A Drummer Boy from West Chester, Pennsylvania

When the war broke out and troops began to gather in West Chester, 12-year-old Charley King was fascinated by all the activity. He loved music and frequently was seen practicing his drumming near the 49th Pennsylvania. Charley begged his father for permission to enlist, but was refused. Even though age 12 was approved for enlistment as a musician, his parents still considered him too young. But Company F Captain Benjamin Sweeney had noticed the boy and was impressed by his skill. He talked to Charley’s father explaining that drummers were non-combatants and were safely behind the lines helping with the wounded. His father consented and gave permission for his eldest child to enlist.

Charley performed well impressing the men and officers so much, that he was promoted to Drum Major of the field music of the 49th Pennsylvania Regiment, a distinct honor for any musician. Participating in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, he became a veteran of combat. The Confederate Army moved into Maryland in September of 1862. The bloodiest single day of the war took place at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on the 17th. There the Union Army rushed troops to block Lee’s advance into the North. In that single day of combat, more than 23,000 men from both armies, were killed and wounded.

The 49th Pennsylvania was held in a reserve position. Nevertheless, Confederate artillery hammered the regiment during the battle, wounding several of the soldiers. Charley was “shot through the body” by a piece of shrapnel falling into the arms of H.H. Bowles of the 6th Maine. Bowles carried the boy to the field hospital where every effort was made to save him. Charley died three days later. He was thirteen and a half years old, one of the youngest to die during the 4 years of the war.

Charley’s father was informed of his death and retrieved his body after the battle. He is buried at Old Cheney Cemetery near his home in West Chester.

Several boys from the war have become incorporated in the stories of 20th century authors. In most cases their stories have been fictionalized. Charley’s story is the basis of Broken Drum by Edith Morris Hemingway and Jacqueline Cosgrove Shields. Retitled Drums of War, it is available from Scholastic at book fairs and book clubs nationwide.

On Saturday, June 18, 2005, Brendan Lyons, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, completed his Eagle Scout project, culminating in a memorial service for Charley King and the dedication of a memorial stone in his memory at West Chester’s Greenmount Cemetery, where both of Charley’s parents are buried.
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Charley King’s story is gathered from information contributed by Andy Waskie, teacher and author of Civil War history; and
Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day, by William A. Frassanitoo, 1978 and
History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Robert S. Westbrook, 1898 and
articles from the Village Record at the Chester County Historical Society

next week: an 11-year-old drummer boy who received the Medal of Honor

2 Responses to “A Drummer Boy from West Chester, Pennsylvania”

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