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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

John L. Clem, Drummer Boy to General

Clem as a drummer boy
     Back in May of 1861 President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to serve in the Union army for a three years and a nine year old kid from Ohio named John Clem tried to enlist in the 3rd Ohio, but was turned down. 
     Clem was born on August 13, 1851, in Newark, Ohio as John Joseph Klem. Some accounts claim he was first permitted to join the Twenty-Fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry while other sources claim that he joined the Twenty-Second Michigan Infantry Regiment when it marched through Newark when his persistence won over the unit’s officers and they agreed to let him follow the regiment as a mascot and unofficial drummer boy. The officers also chipped in to pay his monthly salary of $13 before he finally was allowed to officially enlist as a drummer boy in 1863. 
     Drummer boys weren't ornamental figures in military bands; they served a critical role both on and off the battlefield. In military bands the drummers kept time in order to regulate the marching of soldiers on parade. And back in those days, drums were used as communication devices in camps and on battlefields. The drummers in both the Union and Confederate armies were required to learn dozens of drum calls, and the playing of each call would tell the soldiers what task they were to perform. 
drummer boys

     In camp they were also assigned to other duties and during battle drummers were often expected to help the medical personnel, serving as assistants in makeshift field hospitals. There are accounts of drummers having to assistant surgeons during battlefield amputations and carry away the amputated limbs.

     As noncombatants drummers did not carry weapons, but at times buglers and drummers were involved in the action. When the bullets started flying drummers generally moved to the rear, but many buglers ans drummers were killed or wounded. A drummer for the 49th Pennsylvania Regiment, Charley King, died of wounds at Antietam when a stray Confederate shell exploded overhead and shrapnel struck him in the chest. The 13 year old died in a field hospital three days later. According to most sources, at the Battle of Shiloh, Clem demonstrated calmness under fire when a Confederate cannonball supposedly smashed his drum while he was playing it. His reputation grew at the Battle of Chickamauga. 
     During the Union retreat a Confederate colonel ordered Clem to surrender, but Clem was carrying a rifle and Clem killed the colonel. He was later captured, but managed to escape. Union journalists reported the adventures and Clem earned nicknames like "Johnny Shiloh" and the "Drummer Boy of Chickamauga". After Chickamauga, he was promoted to the rank of lance corporal, or was it sergeant? It depends on who is telling the story. It was then that he changed his name to John Lincoln Clem. 
     Those were all good stories and there is no doubt he was at Chickamauga, but historians aren't so sure about Shiloh, claiming that the Twenty-Second Michigan did not officially form until well after the Battle of Shiloh. Of course, he could have served there with another outfit. Who knows? Many think that some of the stories about the boy's exploits were embellished. 
     Clem went on to take part in battles at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw and Atlanta, where he was wounded twice. Clem remained in army until September 19, 1864, when he was discharged. 
     After the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Clem to become a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but because of his lack of education he repeatedly failed to pass the entrance exam. In 1871, Grant overlooked Clem's failure to pass the exams and appointed him a second lieutenant in the Army. 
     Clem remained in the army until 1915 when he retired at the mandatory retirement age of 64 on the eve of the US entry into World War I. He was the last Civil War veteran to leave the United States military. 
     Clem held the rank of colonel when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 64 on August 13, 1915 and upon retirement was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. On August 29, 1916, Clem was promoted on the retired list to the rank of major-general. 
Clem in 1922

     Clem married Anita Rosetta French in 1875. After her death in 1899, he married Bessie Sullivan of San Antonio in 1903. Sullivan was the daughter of a Confederate veteran. After retirement he lived in Washington, D.C. before returning to San Antonio, Texas. He died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia.

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