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Johnny Shiloh

What an amazing story.

In May of 1861, 9 year old John Lincoln “Johnny” Clem ran away from his home in Newark, Ohio, to join the Union Army, but found the Army was not interested in signing on a 9 year old boy when the commander of the 3rd Ohio Regiment told him he “wasn’t enlisting infants,” and turned him down.

Clem tried the 22nd Michigan Regiment next, and its commander told him the same. Determined, Clem tagged after the regiment, acted out the role of a drummer boy, and was allowed to remain. Though still not regularly enrolled, he performed camp duties and received a soldier’s pay of $13 a month, a sum collected and donated by the regiment’s officers.

The next April, at Shiloh, Clem’s drum was smashed by an artillery round and he became a minor news item as “Johnny Shiloh, The Smallest Drummer”.

A year later, at the Battle Of Chickamauga, he rode an artillery caisson to the front and wielded a musket trimmed to his size. In one of the Union retreats a Confederate officer ran after the cannon Clem rode with, and yelled, “Surrender you damned little Yankee!” Johnny shot him dead. This pluck won for Clem national attention and the name “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

Clem stayed with the Army through the war, served as a courier, and was wounded twice. Between Shiloh and Chickamauga he was regularly enrolled in the service, began receiving his own pay, and was soon-after promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

He was only 12 years old. After the Civil War he tried to enter West Point but was turned down because of his slim education.

A personal appeal to President Ulysses S. Grant, his commanding general at Shiloh, won him a 2nd Lieutenant’s appointment in the Regular Army on 18 December 1871, and in 1903 he attained the rank of Colonel and served as Assistant Quartermaster General.

He retired from the Army as a Major General in 1916, having served an astounding 55 years. General Clem died in San Antonio, Texas on 13 May 1937, exactly 3 months shy of his 86th birthday, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Back in the long-ago days when Disney was still in the family-entertainment business—well before they’d lost their way and veered wildly off into Blasting The Squares with child-grooming and the lionization of mentally-disturbed freaks—they did a made-for-TV movie about John Clem. I believe there’s a DVD available out there, don’t know whether Amazon has it it not. The bare biographical facts:

John Lincoln Clem (nicknamed Johnny Shiloh; August 13, 1851 – May 13, 1937) was an American general officer who served as a drummer boy in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He gained fame for his bravery on the battlefield, becoming the youngest noncommissioned officer in the history of the United States Army.

He retired from the Army in 1915, having attained the rank of brigadier general in the Quartermaster Corps; he was at that time the last veteran of the American Civil War still on duty in the United States Armed Forces, although others similarly aged and experienced such as Peter Conover Hains and Albert A. Michelson rejoined the military after World War I started.

By special act of Congress on August 29, 1916, he was promoted to major general one year after his retirement.

A most remarkable saga of perseverance, gumption, and sheer force of will, I must say.

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