American Boys War.
We have time and time again seen pictures of very young boys at war and feel it is unnatural and cruel. But for countless reasons boys have gone off to war whether we liked it or not and probably will continue to do so. During the Great War thousands of British teenagers joined it is estimated some 250,000 were underage. Jim Norton at 16 was asked to walk around the corner and come back with a different story which he did adding another 3 years.
The American Civil War has its own stories of the Drummer Boys such as the Bealeton Virginia Drum Corps where children as young as 9 and 10 were present. Tales of bravery and selfless sacrifice are abundant. At the fall of Fort Sumter on the 13th April 1861 Robert Henry Henderson from Michigan was caught in the war frenzy and dreamed of battle. His mother a widow it is told had some problems with the lad and acknowledged that he needed some discipline. He continually ran form school and ignored his education so much so he was unable to w rite his name.
It is presumed Robert was around 10 in 1861 when he decided to enlist in the Jackson County Rifles. He was a fair haired boy of some four and a half feet tall with a good outdoor complexion.
In the camp he persistently practiced the drum rolls to such an extent he was regarded by one of his fellow soldiers as a perfect little pest. The Rifles were ordered to Fort Wayne near Detroit to become C Company of the 9th Michigan Infantry. Robert was apparently rejected from the new company by a Mustering officer. This did not interfere with Roberts’ plan as he boarded the train with the rest of the men. Fredericksburg in1862 was nearly undefended as Gen A. Burnside of (sideburn fame) with his 120,000 men made a 40 mile dash across country to Fredericksburg. The capture of the city would position the Federal Army in a favorable point to move on to Richmond the Confederate capital setting a new pace in the war. Robert according to one story became a servant to Captain Charles DeLand the C Company Commander. DeLand was also the editor of the Jackson American Citizen. To the delight of Robert he was formally enlisted in March of 1862 in C Company and posted to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to guard the old court house. On June 10th Major Buell commander of the Ohio troops began a leisurely march towards Chattanooga and in response the Confederacy sent a Calvary brigade under Brigadier General Nathan Bedford. Early in the morning of th e 13th
Colonel Forrest’s Confederates attacked and surprised the Union pickets. Robert was fearless in the face of the enemy a matter well noted by many of his fellows. It was to no avail as the Union force was overcome and captured by the afternoon. They were sent to Camp Chase in Ohio where Robert was released because of his age and wounds in July of that year. Records show he had been a sufferer of epilepsy since childhood. On release a Lieutenant Hogan retained him as a personal servant for two months. Then a Chaplain George Taylor took him under his wing. It should be remembered Roberts parole from captivity disallowed him the opportunity to fight the Confederacy, but he signed on again for the Union as Robert Henry Henderson. This was not an uncommon practice.
At the age of18 a youth could sign on without the permission of his parents. But to the eye of the inductor size would no doubt be the principle factor. A boy could be a musician and if he was big enough to hold a drum or play a bugle that would suffice. In fact so many boys were engaged in the war it was often called the Boys War. It is possible that near a million youths were on the Federal and Confederate side. Bugles were often for the oldest boys with developed lungs as they were vital communications during the heat of battle. Still, there are tales of bugle boys having to be helped on to the saddle then with saber in one hand and pist ol in the other charging with the men.
Johnny Cook was 13 when he served as a bugler with the 4th US Artillery. At 15 he was in the battle of Antietam on the 17th September the first major battle of the civil war. During the fight Johnny Cook saw the artillery gunners being shot down and bravely ran to take their place. He was awarded the Medal Of Honor for helping to fend off three attacks. Later Johnny joined the navy and served till the end of the war. Johnny Cook died in 1915.
Orion Howe as a drummer with the 55th Illinois Volunteers at the siege of Vicksburg considered the turning point of the war. Orion was shot in the leg and despite the wound carried an urgent message to Gen Sherman’s HQ for much needed ammunition.
A boy of the 14th Connecticut Regiment was filling a coffee pot by a narrow stream when three confederate soldiers came upon him. In stead of panicking he immediately ordered them to surrender. Thinking that he was not alone did so.
The Virginia Cadets of the Military Institution joined in the battle of New Market in may the 15th 1864 to save among other things the fertile Shenandoah valley. Along with the Southern Army they marched 80 miles in 4 days. Initially the Cadets were to form the reserve but they were used to plug a gap and later charged the enemy. General Breckinridge rode by, doffed his hat, and shouted "Well done!"
Gilbe rt Van Zandt known as Little Gib followed his teacher into the Ohio Volunteers and joined his father and uncles. He joined at school when recruiters ignored his mothers pleas.
Clarence McKenzie became a drummer of the Brooklyn 13th Regiment at 12. He was killed at Annapolis Md. and buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery and is one of the most popular places to visit.
Perhaps the most famous of them all was Johnny Clem who was not officially a member of the Army, the officers put money towards his upkeep at $13 per month.
He was born in Newark Ohio in 1851 and was 10 years old when the war began.
He left his school classes to drill with the 3rd Ohio Volunteers where the soldiers provided him with a gun. He was refused by some of the regiments passing through but he managed to attach himself to the 22nd Massachusetts who adopted him as a drummer boy. He was given a shortened rifle and a specially made uniform in his size.
On the 20th September 1863 he was officially allowed to join the US Army at the age of 12 and receive pay. Before that time he had participated in several battles. In the Battle of Chickamauga in September the Union forces were in retreat when Clem rather than submit shot a Confederate Colonel who had demanded his surrender. Clem was captured but managed to escape. Reporting on Clem’s adventures Northern Journalists named him Johnny Shiloh as he said his drum in the battle was smashed by a cannon shot. Clem was captured in October by a unit of Confederate Cavalry whilst on train duty. The Confederacy used him as propaganda to show the condition the Union must be in to send babies to fight. Clem was exchanged for a Confederate prisoner a little later.
He decided to change his name to John Lincoln Clem. In January of 1864 he was assigned to General Thomas’s staff as a mounted orderly and stayed in the Army till discharge in September 1864.
After the War President Grant nominated Clem to become a student of the US Military Academy at West Point. But, due to his lost years at school he repeatedly failed the entrance exams. Grant overlooking this in 1871 appointed him second lieutenant. Clem served in the US Army until 1915 as the last Civil War Veteran attaining the rank of Brigadier General. He lived in San Antonio Texas where he died May of 1937. The one time drummer boy is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
In this time we look for sound reasons why children go to war. Sometimes to save their families lives, for the elements of honour and glory, or revenge or being forced. In practical terms they fight generally for the same reason as adults.