Sunday, March 1, 2009

A brave drummer boy earns the Congressional Medal of Honor

In his New Jersey and the Rebellion, John Y. Foster describes the heroism of a young drummer boy name William Magee. For his valiant efforts, Magee was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Magee's citation reads, "In a charge, was among the first to reach a battery of the enemy and, with one or two others, mounted the artillery horses and took two guns into the Union lines."

Foster describes the details of drummer boy Magee's bravery in his account. He writes:

Among the many instances of youthful intrepidity and daring, none, perhaps, exceeded in all the points of real sublimity those which are furnished in the career of drummer William Magee, of the Thirty-third Regiment. This lad, for he was only a lad, entered the service at fifteen years of age-leaving a widowed mother in the city of Newark-to aid in maintaining the unity of the Nation. From the first he displayed qualities of the highest order. Intelligent, fearless, vigilant, he was at all times an example alike to superiors and inferiors. Though entering the service as a drummer, he by no means confined himself to the duties of his specific sphere. He had a knack of fighting as well as drumming, and withal exhibited an appreciation of the methods of warfare which qualified him for the most surprising exploits. One of these, at least, was equal in splendor of execution and grandeur of result to any which the history of the war records. It will be remembered that in the fall of 1864, after Sherman had swung loose from his base and started on his stately' March to the Sea," Hood with an army of forty thousand men laid siege to Nashville, defended by General Thomas. Here, for a period of two or three weeks, our troops were penned up with little prospect of relief.


At Murfreesboro, thirty miles away, General Thomas, reluctant to relax his hold on the railroad to Chattanooga, had stationed a small garrison under General Milroy. This garrison, as the rebels gathered in greater force, beleaguering the post, soon became comparatively isolated, all avenues of escape being practically closed. But the men did not lose heart. At length, on the 2d of December, it was determined to strike a blow for deliverance. At this time, young Magee had become acting orderly to General VanCleve, and to him, youth as he was, the order was given to charge the enemy. It may be that a smile accompanied the order-a smile at the thought of committing such a work to a mere stripling; but it is certain that the confidence of the'commander was not misplaced. Taking the One Hundred and Eighty-first Ohio Infantry, Magee sallied out of the works, and rushed upon a battery posted on an eminence hard by. The charge was made most gallantly, but the fire of the enemy was resistless, and slowly the column fell back. But the intrepid orderly did not for a moment falter in his purpose. One repulse only stimulated his appetite for his work, and accordingly, selecting the One Hundred and Seventyfourth Ohio, he again moved out, again charged the foe, again met their withering fire; still, however, pressing on until at last the victory was his. And it was no ordinary victory. Two heavy guns and eight hundred of the enemy killed, wounded and captured, were the trophies which he brought out of the contest. Nor was this all. This signal success at once dispiriting the enemy and reviving the hopes of our own men, proved the first of a series of victories which resulted, finally, in driving Hood from Tennessee and restoring that whole section to Federal control. The readiness and gallantry displayed by young Magee in this affair very naturally attracted the attention of those around him, and he received the hearty commendation of Generals Rosseau, Milroy, and other officers in command. Subsequently he received a medal of honor from the War Department, inscribed, " The Congress to drummer William Magee, Company C, Thirty-third Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers."