Welcome to My Blog

George Washington Timmons/Stone

May 11th, 2013




Morning Star, May 20, 2001, pg. 20

 This article is dedicated to the memory of our Civil War veterans buried in Riverside Cemetery as we approach Memorial Day. Albion’s participation in the Civil War was intense, as hundreds of area men went off to war to fight for the Union. There are numerous stories about Albion individuals who served in the War Between the States. These next two weeks I’d like to feature an incredible story about one of them, George Washington Stone, Albion’s “Little Drummer Boy.”

George’s original name was George W. Timmons. Born in New Berne (Craven Co.), North Carolina on August 27, 1849, his father, Captain William Timmons was involved in the West Indies trade. His mother was an Irish Catholic and the couple had serious religious differences, no doubt concerning the religious training of their two boys and one daughter. The couple separated and the mother took the kids to New York, attempting to find employment there. Unfortunately things did not work out and George was found homeless on the streets by the Children’s Aid Society.  Soon George, at age 8, and his brother Joe and 31 other waifs were loaded on an 1857 “Orphan Train” which went west through Michigan and stopped at Albion.

George and his brother Joe were chosen and adopted by Simeon A. (1795-1865) and Martha (1794-1860) Stone, and their surname Timmons was changed to Stone. The Stones (who are buried in East Eckford Cemetery) were elderly farmers who owned 120 acres of land on the southwest corner of B Drive South and 24 Mile Road, near the Warner School. In those days, there were no child labor laws, and adopted “Orphan Train” children often worked long hours on the farm for their adoptive parents. George should not be confused with the 19th century Albion dentist of the same name, Dr. George W. Stone, who was a totally different person and unrelated.

George was befriended by Albion dry goods merchant George N. Davis (1834-1916) who became a lifelong friend. The Civil War began. Davis served as Captain of Company D of the First Michigan Sharpshooters regiment, and recruited George as musician/drummer on March 6, 1863. Stone was only 13 years old at the time! This was allowed under special rules that permitted persons under 18 to join as musicians/drummers if they had their parents permission. George actually ran away from home however, in order to join. Thus he was Albion’s “Little Drummer Boy” in the Civil War!

The Michigan Sharpshooters served gallantly throughout the War, much of it in Virginia. This was the same outfit that General William Henry Harrison Beadle (buried in Albion’s Riverside Cemetery) was a part of. The 1998 book by Raymond J. Herek (Wayne State University Press) “These Men Have Seen Hard Service” gives a detailed account of the Sharpshooters, and makes mention of Stone and Davis.

Stone was well liked by his fellow comrades, and they helped him to learn to read and write by bringing him books. George served throughout the war until his muster out in July, 1865. Despite several illnesses, he missed only one engagement (that due to furlough) and was recognized for meritorious conduct. Although assigned the duty as a drummer, Stone “was the bravest child that man ever saw. Whenever a fight began, Stone always shucked his drum and under some pretense or other shouldered his way into the front rank where he could pick up a Springfield [rifle].” (Herek pg. 138) In one battle he fought on the front line and helped assist Colonel Charles DeLand of Jackson. Stone was also involved in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia through the last week of the war. Years later, Stone and two other comrades went back in 1899 to return the “Petersburg Grays” unit flag that the Sharpshooters had captured in 1865 as a war trophy.

In a twist of fate, one time during the War George received a needle case as part of a “care package” sent by Union women supporters in Pennsylvania. In it was a generic handwritten note by a girl to the Union soldier who would receive the case. After corresponding, this girl turned out to be George’s long lost sister!

From our Historical Notebook this week we present an 1865 photograph of 15 year-old George W. Stone in uniform in the Civil War, alongside of his drum. Photograph courtesy State Archives in Lansing.

Next:  Casualties of War


Charlie Coulson A Drummer Boy: A True Story in the American Civil War by Max Louis Rossvally

May 2nd, 2013

TWO or three times in my life God in His mercy touched my heart, and twice before my conversion I was under deep conviction.

