hero, and then read the "Arabian Nights" and believe them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A drummer boy recounts the Battle of Chickamauga

In "A Drummer Boy's Diary: Comprising Four Years of Service with the Second Regiment Minnesota Veteran Volunteers, 1861-1865, drummer boy William Bircher recounts his observations and experiences at the commencement of the Battle of Chickamauga. Bircher writes:

September 19th: Hot and dusty. At daybreak, as we marched along, we saw troops falling into line on the right of the road; the artillery was unlimbered, the gunners stood to their guns, and every thing had the appearance of a battle. We marched along the rear of the line until we reached the left wing of the army, where we piled up our knapsacks, formed in line, marched to the front, and deployed skirmishers. We advanced but a short distance in the woods, which was a pine forest, before we came upon the rebel skirmish-line. We heard on our right the heavy roll of musketry and the terrible thunder of the artillery, and it came nearer and nearer, until, in less time than it takes to describe it, we were engaged with Bragg's army. The terrible carnage continued at intervals all day. More... At night we heard, from all over the field, the cry of the wounded for water and help, and the ambulance corps were doing all in their power to bring all the wounded into our lines. The night was cool, with a heavy frost, and the water was very scarce. We lay on our arms all night, and on Sunday, the 20th, the battle was renewed with terrible slaughter on both sides. Towards noon we heard that Chittenden's and McCook's corps, on our right, had been driven back, and all that was left on the field, to hold in check the entire rebel army, was our corps,—Thomas's Fourteenth. We held the enemy back until evening, in spite of his desperate assaults, and after dark we retired to Rossville. Here General Thomas posted Negley's right, stretching to the Dry Valley Road, Brannan's (our) division in reserve to Reynolds's right and rear, while McCook's corps extended from Dry Valley nearly to Chattanooga Creek. Bragg's army was too tired and too sadly worsted to attempt to follow on the night of the 20th. Oh the 21st a few straggling shots were directed against our army at Rossville. Thomas felt that he could not hold his position there against the Confederate army. Orders were received at 6 P.m. on the 21st, and by seven o'clock the next morning our army was withdrawn, without opposition from the enemy. This ended the battle of Chickamauga. Though retiring from the field, our army had succeeded in shutting the rebels out of Chattanooga.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Abrham Lincoln's Drummer: Drummer boy Willie Johnston awarded Medal of Honor

William E. "Willie" Johnston, drummer boy of Company D, 3rd Vermont Infantry, has the distinction of being the youngest soldier to ever receive the Medal of Honor, presented to him at age 11 for gallantry on the battlefield in the Seven Day Battle Peninsula Campaign of 1862. Young Johnston is the subject of a book written, Lincoln's Drummer, written by G. Clifton Wisler.

In the Soldiers' Record of the town of St. Johnsonbury, Vermont, it is written:

Born in Warrentown, St. Lawrence County, N. Y. Son of William Johnson, member of Company B, 3d Regiment. Resided with his father in St. Johnsbury when he enlisted. Age twelve years. Enlisted in Company D, 3d Regiment, May 1, 1862. Mustered into United States service same day. Drummer. Re-enlisted at Brandy Station, Va., February 15, 1864. Transferred to Company H, February 15, 1864, and thence, as Drum Major, of 20th Regiment of Veteran Reserve Corps. Mustered out of service December 30, 1864.

Willie was with the 3d Regiment in the tedious and hazardous conflicts of the seven days campaign in the Peninsula, and received from the Secretary of War a star medal for heroic conduct during this time. This conduct was meritorious beyond that of other drummers, in so much as he retained his drum and brought it off on the retreat, while they, to lessen their burdens, threw theirs away. Upon reaching Harrison's Landing Willie's was the only drum to be found for use at the division parade.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orion Perseus Howe: Civil War Drummer Boy awarded Medal of Honor

Orion Perseus Howe (December 29, 1848 – January 27, 1930) was among the youngest recipients of the Medal of Honor for his service in the American Civil War as a Union drummer boy. He was awarded the medal on April 23, 1896. His medal of honor citation reads as follows:

A drummer boy, 14 years of age, and severely wounded and exposed to a heavy fire from the enemy, he persistently remained upon the field of battle until he had reported to Gen. W. T. Sherman the necessity of supplying cartridges for the use of troops under command of Colonel Malmborg.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Johnny Clem: the Civil War Drummer Boy of Shiloh

In his Historical Collections of Ohio, Henry Howe tells us the story of young Johnny Clem, widely known as the drummer boy of Shiloh and quite possibly the youngest to bear arms in the American Civil War. Clem left home at the age of 11 and attempted to join the 3rd Ohio Infantry. When he was rejected due to his age and small stature, he signed on with the 22nd Michigan as a drummer boy and mascot.

As part of his research, Howe was able to interview Clem's family in Newark, Ohio. Lizzie clem, who was 7 years old when her older brother left home for the Army recalls the following events from the day prior to Johnnie's departure:

It being Sunday, May 24, 1961, and the great rebellion in progress. Johnnie said at dinner table: "Father, I'd like mighty well to be a drummer boy. Can't I go into the Union Army?" "Tut, what nonsense, boy!" "you are not ten years old." Yet when he had disappeared it is strange we had no thoughts that he had gone into the service.

When dinner was over Johnnie took charge of us, I being seven years old and our brother, Lewis, five years, and we started for the Francis de Sales Sunday-school. As it was early, he left us at the church door, saying, "I will go and take a swim and be back in time." He was a fine swimmer. That was the last we saw of him for two years.


The distress of our father and step-mother at Johnnie's disappearance was beyond measure. Our own mother had met with a shocking death the year before: had been run over by a yard engine as she was crossing the track to avoid another train. No own mother could be more kind to us than our step-mother. Father, thinking Johnnie must have been drowned, had the water drawn from the head of the canal. mother travelled hither and yon to find him. It was all in vain. Several weeks elapsed when we heard of him as having been in Mount Vernon; and then for two years nothing more was heard and we mourned him as dead, not even dreaming that he could be in the army, he was so very small, nothing but a child.