Johnny Clem: The Boy of Chickamauga

little john clem pic

Little Johnny Clem

Image above can be found on Find-A-Grave (posted by Grave Tagr,) along with a biographical sketch and pictures of his gravestone.

The Youngest Soldier in the Army of the Cumberland.

Last evening, at the Caledonia supper, Gen. Rosecrans exhibited the photograph of a boy, who, he said, was the youngest soldier in the army of the Cumberland. — His name is Johnny Clem, twelve years of age, a member of company C, 22d, Michigan infantry. His home is at Newark, Ohio. He first attracted Rosecrans’ attention during a review at Nashville, where he was acting as marker for his regiment. His extreme youth (he is quite small for his age) and intelligent appearance interested the general, and calling him out, he questioned him as to his name, age, regiment, &c. Gen. Rosecrans spoke encouragingly to the young soldier and told him to come and see him whenever he came where he was.

He saw no more of Clem until Saturday last, when he went to his place of residence — the Burnett House — and found Johnny Clem sitting on his sofa, waiting to see him. Johnny had experienced some of the vicissitudes of war since they last met. He had been captured by Wheeler’s cavalry, near Bridgeport. His captors took him to Wheeler, who saluted him with —

“What are you doing here, you d—-d little Yankee acoundrel?”

Said Johnny Clem, stoutly — “General Wheeler, I am no more a d—–d scoundrel than you are, sir.”

Johnny said that the rebels stole about all that he had, including his pocket book, which contained only twenty-five cents.

“But I would not have cared for the rest,” he added, “if they hadn’t stole my hat, which had three bullet holes in it, received at Chickamauga.”

He was finally paroled and sent north. On Saturday he was on his way to camp Chase to join his regiment, having been exchanged. Gen. Rosecrans observed that the young soldier had chevrons on his arm, and asked the meaning of it. He said he was promoted to a corporal for shooting a rebel colonel at Chickamauga.

The colonel was mounted, and stopped Johnny on the fied, crying “stop you little Yankee devil.” Johnny halted bringing his Austrian rifle to an “order,” thus throwing the colonel off his guard, cocked his piece, (which he could easily do, being so short) and suddenly bringing it to his shoulder, fired, the colonel falling dead, with a bullet through his breast.

The little fellow told his story simply and modestly, and the general determined to honor his bravery. He gave him the badge of “roll of honor,” which Mrs. Saunders, the wife of the host of the Burnett House, sewed upon Johnny’s coat. His eyes glistened with pride as he looked upon his badge, and little Johnny seemed to have grown an inch or two taller, he stood so erect. He left his photograph with General Rosecrans, who exhibits it with pride. We may again hear from Johnny Clem, the youngest soldier in the Army of the Cumberland.

Cincinnati Times.

The Daily Gazette (Janesville, Wisconsin) Dec 18, 1863



Of course you remember the story of little Johnny Clem, the motherless atom of a drummer-boy, aged ten, who strayed away from Newark, Ohio; and the first we knew 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 “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 fallen from some dying hand, provided himself with amunition, 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 battle, a rebel colonel 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 his 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 raising his sabre to strike the gun aside, the glancing barrel lifted into range, and the proud colonel tumbled from his horse, his lips fresh-stained with the syllable of vile reproach that he had flung on a mother’s grave in the hearing of her child! A few swift moment’s ticked on by musket shots, and the tiny gunner was swept up at a rebel 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 Gen. Rosecrans made him segeant, 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 conspired to spoil him; but, since few ladies can get at him here, perhaps he may be saved.