During the American war, I was a surgeon in the United States army; and after the battle of Gettysburg, there were many hundred wounded soldiers in my hospital, amongst whom were twenty-eight who had been wounded so severely that they required my services at once, –some whose legs had to be amputated; some, their arms; and others, both their arm and leg. One of the latter was a boy who had been but three months in the service; and being too young for a soldier, had enlisted as a drummer. When my assistant surgeon and one of my stewards wished to administer chloroform previous to the amputation, he turned his head aside and positively refused to receive it. When the steward told him that it was the doctor’s orders, he said, “Send the doctor to me.” When I came to his bedside, I said, “Young man, why do you refuse chloroform? When I found you on the battle-field, you were so far gone that I thought it hardly worth while to pick you up; but when you opened those large blue eye! s, I thought you had a mother somewhere who might at that moment be thinking of her boy. I did not want you to die on the field, so ordered you to be brought here; but you have now lost so much blood that you are too weak to endure an operation without chloroform, therefore you had better let me give you some.” He laid his hand on mine, and looking me in the face, said,–

“Doctor, one Sunday afternoon, in the Sabbath-school, when I was nine and a half years old, I gave my heart to Christ. I learned to trust Him then; I have been trusting Him ever since, and I can trust Him now; He is my strength and my stimulant; He will support me while you amputate my arm and leg.”

“Won’t you at least take some brandy?” I begged.

Again, he looked at me and said, “Doctor, when I was about five years old, my mother knelt by my side with her arms around my neck and said: ‘Charlie, I am now praying to the Lord Jesus that you will never know the taste of strong drink. Your father died a drunkard, and I’ve asked God to use you to warn young people against the dangers of drinking.’ I am now seventeen years old and I have never had anything stronger than tea or coffee. I am in all probability going to die and go into the presence of my God. Would you send me there, smelling of brandy?”

I will never forget the look he gave me. At that time I hated Jesus, but I respected that boy’s loyalty to his Saviour. When I saw how he loved and trusted Him to the very end, something deeply touched my heart. Despite the urgency of the moment and all the misery around, I did for that boy what I had never done for any other soldier. I asked him if he wanted to see a chaplain.

“Oh, yes, sir!” was his answer.

When the chaplain came, he recognized the young drummer from his tent prayer meetings. Taking his hand, he said, “Charlie, I’m so sorry to see you in this sad condition.”

“Oh, I’m all right, sir,” he answered. “The doctor offered me chloroform, but I declined it. Then he wanted to give me brandy, which I didn’t want either. So now, when my Saviour calls me, I can go to Him in my right mind.”

“You might not die, Charlie,” said the chaplain, “but if the Lord should call you home, is there anything I can do for you after you’re gone?”

“Chaplain, please put your hand under my pillow and take my little Bible. In it you will find my mother’s address; please send it to her, and write a letter, and tell her that since the day I left home I have never let a day pass without reading a portion of God’s Word, and daily praying that God would bless my dear mother,– no matter whether on the march, on the battle-field or in the hospital.”

“Is there any thing else that I can do for you, my lad?” asked the chaplain.

“Yes; please write a letter to the superintendent of the Sands Street Sunday School, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and tell him that the kind words, many prayers, and good advice he gave me I have never forgotten; they have followed me through all the dangers of battle, and now, in my dying hour, I ask my Saviour to bless and strengthen my dear old teacher: that is all.”

Turning toward me, he said, “Now doctor, I am ready; and I promise you that I will not even groan while you take off my arm and leg, if you will not offer me chloroform.”

I promised, but I had not the courage to take the knife in my hand to perform the operation without first going into the next room and taking a little stimulant to nerve myself to perform my duty.

While cutting through the flesh, Charlie Coulson never groaned, but when I took the saw to separate the bone, the lad took the corner of his pillow in his mouth, and all that I could hear him utter was, “Oh, Jesus, blessed Jesus, stand by me now.” He kept his promise, and never groaned.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Despite the constant moans and weeping of the wounded, all I could see was Charlie’s soft blue eyes. Even his words, “Blessed Jesus, stand by me now,” kept ringing in my ears. Between twelve and one o’clock, a strong urge came over me to see that boy again. When I got there, I was told that sixteen of the badly wounded had died. “Was Charlie Colson one of them?” I asked. “No, sir,” answered the steward, “he’s sleeping as sweetly as a babe.”

When I came to his side, one of the civilian nurses informed me that at about nine o’clock, two members of the U.S. Christian Commission, accompanied by the chaplain, came to read Scripture and sing hymns. She said that the chaplain knelt by Charlie and offered up a passionate prayer. Then they and Charlie sang the sweetest of all hymns, “Jesus, Lover Of My Soul.” I couldn’t understand how this young lad, who suffered such horrible pain, could sing.

Five days after his amputation, Charlie sent for me. “Doctor,” he said, “my time has come. I don’t expect to see another sunrise. But thank God, I have no fear and I’m ready to go. I want to thank you with all my heart for your kindness to me. I know you are Jewish, and that you don’t believe in Jesus, but I want you to stay with me, and see me die trusting my Saviour to the last moment of my life.”

