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John Winton Clem ~ Drummer Boy of Shiloh
Posted by: Deborah Brownfield - Stanley (ID *****1616) Date: March 28, 2003 at 18:34:29
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The Drummer Boy of Shiloh. ----- Newark takes pride in her reputation of having supplied the youngest and smallest recruit to the Union army, and in the person of JOHNNIE CLEM, sometimes called the Drummer Boy of Shiloh, and sometimes of Chickamauga. Lossing says he was probably the youngest person who ever bore arms in battle. His full name is John Winton Clem, but the family spell the name Klem and not Clem. He was born in Newark, August 13, 1851, and ran away from home when less than ten years of age and enlisted as a drummer boy in the army; was in many battles and won singular distinction.
Johnnie Clem’s parents were French-Germans, his mother from Alsace. His father was a market-gardener and huckster, and used to send Johnnie, accompanied by his sister Lizzie (Now Mrs. Adams), two years younger, from house to house to sell vegetables. Johnnie was a universal favorite with the people, being a bright, sprightly boy, and very small of his age--- only thirty inches high.
The family are now living in garden-like surroundings on the outskirts, on the Granville road, where I went to have an interview to get the facts of his history. I knocked at the side-door of an humble home. A sturdy, erect, compact little woman answered my knock, and to my query replied, “I am his sister and can tell you everything. Please take a seat and I’ll be ready in a few moments.” She was the Lizzie spoken of above. It was the kitchen I was in: two young children were by her side, and some pies, with their jackets on, on the table about ready for the oven, and only requiring the trimmings off of the overhanging dough, which she did dexterously, twirling them on the tips of her uplifted fingers during the operation. Placing them in the oven and then “tidying up things a little” she took a seat and thus opened up her story for my benefit, while the children in silence looked at me with wondering eyes and listened also:


It being Sunday, May 24, 1861, and the great rebellion in progress Johnnie said at the 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!” replied father, “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. Our own mother had met with a shocking death the year before: had been run over by a yard engine as she was crossing the track to avoid another train. No own mother could be more kind to us than was our step-mother. 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.
It seems he went up on the train to Mount Vernon and appeared next day at the house of Mrs. Dennis Cochrane, an old neighbor of ours. He told her that his father had sent him there to peddle vegetables which were to come up from Newark. None arriving, Mrs. Cochrane surmised the truth, and at the end of the week, fearful he would escape, fastened to him a dog chain and put him in charge of a Newark railroad conductor to deliver to his home, which he could readily do as it was near the depot. On his arrival here he worked on the sympathies of the conductor to let him go free, saying his father would whip him dreadfully if he was delivered to him. This father wouldn’t have done—he would have been too glad to have got him.
The train carried him to Columbus, where he enlisted as a drummer boy in the 24th Ohio. Finding an uncle in that organization he left it and went as a drummer boy in the 22nd Michigan. He was an expert drummer, and being a bright, cheery child, soon made his way into the affections of officers and soldiers.
He was in many battles: At Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Nashville, Kenesaw, and others, in which the army of the Cumberland was engaged. He was at one time taken prisoner down in Georgia. The rebels stripped him of everything, his clothes, his shoes, his little gun—and ordinary musket. I suppose, cut short—and his little cap. He said he did not care about anything but his cap. He did want to save that, and it hurt him sorely to part with it, for it had three bullet holes through it.
When he was exchanged as a prisoner he came home for a week. He was wasted to a skelton. He had been starved almost to death. I was but a little thing then, but I never shall forget his dreadful corpse-like aspect when the carriage which brought him stopped at our door. He seemed like as if he was done up in a mass of rags. There were no soldier clothes small enough to fit him, and he was so small and wan and not much larger than a babe, about thirty inches high, and couldn’t have weighed over sixty pounds.
He returned to the army and served on the staff of General Thomas until the close of the war. After it, he studied at West Point, but could not regularly enter as a cadet on account of his diminutive size. General Grant, however, commissioned him as a Lieutenant. He is now (1886) Captain of the 24th U.S. Infantry, and is stationed at Fort McHenry, Md. He is still small: height, only five feet, and weight, 105 pounds. He married, May 24, 1875, Annita, daughter of the late General Wm. H. French, U.S.A. Like her husband, she is under size, short and delicate; can’t weigh over seventy pounds. They have had six children, only one of whom is living.
I have told you of the dreadful death of our mother, run over by a yard engine. My brother Louis, five years old on that noted Sunday, also came to a shocking end. I think father will never get over mourning for him. He grew to be very tall, full six feet, but of slender frame and feeble health. He was off West on a furlough for his health when he went with Custer, as a guest, on his last ill-fated expedition, and was with the others massacred by the Sioux, under Sitting Bull, in the battle of Little Big Horn, in Montana, June 25, 1876.
On closing her narrative Mrs. Adams showed me a portrait of her brother as a captain. He is a perfect blonde with large blue eyes, large straight nose, and a calm, amiable expression. Another as a child standing by the side of General McClennan, who looks pleased, the natural result of having such a sweet-looking little fellow by him. He was a great favorite with all the generals, as Grant, Rosecrans and Thomas, the latter keeping up with him a fatherly correspondence as long as he lived.
To the foregoing narrative from Mrs. Adams we have some items to add of his war experiences, from an equally authentic source.
When he joined the 22d Michigan, being too young to be mustered in, he went with the regiment as a volunteer, until at length he was beating the long roll in front of Shiloh. His drum was smashed by a piece of shell, which occurrence won for him the appellation of “Johnnie Shiloh,” as a title of distinction for his bravery. He was afterwards regularly mustered in and served also as a marker, and with his little musket so served on the battlefield of Chattanooga. At the close of that bloody day, the brigade in which he was partly surrounded by rebels and was retreating, when he, being unable to fall back as fast as the rest of the line, was singled out by a rebel colonel, who rode up to him with the summons, scoundrel, “Halt! surrender you---little Yankee!” By the way of order Johnnie halted, brought his piece to the position of charge bayonet, thus throwing the colonel off his guard. In another moment the piece was cocked, fired, and the colonel fell dead from his horse. Simultaneously with this the regiment was fired into, when Johnnie fell as though he had been shot, and laid there until darkness closed in, when he arose and made his way toward Chattanooga after the rest of the army. A few days later he was taken prisoner with others whilst detailed to bring up the supply train from Bridgeport.
When he returned to service, General Thomas was in command of the army of the Cumberland. He received him with the warmest enthusiasm, made him an orderly sergeant, and attached him to his staff. At Chickamauga he was struck with a fragment of a shell in the hip, and at Atlanta, while he was in the act of delivering a dispatch from General Thomas to General Logan, when a ball struck his pony obliquely near the top of his head, killing him and wounding his fearless little atom of a rider in the right ear.
For his heroic conduct he was made a sergeant by Rosecrans, who placed him upon the Roll of Honor, and attached him to the head-quarters of the army of the Cumberland, while a daughter of Chief-Justice Chase presented him with a silver medal inscribed, “Sergeant Johnnie Clem, Twenty-second Michigan Volunteer Infantry, 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.
Now (1890) Captain Clem is holding the important positions of Depot Quartermaster, Depot Commissary, ordnance office, Columbus, Ohio.

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