Well, like Flora McFlimsy, the sergeant ‘had nothing to wear,’ the clothing in the wardrobe of loyal livary was not at all like Desdemonia’s handkerchief, “too little,” but like the garments of the man who roomed a month over a baker’s over, a “world too wide;” and so Miss Babcock of the sanitary commission, suggested that a uniform for the little orderly would be acceptable. Mr. Waite and other gentlemen of the “Sherman House” ordered it, Messrs. A.D. Titsworth & Co., made it, Chaplain Raymond brought it, Miss Babcock presented it, and Johnny put it on. Chaplain Raymond, of the 51st Illinois — by the by, a most earnest and efficient officer — accompanied the gift with exceedingly appropriate suggestions and advice. I happened at headquarters just as the belted and armed sergeant was booted and spurred, and ready to ride. Resplendent in his elegant uniform, rigged cap-a-pie, modest, frank, with a clear and a manly face, he looked more like a fancy picture than a living thing. Said he to the chaplain; “you captured me by surprise yesterday.” Now, he is “going on” thirteen, as our grandmothers used to say; but he would be no monster if we called him only nine. Think of a sixty-three pound sergeant — fancy a handful of a hero, and then read the Arabian Nights, and believe them. Long live the little Orderly!

Rebellion Record.

CENTRALIA SENTINEL (Centralia, Marion Co., Illinois) Nov 16, 1865

john Clem in uniform


Little Johnny Clem’s Brave Work
(From the Cincinnati Gazette.)

There are but few persons who read the current events of the war for the Union as they were transpiring, who do not remembers, among the enduring record of brilliant achievements made by distinguished officers and the gallant rank and file of the army, the invincible spirit and soldierly qualities displayed by that remarkable child soldier known as “Little Johnny Clem, the drummer boy of Chickamauga.”

Various references from time to time respecting this infantile prodigy of the war have appeared in books and newspapers, yet all have failed to embody some of the most prominent incidents herein narrated connected with his army life. The “Rebellion Record,” by Frank Moore, and Lossing’s “History of the Civil War in America,” have each consigned to the pages of history the undaunted deed that has enrolled his name forever among the most gallant and devoted spirits that participated in the hard fought battle of Chickamauga, as well as other battles to the close of the war. Lossing speaks of little Clem as “probably the youngest person who ever bore arms in battle;” hence every incident connected with his entering the army, and while therein, possesses peculiar interest to those who watched the trembling balances of their country’s fate, and the valor of those to whose keeping they were confided.

John L. Clem, a motherless atom of a drummer boy, who might have been placed, in April, 1861, within a “regulation” drum, was born in Newark, Ohio, August 13, 1851, and in May, 1861, shortly after the war broke out, offered his infantile services as a drummer to Captain McDougal, of the 3d Ohio regiment, which was then passing through his native town, but on account of his size and tender age, not being yet ten years old, he was rejected, the regiment was on his way to the front, and having taken passage on the cars for Cincinnati, our little hero went down on the same train, where he offered himself to the 22d Michigan, who also declined to muster him in on account of his size and years, but owing to the persevering spirit with which he maintained his determination to follow the fortunes of his country upon the field, he was allowed to accompany the regiment in all its subsequent movements, until at length he was beating the “long roll” in front of Shiloh April, 1862, where his soldierly spirit so _on the confidence and admiration of the regiment that in June or July, 1862, he was enlisted at Covington, Ky., as a drummer, but serving afterward also as a marker.”

At Shiloh (known as Pittsburg Landing), his drum was smashed by a shell, which occurrence earned for him the appellation of “Johnny Shiloh,” as a title of distinction for the fearless manner in which he discharged his duty at that bloody battle; and at Chickamauga, of which we shall speak presently, that field of Thomas’ glory and renown, he received the title of “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga,” under which he has already passed into story, where his name and title will live forever in connection with an act there performed by him, which for coolness and undaunted valor, is not equaled on the pages of ancient or modern warfare, in one so young, and which won for him the highest meed? of praise from Rosecrans and Thomas, and every other officer and man of the Army of the Cumberland.