I tried to stay, but I could not. I didn’t have the courage to stand by and watch a true Christian die, rejoicing in the love of Jesus whom I had been taught to deny. So, I hurriedly left.

About twenty minutes later an anxious steward found me and said, “Doctor, Drummer Colson wants to see you again.” “I’ve just seen him,” I answered, “I can’t see him again.” “But, Doctor, he says he must see you before he dies.”

So, I made up my mind to see him, say a few kind words, and let him die. However, I was determined that no talk about his Jesus was going to influence me.

His condition had worsened. Asking me to take his hand, he said, “Doctor, I love you because you are Jewish; the best friend I have found in this world was also Jewish.”

I asked him who that was, and he answered, “Jesus the Christ, and I want to introduce you to Him before I die. Will you promise me, Doctor, that what I am about to say to you, you will never forget?”

I promised, and he said, “Five days ago, while you operated on me, I prayed to the Lord to save you.”

His words pierced deep into my heart. I couldn’t understand how, when I was causing him the most intense pain, he could forget all about himself and think only of his Saviour and my spiritual need. All I could say at the moment was, “Well, my dear boy, you will soon be all right.”

I started to leave, hearing him sing softly, “I’m going home to die no more.”

Twelve minutes later he fell asleep, “safe in the arms of Jesus.”

Hundreds of soldiers died in my hospital during the war, but I only followed one to the grave, and that one was Charlie Coulson, the drummer-boy, and I rode three miles to see him buried. I ordered that he’d be dressed in a new uniform and like the burial for an officer, placed in an officer’s coffin, and arranged that his coffin be covered with the flag he nobly served.

His dying words made a deep impression upon me. I remembered thinking how gladly I would have given all I possessed, if I could have felt towards Jesus as he did. But with the continuation of the cruel war and my company with worldly officers, I gradually forgot his prayer and my promise.

After the war and for nearly ten years, I fought against believing in Christ. But God continued to bring faithful and godly people into my life that spoke of Jesus’ love. Finally, the drummer boy’s prayer was answered and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour and Messiah. It did come at a high cost. My family, in-laws and dear mother rejected me. Psalm 27:10, was a great comfort, “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

It was eighteen months after my salvation that the Lord had a special blessing for me. One evening while traveling through Brooklyn, I felt led to attend a prayer meeting in a small local church. It was a meeting when believers testify to the loving-kindness of the Lord. After several had spoken, an elderly lady stood up and said,

“Dear friends, this may be the last time I have a chance to publicly share how good the Lord has been to me. My doctor told me yesterday that my right lung is nearly gone, and my left lung is failing fast, so at best, I only have a short time to be with you. But what is left of me belongs to Jesus. It’s a great joy to know that I shall soon meet my boy with Jesus in heaven. My son was not only a soldier for his country, but also a soldier for Christ. He was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg, and was cared for by a Jewish doctor, who amputated his arm and leg. He died five days after the operation. The chaplain of the regiment wrote me a letter, and sent me my boy’s Bible. I was told that in his dying hour, my Charlie sent for that Jewish doctor, and said to him, `Doctor, before I die I wish to tell you that five days ago, while you operated on me, I prayed to the Lord to save you.”

As I heard this lady speak, I just couldn’t sit still! I left my seat, ran across the room, took her hand and said, “God bless you, my dear sister. Your son’s prayer has been heard and answered! I am the Jewish doctor that your Charlie prayed for, and his Saviour is now my Saviour!

“Having been frequently asked whether all the details of this story are strictly true, I take this opportunity of stating that every incident occurred exactly as related.” Max L. Rossvally

next: George Washington Timmons/Stone

David Wood, U.S. Cavalry

April 16th, 2013

David Wood was 10 years old when the war broke out. His father, Samuel, had moved the family from Ohio to Kansas in 1854 to help “Free Staters” keep slavery out of the territory. The elder Wood forged a reputation as the “Fighting Quaker.” Growing up surrounded by hostility, it was natural for David to feel ready to march off with the troops when his father became lieutenant colonel of the 6th Missouri Cavalry in 1861. Wood’s battalion was stationed at Rolla, from where it operated against Confederates in southern Missouri and Arkansas. At Rolla, David repeatedly begged his father to let him go along, but always was denied permission. One day while Colonel Wood was leading his men on a long march, miles from headquarters, he noticed a commotion at the column’s rear. Turning his white stallion, he road through the ranks, all the while ignoring distractions his men contrived to divert his attention elsewhere. At last he made his way to the rear where David was found riding on a pony, surrounded by a group of admiring soldiers who were using their mounts to conceal the lad. David continued the story:

“He didn’t say much to me. I guess he realized he might as well yield to the inevitable. From then on he kept me with him, and on January 1, 1862, at Rolla, I was regularly enlisted. My duties were principally that of an orderly, carrying dispatches here and there and sometimes going where grown men could not go.”

