The Young Drummer Boys
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, thousands of soldiers and volunteers enlisted for the fight of their beliefs. Young boys, some under the age of fifteen and even younger, longed to be a part of the fight. Of course, there was an age limit, but these youngsters devised ways to alter their age. Some lied as it was easy to pretend they were older, some used false names, some did get their parent's permission if guaranteed they wouldn't be in the fights. By becoming drummer boys, they could be a part of the soldier's life.
Of course, these youngsters didn't realize it wouldn't be all glory. They were expected to learn the music cords to echo the officer's orders, which is why they stayed by the officer's sides. During the battle and confusion, orders couldn't always be heard by the men, but the drums 'told' them the orders to follow. The most important order was the 'long roll,' which was the order to attack.
Besides the orders for battle, the drummer boys were also assigned to aide the wounded on the field by helping the soldiers to the hospital for medical help and in the camp, their beating of the drum called the men to mail, call, food line, sick call, and songs to help the morale of the camp.
These young drummer boys were hardly used to seeing wounded and dying men and probably contributed to their own homesickness and vulnerability.
During the war, it is estimated 100,000 were under the age of fifteen. The soldiers considered the drummers as mascots and important to them, and they were an inspiration through out the war. Some of the youngsters even went on to receive the Medal of Honor.
Famous Civil War Drummer Boys
One of the most famous of the drummer boys was Johnny Clem (Klem). Born in Newark, Ohio, in 1851, Johnny ran away from home at age nine to follow Union troops hoping to enlist. He tried several times, but they kept denying him. Finally, the Michigan 22 adopted him as their mascot. Some of the officers even donated some of their pay so Johnny could earn soldiers' pay of $13. monthly. They even had a little uniform made for him and cut down a rifle to fit him. At the age of eleven, he was able to enlist as a regular soldier. Johnny became famous when he was confronted by a Confederate officer who wanted to capture him. Johnny promptly shot him. He was in several battles and became known as the Boy of Chickamauga. By the time he retired in 1915, he had been promoted to Brigadier General. He died in 1937 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A bronze six-foot statue is dedicated to him in Newark, Ohio. Also, an elementary school is named for him and a WW II U.S. troopship named in his honor.
William E. "Willie" Johnston
Willie served with the 3rd Vermont Regiment and was in the Seven Days Battle. He received the Medal of Honor at age thirteen. It is unknown where he is buried, but a plaque was erected on the Berkely Plantation, Virginia, where he had been stationed.
The youngest soldier killed in the Civil War. Charlie was 12 years, 5 months, 9 days when he enlisted in the Union Army. His parents went to get Charlie out of service, but the captain of the 49th Pennsylvania convinced them that he would not be in harm's ways as a drummer. Charlie was in the Peninsula Campaign and other battles. While at Antietam, he was back when a Rebel shell threw shrapnel and several soldiers died. Charlie had been hit and died three days later. His body was never recovered.
John J.C. Langbein
Born in 1845, Germany, and immigrated to the U.S. as a child, John enlisted in the 9th NY volunteers. During the battle of Camden, N.C., Lt. Thomas L. Bartholomew was seriously wounded. J.C. ran to his aid and was told by a surgeon; there was no help for him. J.C. refused to believe that and loaded the lieutenant in a wagon of wounded soldiers headed for the hospital. The lieutenant was helped at the hospital and recovered from his wounds. It took forty years before his Medal of Honor was finally awarded to him. J.C. became a lawyer and judge in New York after the war. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, N.Y.
After the War, Pensions
After the war, many of the drummer boys, some of who later were regular enlistees, were unable to receive pensions. They couldn't prove their service. Remember, some used fake names and ages and fellow soldiers, many killed in battle or otherwise couldn't vouch for the young boy's service.
In Arcadia, Wisconsin, across from the Abe Lincoln and Civil War Monument is one dedicated to the Civil War Drummer Boys. Located in the Soldiers Walk Memorial Park.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 26, 2020:
Thank you for the kind comment. Glad you liked the article. I can't get enough of history and continue to research.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on October 26, 2020:
What a great article! It's a grim and disturbing topic but you handled it very well and I applaud you for it. I can not wait to read the other things that you have written.