Here little Johnny Clem, having just passed his twelfth year, exchanged the “long roll” of the drum for the “brisk fire” ___ the deadly musket; and on the 23d day of September, 1863, when the line of battle was about being formed, our little drummer boy, now acting as a “marker,” might have been seen with his trusty little musket, as it afterward proved — which had been shortened for his use — seated upon a __aisson side by side with artillerymen, going sto the front to form the line and face the coming storm of death in common with others. The line being formed, he now took his position in the ranks, and with his little musket began putting in the periods? quite on his own account, blazing away close to the ground like a firefly in the grass. At the close of hte day, when the army was retiring toward Chattanooga, the brigade to which little Johnny was attached was ordered to hold its position, but  ___ing afterward surrounded bythe rebels, demand for its surrender was made directly after its charge had been repulsed. When a rebel colonel rode up toward our little hero, who could not fall back as rapidly as the rest of the line, and made a special demand for him, exclaiming, “Halt! Surrender! you d–n little Yankee s-n of a b—h!” still coming with his sword drawn upon little Johnny, who had now brought his musket to an “order arms,” and in doing which he slipped his hand down the barrel and cocked it while at an “order,” when our little hero suddenly swung up his musket to the position of “charge bayonet” and fired! when lo! our little David brought down the proud Goliah! who fell from his saddle, his lips fresh stained with the reproachful epithet he had just flung upon a mother grave in the hearing of her child! Simultaneous with the performance of this brilliant deed the regiment to which little Johnny belonged was fired into by the surrounding rebels, when he fell as though he had been shot, and laid there until darkness closed in, when he arose and made his way to Chattanooga, after the rest of the army. Now, all history may be searched in vain for an instance of such forethought, courage and self-reliance as this. A reference to this most daring act in the papers of the day was the first intimation his family had received of his whereabouts during his two years’ absence and upward.

Lossing’s History speaks of him as having received three balls through his cap during the fortunes of the day at Chickamauga, which statement has since been full confirmed, only that they were received directly after he had shot the rebel colonel. For his undaunted valor and heroic conduct he was made a sergeant by Rosecrans, who placed him on the roll of honor and attached him to the headquarters of the Army of the Cumberland; and a daughter of Secretary Chase presented him with a silver medal inscribed, “Sergeant Johnny Clem, 22d Michigan Vol. Inf., from N.M.C.,” which he worthily wears as a priceless badge of honor upon his left breast, in connection with his grand army medal.

In a few days after little Johnny’s arrival at Chattanooga, our tiny gunner was captured with others, while detailed to aid in bringing up the supply train from Bridgeport, Alabama, and held in captivity for sixty-three days, during which time he was kept on the move until he was at length paroled down near Tallahassee, Florida, and sent to Camp Chase for exchange, which was not complied with.

Having captured this gallant little prize, the rebels despoiled him of the companionship of his little bullet torn cap, which he endeavored in vain to retain as a reminscence in the future of the perils through which he had passed, taking also from him his jacket and shoes. Upon reaching our lines, he found General Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland, who received him with the warmest enthusiasm and made him an orderly sergeant and attached him on his staff.

In addition to the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga, he was at Perryville, Stone River (sometimes called Murfresboro), Resaca, Kenesaw, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Nashville and others, where the Army of the Cumberland covered itself with so much glory.

Besides the three balls that passed thro’ his little cap at Chickamauga, he was struck once with a fragment of shell upon his hip and twice by balls. Upon one of the latter occasions, he was in the act of delivering a dispatch from General Thomas to General Logan at Atlanta, when a ball struck his little pony obliquely near the top of his head, killing him, and wounding his fearless little rider in the shoulder. He is held in the highest estimation by all the officers and men of the Army of the Cumberland, and General Thomas was his fast friend and correspondent up to the time of his death. He served until the end of the war, when he was honorably mustered out, and at once directed his attention to qualifying himself for a cadetship at West Point, to which he has been appointed a cadet at large by President Grant, upon the recommendation of Generals Thomas and Logan, and other officers of the Army of the Cumberland, in recognition of his gallant services. Owing, however, to the limited opportunities previously afforded him, he was rather unsuccessful in passing his examination last fall in one branch only, having had as fair a general average in the other branches as the majority of those who did pass; but he is now diligently prosecuting his studies during the spare time he is not employed at his desk in the Census office at Washington, with confidence in his ultimate success when again before the board. He is still small in size, very youthful in appearance, and a consistent member of one of our prominent religious denominations; and his pleasant address and modest deportment win the confidence of all with whom he is brought into intercourse.

Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois) May 4, 1871


Image and an article can be found at Edrumline Crossing the Line


Some Interesting Facts of the “Drummer Boy of the Chicamauga” — His Parentage — Career Curing and Since the Late War.

(Special Correspondence to the Dispatch)
NEWARK, July 20, 1880.