In June 1862, he displayed budding business acumen: “I secured a cask of fresh water and some lemon extract and started making lemonade and selling it to the soldiers. The venture was so profitable that I made enough to buy some real lemons for a second batch. From this beginning I developed a sutler’s outfit that made me in the neighborhood of $2,000 while I was in the army. Finding there was a great demand for small delicacies, I loaded up with everything I could think of that the men would buy. One of the generals from the main army loaned me an ambulance for the outfit, and soon I was handling quite a business. Among other things, I changed bills for the men, who allowed me 25 cents for changing a 5- or 10-dollar bill. This was robbery, of course, but was allowed throughout the army until Lincoln printed small bills called ‘shin plasters’ for change.”

Too Young to Die by Dennis M. Keesee, pp. 33-34

next week: Charlie Coulson’s story in the words of Max Louis Rossvally

Retired Philadelphia Teacher and Lancaster County resident’s 4-Book Novel to be Published in its Entirety

April 10th, 2013

After 42 years of teaching, the last 17 at Penn Treaty Middle School, Joel Moore retired recently to focus on his efforts as an author. Having written a four-part novel about a young boy’s experience in the Civil War, Journey Into Darkness, as well as two other novels and some short stories, he became published when Up From Corinth, book two of Journey Into Darkness, was released in July of 2011. A copy of that book and of the entire set of four manuscripts were donated to the library in Fox Chase, where Moore lived during his teaching career in Philadelphia. He has now moved to the farmlands of Lancaster County where he works to help market the book and pursue publication of the entire series. The final three books are now published and can be ordered through Xlibris, Amazon, the books’ website – upfromcorinth.com, and Ingram Distribution. Meanwhile, Up From Corinth has been accepted in Civil War battlefield parks and is available through several libraries and book sales outlets. All will be in local libraries and bookstores by the end of April.

Lisa Barnett, Eastern National bookstore manager at Stones River National Military Battlefield, recently notified J. Arthur Moore, author of Up From Corinth, that his book has been approved for sale at the battlefield. It becomes available this spring. The battle at Stones River is the closing event in the story about Duane Kinkade’s experiences in the Civil War. It took place on New Years Eve of 1862-1863 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in freezing weather conditions. This year was the 150th anniversary of the battle, and likewise experienced freezing conditions as reenactors gathered to commemorate and honor those who fought there during the Civil War.

Moore was also informed by Joni House, bookstore manager at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Park, that Up From Corinth has been approved there as well. The battle at Perryville is also part of young Kinkade’s experiences as he journeys with friends in Sheridan’s Division of the Army of the Ohio. This battlefield likewise celebrated its 150th anniversary the first weekend of this past October. The website, www.upfromcorinth.com, carries two excerpts from the book featuring Perryville. The first is found on the excerpt page and tells of Duane’s experience as the battle opens along a creek crossing the Springfield Pike. The second is on the book trailer page and is an MP3 file reading from the fighting and the hospital barn after the fighting, and includes the voices of former students from Penn Treaty Middle School assisting with the reading. . [These students are also featured in a 45-second book trailer found on the book trailer page of the website and are frequent visitors to Lancaster County.] The author attended this event and has posted pictures and video links on the website’s Facebook link.

Up From Corinth begins at the Battle of Shiloh, where Duane falls wounded and is taken from the battlefield by a Union doctor and his teenage ward who tend his wounds and conceal his identity. The bookstore at Shiloh does not carry fiction unless it is a classic. However, the manager there has agreed to take a second look at Up From Corinth, considering its historic connection. The book is also in review at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The book’s website, www.upfromcorinth.com, carries articles and reviews of the book, but also has a blog page that posts the stories of many of the boys who participated in the war. A new story is added each week. The Facebook link from the home page carries photo/art albums identifying two dozen boys with more added each month. It also carries photo albums of places and events related to the war, where the author has visited; as well as information about the 4-part novel, Journey Into Darkness, of which Up From Corinth is book 2.

The final three books in the series are now in production. On the Eve of Conflict: the beginning of the story, book 1 of Journey Into Darkness, tells of life on the farm before the war, Duane’s pa’s departure to the war, and the boy’s eventual decision to leave in search of him. Across the Valley to Darkness: book 3 of Journey Into Darkness, begins with Duane’s return to the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee, follows events through Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and Duane’s reunion with his friends in the Union Army following the battle at Gettysburg. Toward the End of the Search: the conclusion of the story, book 4 of Journey Into Darkness, follows Duane’s experience through the horrible slaughter from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House to Cold Harbor, where events and a letter about his pa send him from the war to return homeward.

