At the time of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, he called for volunteers who could join the Union Army forces in May 1861. The people rose to the opportunity and the government received a significant number of applications in response. But, there was one such application that stood out of all. A 9-year-old boy named John Clem had sent his application to volunteer in the forces as well. John was just four feet tall during his first soldier tryout at the 3rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. The authorities made him leave due to his age at that time. But Clem was in no mood to give up his choice so he turned to the 22nd Michigan Infantry Regiment. He pestered them till they agreed to appoint him as the unit’s unofficial drummer boy.
Soon, John made a name for himself in the unit and later everyone started addressing him as “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga”. Today, we have the story of this young soldier who was a part of the American Civil War.
John Clem joining the forces
As mentioned above, John Clem applied to enlist when Lincoln asked for volunteers. It was 1861, and John was just a 9-year-old at that time. Earlier that year, he lost his mother to a train accident. So, when he heard about the enlistments, John decided to run away from his home to join the armed forces.
Clem was born on 13 August 1851 in Ohio. As a child who lost his mother at a young age, he chose to serve the nation to overcome his grief. First, John visited and appealed to an officer whom he knew in the 3rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. He asked the officer to take him in as a drummer boy and he also said that he could carry a gun if it wasn’t that heavy. John was asked to leave by the officer.
But this rejection did not discourage John even a bit. He moved to approach a colonel from the 22nd Michigan Infantry Regiment. After a lot of persistence, John finally got in as an unofficial drummer boy for the Regiment. As his position was unpaid, the soldiers of the regiment decided to pitch in to pay him $13 per month.
Though, like John, many teens and children volunteered in the forces, the Confederate or the Union armies never appointed any of them officially. Also, most of them were kept away from the battlefields and assigned to be the drummers, orderlies, and messengers. However, the little John was cut out for something more, to be a frontline.
As a 12-year-old, John Clem became a celebrity in the Union Army after the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. There were legends about him across the nation after this war and he got to be known as “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga”.
John Clem Becoming a Legend:
Before the Battle of Chickamauga, John was already renowned as the drummer boy. His stories have been everywhere ever since the Battle of Shiloh. But, his title of The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga was all thanks to an incident that happened in the battle of 1863 September.
In Georgia, during the Battle of Chickamauga, 389 out of a total of 455 men of the 22nd Michigan were either wounded, killed, or captured by the enemies. And, John Clem was one of them. He was reportedly separated from his troop of 22nd Michigan while defending the Horseshoe Ridge. It was when the troops were called back as a retreat, but Clem was left behind.
At that time, all Clem had was a sawed-down musket, it was done so that he could carry it easily. However, what Clem did was full of bravery. When he ran into a Confederate officer, the officer mocked Clem and asked him to drop his gun as a last resort. But Clem decided to take a shot and fired a gunshot straight towards the officer and then ran for his life.
For such bravery, he was promoted to be a sergeant. And this made John the first and the youngest non-commissioned officer. He was the first to get the title in the history of the U.S. Army. For the record, the Battle of Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War and the war with the most bloodshed in the Western Theater. John’s story begins with the title of “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga”.
Journey after the Civil War:
After the Chickamauga Battle, John encountered several other life-threatening scenarios on the battlefield. Though the Union lost the battle with over 16000 casualties, John Clem’s story came out as a positive spinoff. However, in July 1864, strict rules were imposed and it was said that no one was allowed to hire soldiers below the age of 16 years. This resulted in Clem’s goodbye to the Civil War as a soldier.
As a 13-year-old he was advised to get back to school, and following the instructions, John got enrolled in a school. Meanwhile, he kept close contact with his friends from the troops. This meant that his life in the army wasn’t over yet.
After graduating high school in 1870, Clem got into the military again. But this time, President Ulysses S. Grant personally invited him to West Point. Though Clem failed the entrance for the military, Grant was appointed as the second lieutenant.
For the next 44 years, John served in the U.S. Army in Texas. He was posted to Fort Brown and played a critical role in the Spanish-American War. He retired in 1915. Until then, he was the only veteran of the Civil War who served in the U.S. Army. After his death, he was laid in the Arlington National Cemetry in 1937.
John was born as John Joseph Clem. But the decision he took as a 9-year-old boy from Ohio made him to be dubbed as John Lincoln Clem. This was to honor the ex-president Abraham Lincoln. As John always believed that if not for Lincoln’s invitation to volunteer in the military, he would have been nowhere in history.