A person passing through the markets any Wednesday or Saturday, can see a medium-sized man, with straggling gray hairs and a face that plainly indicates the possessor’s German extraction, standing behind a rudely constructed bench loaded down with vegetables and garden truck. Through rains and storms this silent and seemingly contented German market tender has stood at his allotted market space. He lives and has lived, for the last twenty years, in a small and comfortable house, about a mile from this city, on the Granville road. This is the father of Johnny Clem, whom everybody in the Army of the Cumberland knew as “the drummer boy of Chickamauga.”

At the breaking out of the war, Johnny was struck with the martial music of the troops recruiting in this city, and ran away from home, going into the army as a drummer boy. Everybody is familiar with the history of this daring lad, who was petted by the officers and soldiers on all sides. During the war he became a favorite Orderly of General George H. Thomas, who, at the close of the war, assumed a sort of guardianship over him, and took a special interest in his welfare.

Johnny was sent to school at West Point, where he graduated, and soon afterwards entered the regular army and was stationed at Texas. Here he met General Brown’s daughter, and soon after married her. It was not long after his marriage that he was promoted and stationed at Fort Brown, Texas, where he still remains on duty.

Every summer he visits his aged parents and renews old acquaintances with his school-mates and companions. Johnny’s brother Louis, entered the regular army some few years ago, and, during an engagement on the Western frontier with the Indians, was massacred. The death of the brave boy weighed heavily on his aged father, and he frequently relates his sorrows to attentive listeners.

‘Pap’ Thomas frequently wrote to his protege, and a paragraph from one dated at Nashville, June 27, 1866, has special interest at the present time. The following is an exact:

“DEAR JOHNNIE — Do you remember the story of General Garfield’s life? He worked on a canal, and educated himself by buying his text book, which he studied at every leisure moment, while the canal was not frozen up. Now he is one of the most distinguished of our Representatives in Congress. He was also greatly distinguished as a soldier during the late war.”

Johnny Clem acquired a national reputation, as the youngest and smallest soldier in the Union army, as well as for gallant conduct.

The Marion Daily Star (Marion, Ohio) Jul 30, 1880


Incidents of His Early Life Recalled by a Meeting with Mrs. Grant.

The many friends in Newark of Captain John Clem of the United States Army will be interested in the following taken from the Columbus Dispatch:

Columbus people will undoubtedly read with interest the details of a meeting between Mrs. U.S. Grant and Captain John Clem which occurred at Atlanta yesterday. Captain Clem, now Assistant Quartermaster General of the army, was for a long time stationed at the Garrison in this city and, departing, left a legion of friends. His meeting with the widow of General Grant occurred at a reception she was holding for Confederate veterans at Atlanta. This favor had been asked by the veterans and readily granted. Among other who called to pay their respects to Mrs. Grant was Captain Clem.

“Of course I know Captain Clem if it is Johnny Clem, the drummer boy,” said Mrs. Grant when introduced to him, “I remember so well hearing my husband tell of how he found you at Shiloh that day beating the long roll and telling you you were a brave boy, but ought to be home.”

Captain Clem received his appointment as a lieutenant at the hands of President Grant. Of the reception in general Mrs. Grant said, “I regard it as one of the most handsome compliments that has ever been paid to me.”

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Jan 31, 1895


To Be a Major — Honor Paid to a Newark Boy.

A dispatch from Atlanta conveys the intelligence that Captain John L. Clem, Assistant United States Quartermaster, stationed at Atlanta, has received work from Washington that he will be promoted to the next grade to which he is eligible, (Quartermaster with rank of Major) as soon as a vacancy occurs.

“Johnny Clem will be remembered as “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.”
His many friends congratulate him on his prospective appointment.

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Feb 14, 1895

A Soldier at 11.

There are only 77 officers on the active list of the army below the grade of general who served in the Civil War. All of these with one exception will soon be retired. The exception is that of Col. John L Clem, of the quartermaster’s department, whose age limit will not be reached until 1915. This extended time is due to the fact that “Little Johnny Clem, the drummer boy of Chickamauga,” as he was familiarly known, was probably the youngest person who ever bore arms in battle.