The manuscripts for Journey Into Darkness have been read and reviewed by several people. Paul Sanborn, historian, Freedoms Foundation, wrote, “I highly recommend this series of four historical novels…these are an important way of preserving our national heritage and bringing it to life…researched so that they reflect accurately on the historic period they represent.”

Author Lloyd Alexander wrote, “I think you’ve done a magnificent work. Now that I see the books all together, I appreciate it even more. I’m enormously impressed. It’s a moving, large scale and splendid story, and those remarkable photos really add a special dimension.”

One reader, Katherine Lewis, wrote, “Dear Mr. Moore, Journey Into Darkness is beautifully written and extremely moving. I rate this alongside Trinity and A Tale of Two Cities. Thank you for the sheer enjoyment of your story.”

Finally, Charmaine Ball, Reading Specialist, retired, wrote, “How you managed to intermingle the horrors of the Civil War with such touching and often lovely descriptions of nature, I’ll never know. … Journey Into Darkness could become a fascinating movie if put into the right hands.”

Moore has attended several events this past year including anniversaries at New Market, Virginia, Antietam, Maryland, and Perryville, Kentucky. He has also presented the stories of Boys of the Civil War at Pequea Valley Intermediate School, Aston Historic Society, West Chester University’s 150th event, and Kennett Square Civil War Club. He is currently setting up his calendar for 2013 which already includes the 50th anniversary of the Honey Brook Public Library, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site Civil War on the home front event weekend, and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum Civil War Living History event weekend, with more in the planning stages.

Up From Corinth can be found in local libraries in Lancaster, Chester, Berks, and Philadelphia Counties. It is also available in book stores at Aaron’s in Lititz, Legacy in New Holland, Chester County Historical Society and West Chester University in West Chester, as well as Treasure Hill Antiques in Morgantown, and Civil War Sutler Heirloom Emporium — www.heirloomemporium.com; and online at www.upfromcorinth.com and www.amazon.com.

Much more can be learned about the book on www.upfromcorinth.com, including a preservation announcement on the blog page. J. Arthur Moore can be reached through the contact page.

It is hoped, as one reviewer writes, that it will also find its way into schools. “…excellent resource for middle-school American history classes, giving a boy’s-eye view of the Civil War and reminding students that kids their own age were caught up in active duty during the war.” -Blue Ink review

Up From Corinth received the Mom’s Choice Award for excellence in young adult historic fiction

musicians at the 150th anniversary of the battle at Antietam

The Howe Brothers and a Medal of Honor

March 6th, 2013

10-year-old Lyston Howe and his 13-year-old brother, Orion Howe

Among many places, the stories of Lyston and Orion Howe can be found in G. Clifton Wisler’s book, When Johnny Went Marching. Their father, William Howe, was a veteran musician from the Mexican War. He had taught both boys to play the drum, and they were good. Lyston was still 10 years old when he followed his father into the 15th Illinois Infantry. Orion was made to stay in Chicago attending school. The father and son served in Missouri, until weather conditions caused Lyston to run a dangerously high fever. Believing him near death, he was discharged in October 1861 and sent to his grandmother in Chicago. But he surprised all and recovered. William became fife major for the newly formed 55th Illinois Infantry and once again, Lyston got to go and Orion was left behind. This time, Orion was determined to go, sneaked aboard a train, then a supply boat. Arriving in Memphis, Tennessee, Orion persuaded Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Malborg to accept him as drummer for Company C.

Orion soon became the pet of the whole outfit. From September 1862 when he enlisted at age 13, he continually amused his companions, outwitted officers, and dreamed up mischievous schemes for his brother and the other drummers. The two brothers found themselves on their own when their father left the army in February 1863. In May, the 55th became part of the Vicksburg Campaign. On the 19th, the 55th was ordered into action against fortified Confederate positions. Advancing along Graveyard Road, the regiment became trapped in a narrow ravine. As men fell all around, Orion rushed out among the fallen to retrieve their cartridge boxes. Ammunition was running low. The colonel, fearing for Orion’s safety, sent him and at least two others, back to the main army with a request for more ammunition.

They took off across the battlefield dodging bullets along the way. His companions were killed. Halfway to safety, Orion went down with a musket ball through his right leg. But he got up again and continued on to report to General Sherman, in spite of pain and loss of blood, the terrible situation of his unit. Sherman sent relief and ordered Orion to the hospital.

