The Little Drummer Boy: Sergeant John Clem was 12 years old when he became a Civil War hero


The American Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in US history.

Although no one knows precisely how many were killed and wounded during this great tragedy, most researchers agree that the number of casualties was way beyond anybody’s expectations.

It is estimated that over 620,000 Americans lost their lives during this conflict which means that no other American conflict was nearly as devastating as the Civil War.






The American Civil War affected the lives of everyone in the United States, including the lives of many children. Thousands of teenagers joined the army and fought in the Civil War even though many of them were under 18-years-old and some of them were just over 10-years-old. Among these brave soldiers was a 10-year-old boy from Newark, Ohio, named John Clem.

Little Johnny was only 9-years-old when he ran away from home to join the Union Army during the Civil War. At first, he was turned down and told that the army “does not enlist infants,” but Johnny couldn’t accept no for an answer.

 He accompanied the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry until 1862 when he was adopted as a mascot and drummer. Everyone loved the little boy, and officers even chipped in to pay his monthly salary of $13 until he was allowed to enlist in 1863 officially.

According to some accounts, he was involved in the Battle of Shiloh and reportedly almost lost his life when his drum was destroyed by a fragment from a shrapnel shell. An article published by the New York Times in 1915 states that:

 one of the first battles in which the regiment figured was that of Shiloh where the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed and where the fame of Ulysses S. Grant as a soldier may be said to have begun. In that battle, Clem got into the very hottest of the fight. He came very near to losing his life when a shrapnel shell exploded within a few feet of him. A fragment of the shell crashed through his drum and the shock of the explosion hurled him unconscious to the ground, where he was subsequently found and rescued by his bigger comrades. After the battle, the soldiers nicknamed Clem “Johnny Shiloh”.”  


Clem became a national celebrity for his actions at Chickamauga. Armed with a musket sawed down for him to carry, Clem joined the 22nd Michigan in the defense of Horseshoe Ridge on the afternoon of September 20. As the Confederate forces surrounded the unit, a Confederate colonel spotted Clem and shouted either “I think the best thing a mite of a chap like you can do is drop that gun” or called him a “damned little Yankee devil,” according to various sources. Rather than surrender, Clem shot the colonel and successfully made his way back to Union lines. For his actions, Clem was promoted to sergeant, the youngest soldier ever to become a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, and became known as the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

This was not the end of Clem’s army career, and he went on to fight in several other battles and was wounded twice in the battle of Atlanta. He was discharged in 1864, at the age of 13.

After graduating from high school in 1870, Clem tried to enter the United States Military Academy but failed the entrance exam.

He was then appointed second lieutenant in the Twenty-Fourth United States Infantry by President Ulysses S. Grant and served in the army for the next 45 years. The “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga” retired in 1915 with the rank of major general. He died on May 13, 1937, in San Antonio and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.07.47 AM

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.05.50 AM



Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.07.02 AM

Courtesy the Vintage News and Wikipedia 

                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012