Col. Clem was also known as “Johnny Shiloh,” from the fact that in the battle of Shiloh he rode to the firing line on a caisson by the side of a veteran artilleryman, and then performed an act of daring in such a brave and cool manner that it gave him a name in history. He drummed the charge at Shiloh when he was only 11 years old, and with his short musket he killed the Confederate colonel who demanded his surrender at Chickamuaga. He is a popular officer, not only with his fellows of the army, but in social circles as well, being as genial a man as he is chivalrous a soldier.

Col. Clem was born in Ohio on Aug. 13, 1851, and in May, 1861, before he was 10 years old, he offered his services to the Third Ohio Regiment as drummer, but the mustering officer declined to enlist him because of his size and his youth. Later he offered his services to the Twenty-second Michigan, and though enlistment was refused, he was permitted to accompany the regiment to the field and to beat the “long roll” in front of Shiloh in April 1862. His soldierly manner and conduct in that engagement so won the confidence and admiration of the officers of the regiment that in May, 1863, he was permitted to enlist as a drummer and was then known as “Johnny Shiloh.” But it was on Sept. 23, 1863, at the battle of Chickamauga, that he displayed especial bravery. He had just passed his 12th birthday anniversary and had laid aside his drum for a musket, the barrel of which had been cut down for his use; and after acting as a “marker” for a time he took his place in the ranks. As the day closed, and the army retired to Chattanooga, his brigade was ordered by the enemy to surrender, and “Little Johnny” was himself covered by the sword of a Confederate colonel. His regiment was then fired into, and, falling as if shot, the juvenile soldier lay close until dar, when he went to Chattanooga and joined his command. But as he fell to the ground he fired at the Confederate officer and killed him, and so demoralized the Confederate com???? in such a way that his own associates escaped capture.

For his bravery young Clem was made a sergeant by Gen. Rosecrans and detailed to the headquarters of the Department of the Cumberland. He also received a silver medal from the hands of Miss Kate Chase, daughter of Chief Justice Chase. He was afterward captured by the Confederates and held prisoner for 68 days, and after his release he was promoted to orderly sergeant by Gen. Thomas. He was discharged from the service in September, 1864, when he returned to his old home and attended school, being graduated from the Newark High School in 1870. President Grant, who had kept watch of “Little Johnny” after the war ended, appointed him a second lieutenant in the regular army in 1871. Three years later he went to the artillery school at Fortress Monroe for a course of instruction in military science, and a year later passed a most sucessful examination.

The Daily Herald (Delphos, Ohio) Nov 13, 1903

littlest hero pic clem 1915


Colonel Clem Last Civil War Veteran In Active Service.


Fought With Little Musket Which Men of His Regiment Fashioned For Him — His Memorable Encounter With a Confederate Colonel After Chickamauga — Youngest Sergeant.

Youngest Sergeant Army Has Had.

After the battle General Rosecrans made Clem a sergeant — the youngest of that rank who ever served in the United States army.

Following the battle of Chickamauga, when the Union army was retiring toward Chattanooga, the brigade to which Clem was attached had been ordered to hold its position. The position became untenable, and the brigade fell back and, in doing so, lost “Little Johnny” Clem.

Suddenly out of the woods he came like a scared rabbit and ran full tilt into a Confederate colonel.

“My but you are a little shaver to be in this business!” the Confederate officer said, “But war is war, so you had better drop that gun.”

Instead, the boy fired point blank. The colonel fell from his horse badly wounded, and Johnny darted into the bushes. Late that night he turned up at Chattanooga.

The Confederate colonel, who recovered, afterward said he would never get over the suprise “that kid gave him.”

Adams County News (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jul 4, 1914

johnny clem  pic 1915


Brigadier General John L. Clem, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga,” and the Last Civil War Veteran in the U.S. Army, Will Go Out of Service On His “Lucky Day” — Gets a Job With His Son in San Antonio.

When Colonel John Lincoln Clem, officer in the Quartermaster Department at Washington and personal friend of hundreds of San Antonians, is retired from active service with the rank of brigadier general Friday, the thirteenth of August, this year, the last living link between the present United States army and the armies that participated in the civil war will be severed. Colonel Clem is the only veteran of that tremendous conflick still in active service with the United States Army.