Impressed with the boy’s bravery and determination, the general arranged for his admission to the U.S. Naval Academy. Before this could happen, Orion was involved in an incident near Dallas, Georgia. There, while running dispatches, he picked up a discarded rifle and fired toward a group of resting Confederates. He missed. Angered, they fired back hitting him twice in the arm and once in the chest. Finally in 1865, after months of recovery, Orion became a Midshipman. But it didn’t last. He did not do well with the discipline and was dismissed after two years.

Orion’s military adventures continued after the war. He was shipwrecked in the Merchant Marine, and wounded and left for dead in the Indian campaigns in northern California. Decades after the war, units were given the opportunity to name one of their own for the Medal of Honor. The 55th named Orion. He received his Medal of Honor on April 23, 1896.

Primary source: G. Clifton Wisler, When Johnny Went Marching, 2001, pp. 31-34

Next week: David Wood, U.S. Cavalry

The youngest boy to ever enlist in the history of the military and one of the war’s most famous drummer boys

February 27th, 2013

Born in 1853, Edward Black signed up with the 21st Indiana Volunteers’ 1st Regiment on July 24, 1861. He was 8 years old, believed to be the youngest ever to serve in the military. In 1862 he was sent home for being too young. Later that year he reenlisted with his father and served the remainder of the war. In the Battle of Baton Rouge he was taken prisoner. He survived to be a Civil War veteran at the age of 11. Having never fully recovered from the traumatic experience of the war, Edward died in 1872 an the age of 19. His Civil War drum is in the collection of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Source: “Lost Indiana”

John Joseph Klem

Johnny Clem’s story appears in many collections including When Johnny Went Marching by G. Clifton Wisler, and in Too Young to Die by Dennis M. Keesee; as well as a number of on line locations searching “Civil War drummer boys” images and other key words. His is probably one of the most written about biographies of young boys from the Civil War.

John Joseph Klem was born August 13, 1851. He and his younger siblings sold produce from their parents’ small farm, carrying it in a wagon. His mother was killed crossing the railroad tracks, and when John’s father remarried, John did not get along with his stepmother. Problems with his stepmother made life at home unpleasant.

Johnny began cutting classes so he could drill as a drummer boy with a local unit, Company H, 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Many of John’s relatives had enlisted in the army, and he felt such admiration for the president that he changed his middle name to Lincoln and the spelling of his last name to Clem. Recruiters turned him down because of his age.

Eventually Johnny ran away from home to join the army in May 1861, though he was only 9-years old. He finally got far enough away from home that they let him stay. When he offered his services as drummer to a company commander of the Third Ohio Volunteer Regiment, the captain looked him over, laughed and, according to Clem, ‘said he wasn’t enlisting infants.’ Johnny then tried to join the Twenty-second Michigan Regiment and was refused. But he ‘went along with the regiment just the same as a drummer boy, and though not on the muster roll, drew a soldier’s pay of thirteen dollars a month,’ which was contributed by officers of the regiment.

* * *

In his Historical Collections of Ohio, Henry Howe tells us the story of when young Johnnie Clem ran away. As part of his research, Howe was able to interview Clem’s family in Newark, Ohio. Lizzie Clem, who was 7 years old when her older brother left home for the Army recalls the following events from the day prior to Johnny’s departure:

It being Sunday, May 24, 1961, and the great rebellion in progress. Johnnie said at dinner table: “Father, I’d like mighty well to be a drummer boy. Can’t I go into the Union Army?” “Tut, what nonsense, boy!” “you are not ten years old.” Yet when he had disappeared it is strange we had no thoughts that he had gone into the service.

When dinner was over Johnnie took charge of us, I being seven years old and our brother, Lewis, five years, and we started for the Francis de Sales Sunday-school. As it was early, he left us at the church door, saying, “I will go and take a swim and be back in time.” He was a fine swimmer. That was the last we saw of him for two years.

The distress of our father and step-mother at Johnnie’s disappearance was beyond measure. Father, thinking Johnnie must have been drowned, had the water drawn from the head of the canal. Mother traveled hither and yon to find him. It was all in vain. Several weeks elapsed when we heard of him as having been in Mount Vernon; and then for two years nothing more was heard and we mourned him as dead, not even dreaming that he could be in the army, he was so very small, nothing but a child.

* * *

The 4-foot-tall youngster made himself indispensable around camp and the following spring was officially mustered into the regiment as a musician. Intelligent despite his limited education, Clem was given the important duty of regimental marker, carrying the guidon that a unit formed its line on.

