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.

1 comment:

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