After active service in the army for more than 45 years — he could have retired 15 years ago had he wanted to — “[the littlest hero] of the civil war,” and one of the most interesting figures in the army of the United States at the present time will quit active service and come to San Antonio to make his home as Brigadier General John L. Clem, U.S.A., retired.

He was born on Friday, the thirteenth of August, 1851; while he is not the least bit superstitious, the combination of Friday and the thirteenth day of the month, has marked the luckiest events of his life, and he will retire when that combination occurs in August on his sixty-fourth birthday. More than once in his lifetime has he remarked upon incidents which have turned out to his advantage occurring on the thirteenth of hte month and usually when that date fell on Friday. It is a strange coincidence that almost every time he was advised of promotion in the army, the notice came to him on the thirteenth day of the month.

Asks Son for a Job.

And when this combination occurs on the calendar next month he will retire from active service in the army, but not from active participation in affairs of the world. Brigadier General John Lincoln Clem, U.S.A., retired, hero of the civil war and late important figure in quartermasters affairs at Washington, will come to San Antonio to become automobile salesman in the regular employ of the Collins-Clem Automobile Company, one of the proprietors of which is his son, John L. Clem Jr.

Recently Colonel Clem wrote to his son: “I hereby make formal application for a position as automobile salesman with the Collins-Clem Automobile Company, distributers of Studebaker cars in the San Antonio district. Please advise me of your decision in the matter.” Then he wrote down at the bottom: “I am yet just as good a man as you are, son, and I can do just as much hard work in one day as you can, if I am a little old. I am going to buy a car from you, hire me a chauffeur to drive me on demonstrations, and I will sell as many cars as you will.”

This letter, as much as many other incidents in his life, brings out the quality in his character which have made him one of the most beloved of men among his associates.

“Invaded” Mexico.

One of these incidents, which forms the theme of a story many of his friends take great delight in relating about him, occurred on the Rio Grande frontier shortly after he entered the United States army as a second lieutenant. Lieutenant Clem was placed in charged of a squad of soldiers sent out to apprehend cattle thieves. The soldiers trailed the outlaws five days, but were unable to get closer than within a few miles of the rapidly fleeing band. The cattle thieves escaped across the Rio Grande and stood on the other side making motions at the soldiers, which Lieutenant Clem understood as essentially insulting. He resented their actions intensely, and at the head of his squad, crossed over the river into Mexico, gave chase to the desperadoes, and in an engagement the cattle thieves were killed to the last man.

Shortly after the incident, Lieutenant Clem received a letter from the commander of the department, General E.O.C. Ord. Lieutenant Clem was officially reprimanded. He was told that his conduct was unbecoming an officer of the United States army, he had been guilty of tremendous lack of judgement, he had violated the neutrality laws and his action might result in complications between two nations at peace. Such an escapade must never be repeated, on pain of serious consequences to the perpetrator.

The Heart of a Soldier.

The communication was officially signed in ink. A penciled inscription, in the department commander’s handwriting at the bottom of the page, read: “Good boy, Johnny, do it again.”

A newspaper correspondent in Washington asked Colonel Clem, on the occasion of the last memorial day, what memory was uppermost in his mind that day. And the famous old soldier, who, at the age of 12 years, was the twice-wounded veteran of one of the greatest campaigns of history, did not reply with a tale of sanguinary adventure.

“My memory pictures today what my kid eyes saw fifty-one years ago today,” he said gently, “a soldier in blue an a soldier in gray, shaking hands like two loving comrades between the trneches, swapping tobacco and coffee. In the morning they were to stab each other brutally with bayonets in a fierce hand-to-hand fight for those very trenches. Yet what I like to think of first on memorial day is not the bloody fight, but that tender scene preceding it, which showed me that after all, man to man, we soldiers of the north and of the south were friends and brothers always. We of the north hated that which they fought for, but we did not hate them personally, nor they us.

Was Impersonal War.

“And that is the most hallowed of my memories on this memorial day, for it brings back the thought that we who fought to kill each other were really never enemies. It was a war of cannon against fortress, of rifle against trench, but never of man against his brother man!