A few months later, the 22nd Michigan was heavily engaged at the Battle of Chickamauga. On Sept. 20, 1863, in the midst of a retreat, Clem found himself face to face with a Rebel colonel on horseback. As the story goes, the officer yelled, “Stop, you little Yankee devil!” Clem refused to surrender. As he later described it, he picked up a discarded rifle, pointed it at the officer — and to both combatants’ great surprise, shot him out of the saddle.

It evolved that the colonel wasn’t killed. But the boy did evade capture by rolling himself in a blanket before finally making it back to his decimated regiment. Word of the exploits of 12-year-old Clem spread quickly among the demoralized troops.

The youngster’s admirers in the press and the army didn’t quibble over all the details of his heroism. Before he knew it, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga” was a celebrity, written up in national publications, posing for photographs, and accepting the gift of a pony. According to some sources, the song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” was based on Clem, who was promoted to sergeant. Countless youths were motivated by his example.

In October 1863, Johnny was captured in Georgia by Confederate cavalry while detailed as a train guard. The Confederate soldiers took his uniform away from him which reportedly upset him terribly–especially his cap which he said had three bullet holes in it. He was exchanged a short time later, but the Confederate newspapers used his age and celebrity status to show “what sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies out to fight us.”

Clem didn’t quite approach “great man” status as he grew older, but he was able to seize advantage of the connections fame had brought him. After his skimpy education torpedoed his attempt to enter West Point, he prevailed upon President Ulysses S. Grant to appoint him a second lieutenant in the Regular army. Clem served from 1871 to 1916, when he retired as a mildly competent but beloved major general. He was the last Civil War veteran to leave active duty. He died at his Texas home on May 13, 1937, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His gravestone at Arlington reads, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”


Bennett, Kevin. “Clem: Newark’s most famous veteran,” The Advocate (Newark), June 17, 2002.

Casamer, Douglas M. The Michigan 22nd Infantry and the Men Who Served.

Casamer, Douglas M. E-mail message, March 9, 2004.

Clem, John L. “From Nursery to Battlefield,” Outlook” magazine CVII (1914), 546-547.

Schmidt, Barb. E-mail message, February 11, 2011. Schmidt is a distant relative and her family has been collecting information on Johnny.

Taylor, Nicholas J. E-mail message.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (Louisiana State University Press, 1952. (The edition quoted here is the 1978 reissue.)

next week: The Howe brothers and a Medal of Honor

An 11-year-old Drummer Who Received the Medal of Honor

February 20th, 2013

Believed to have been born sometime in July 1850, William E. “Willie” Johnston, serving as volunteer drummer for regimental recruiters, joined Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry when his father enlisted. Due to his age, he could not formally muster in for pay, but in December of 1861 he enlisted and went along anyway serving in all the camp duties of a regular musician. As the summer campaign got underway, he was mustered in and immediately saw action in the Peninsula Campaign. The Federal Army had advanced to the outskirts of Richmond when the Confederate General, Joseph E. Johnston was wounded and replaced by Robert E. Lee. The tide was turned and the Union soldiers found themselves driven back toward the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, at a place called Malvern Hill, they regrouped and held their ground.

Willie, like many others, had lost most of his gear through it all, but he hadn’t lost his drum, for he knew he was useless to his comrades without it. When the regiment assembled the following week for a grand review, President Lincoln was there. He noticed that the makeshift band had but a few fifers and only one drum. It was Willie. The president paused to speak to the boy. He was visibly shaken to learn the boy’s name was Willie. His own son, Willie, had recently died of a fever. They would meet again.

Willie became sick that summer and ended up in a hospital in Baltimore. After he recovered, he was assigned there as a nurse and orderly. In September of 1863 he was taken to Washington, DC, bathed, clipped, and fitted out with a new silk uniform. Afterwards, Willie found himself in the reception hall of the War Department facing Colonel E. D. Townsend, assistant adjutant general of the entire United States Army. The colonel spoke a few words to the crowd of dignitaries gathered there, then presented Drummer Willie Johnston, just 13 years old at the time, with the Medal of Honor. The medal had been authorized July 12, 1862, to be presented to non-commissioned officers and privates for gallantry in action. General Smith had noticed Willie’s actions that summer and had submitted his name in recommendation for the medal. The picture above was taken the day of the ceremony.

President Lincoln had not forgotten the single drummer from the previous summer. Following the presentation he visited privately with Willie before the boy left to return to his duties.


Willie Johnston’s story can be found in When Johnny Went Marching by G. Clifton Wisler, and in Too Young to Die by Dennis M. Keesee, along with the stories of dozens of other young boys who fought in the Civil War.

Next week: one of the war’s most famous drummer boys and the brief story of the youngest boy to ever enlist in the history of the military

A Drummer Boy from West Chester, Pennsylvania

February 13th, 2013

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.
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

Gustav Schurmann’s Story

February 6th, 2013

Gustav’s story also appears in Too Young to Die, by Dennis Keesee. There is also a biography written by William Styple, The Little Bugler. Born in Westphalia, Prussia, in 1849, Gus was 11 years old when he first enlisted in the 40th New York Volunteers. Rejected at first because he was too small, his father spoke to the commanding officer, and Gustav was given a drum and told to play. The colonel said he would do. He was with the regiment from their first engagement at the Battle of Williamsburg, until they went to Harrison’s Landing. There he was asked to serve General Kearny as an orderly for a day since General McClellan was to review the army.

Reporting the next day, Gus received a horse provided by General Kearny. During the course of the review, the general had occasion to jump a large ditch. Gustav followed along, but most of the staff did not. That evening, after the review, when he reported to take his leave and return to his regiment, Gustav was told to go get his gear and bring it to headquarters and consider himself the general’s orderly in the future. He also became the general’s principal bugler. Kearny was killed August 31, 1862 at the Battle of Ox Hill. General David Birney replaced Kearny and kept Gustav as his bugler and orderly. Following Antietam, he was appointed to General George Stoneman’s Third Corps staff and promoted to Corps bugler.

Following the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, Birney was replaced by General Daniel Sickles, who in turn promoted Gustav to sergeant, owing to his gallant service. During the grand review of the Army of the Potomac, April 9, 1863, President Lincoln noticed Gustav riding beside the general. The president’s son, Tad, also noticed Gustav. The two met and an invitation to the White House followed. Gustav received an extended furlough and spent many happy days with Tad. The two became good friends, and Gus visited whenever he was in Washington.

The Battle of Chancellorsville followed in which General Sickles was nearly cut off and captured. A daring plan which commenced at the sound of Gustav’s bugle resulted in a successful fight to return to the main army. Following the Federal defeat and in order to rebuild spirit, a medal was created in honor of Kearny, the “Kearny Cross of Honor,” and presented to five hundred select men for bravery and good conduct. Gustav was a recipient; it was a proud moment.

Nearly two months later, the army was headed to Gettysburg where General Lee’s army was engaged in battle. General Sickle’s corps advanced to a place in front of the Union line on the afternoon of July 2nd and came under a fierce attack near a farmhouse. The general was struck below the knee by a cannon ball and Gus placed a tourniquet on the leg. He went with the general to the hospital and then back to Washington. President Lincoln visited them, telling of the victory at Gettysburg. The president ended Gus’s military career and sent him home to his family to attend school and prepare to enter West Point. Thus, at age 15, Gustav Schurmann was a sergeant and veteran of ten major battles, having served on the staff of four generals. But all prospects of West Point ended with Lincoln’s death. Gustav attended the funeral when the train passed through New York City, then went on with life after the war. He never saw Tad again.

next week: the drummer boy from West Chester, Pennsylvania

The Boy From Last Week Identified

January 30th, 2013

This photographic image from which the previous image was taken, appears in Too Young To Die, Boy Soldiers of the Union Army, by Dennis M. Keesee. Mr. Keesee relates how the Secretary of War, for the fun or it, commissioned him a lieutenant. This twelve-year-old then went back to his house, dismissed the military guards, then mustered the household staff, issue them weapons, drilled them, and put them on duty. His older brother, Robert, was upset by this and went to their father. Father found it amusing and did nothing about it. The boy? Tad Lincoln; his father? the President. The author goes on to share several events. President Lincoln, his son Tad, General Grant, and his son Jesse rode out to the fort at City Point, outside Washington. Jesse’s horse took off and was chased down by Lincoln, Grant, and an orderly. After arriving, the party came under Confederate artillery fire and had to wait it out in a bombproof shelter. On another occasion, riding his pony with a cavalry boy escort, William W. Sweisfort, Tad accompanied his parents to a troop review of the 150th Pennsylvania. Sweisfort tells of his experience describing “a lively boy” who “kept me moving.” On a presidential visit at Belle Plain, Tad spied General Sickles’ orderly and bugler, 12-year-old Gustav Schurmann, and begged that he go home with them to the White House. The president explained that he was a soldier and could not leave his command. The general stepped in and granted a furlough, releasing Gus to accompany the presidential party.
Read more about these events and others and about other boy soldiers in Too Young To Die, Boy Soldiers of the Union Army.
Next week – Gustav Schurmann’s story