“It is the great tragedy of those bloody deaths we brought each other, but not because of hatred for each other, but for the sake of a principle, that we must think of on this sacred memorial day.”

Johnny Clem ran away from his home in Newark, O., when he was ten years old and attached himself to the Twenty-second Michigan regiment. The officers tried to chase him away, but the soldiers made him a pet and mascot and, finally, in May, 1862, the colonel enlisted him.

He was the hero of a brilliant scene at Chickamauga performed right under the eyes of his Union comrades, who were falling back rapidly. Johnny’s poor little legs were weary, and, so he lagged behind, a Confederate colonel galloped up to him, “Surrender, you damned little Yankee devil,” he cried.

Loved Life by Feigning Death.

Weak and tired though he was, his nerves never quivered. He pulled up his heavy musket — he had abandoned his drum — and fired. The colonel fell headlong from his horse, and a volley of bullets from the men behind him rained over Johnny Clem. Johnny’s comrades on the hill saw their heroic little soldier boy fall face downward. The battle raged four hours after that, and at dark the Union forces rested. Suddenly, into their bivouac crept Johnny Clem, unhurt, and displaying with tremendous pride his cap pierced by three bullet holes. He had saved his own life by shamming death.

General Thomas made the hero drummer boy a sergeant for that deed of bravery. And when the general advised him of promotion, the youngster answered: “General, is that all you’re going to make me?”

Later in his civil war careet, the 12-year-old soldier was hit on the hip by part of a shell, wounded in the ear while dispatch riding and once taken prisoner.
He is probably the only living man who voted legally at an age under 15. At the time Lincoln was elected the second time, all soldiers of the army were allowed to vote. Johnny Clem was a soldier in the army and he voted.

Johnny Clem went to high school when the war was over and then entered the army as second lieutenant. In his early service, he was the central figure in many exciting adventures on the Texas frontier. He is one of the very few infantry officers to graduate from the army artillary school and holds other distinctions for service in the army.

To Know Him Is To Love Him.

He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston for the first time in 1900 in the quartermaster department. He remained here four years, after which time he became chief of the quartermaster department of the Philippines, with headquarters in Manila. Two years later he was transferred to San Francisco and later returned to Fort Sam Houston as chief of hte quartermaster department of the Department of Texas. While stationed here, he probably made more friends among San Antonians than any other army officer who has ever been quartered at the army post.

Colonel Clem left Fort Sam Houston four years ago when he was transferred to the quartermaster department in Washington. He has been connected with the quartermaster department in Washington for the last two years.

After retiring from the army August 13, Colonel Clem will spend several months in the north and east,. At Dayton, O., a city-wide celebration, to be known as Clem day, has been arranged in his honor by Colonel Clem Garrison, Army and Navy Union, and the Grand Army of the Republic organization in that city.

He will come to San Antonio about December 1 to make his home.

THE SAN ANTONIO LIGHT (San Antonio, Texas) Jul 11, 1915


Read more about Johnny Clem:

Ohio History Central: Johnny Klem – Johnny Clem

Learn Civil War History: A Civil War Blog of History and Stories:  Johnny Clem

Watch the official trailer for the movie: Johnny

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Johnny Clem: The Boy of Chickamauga”

  1. Vidia Green Says:

    i think Johnny Clem is amazing. I live in Heath, Ohio.And I learn about him in Worid History class. The Civil War is the only thing I really pay attention to. 🙂

  2. Drummer Boys of the Civil War « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Civil War Sources (Link to posts tagged Drummer Boys) is a blog that uses primary documents as sources for its Civil War posts. While they don’t seem to have posted anything about Eddie Lee, they have covered several other drummer boys, including Johnny Clem, who I have also posted about previously. […]

  3. Gregory A. Clem Says:

    I would love to obtain more information about Johnny Clem. I Gregory A. Clem, and I live in Crofton, Maryland. I have some memorabilia I would like to share. I also know someone who has a drum that belonged to Johnny Clem. The owner of the drum is a drummer himself. We would like to one day pay tribute to Johnny Clem at one of the memorials. You can reach me at or call 301-602-8805

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: