Johnny Clem, The Civil War's Most Famous Drummer Boy

History for Juveniles age 9 to 12


Johnny Clem was the North's most famous drummer boy in its civil war struggle with the South. He was barely three feet tall, if that, but did manage to impress (seemingly to him) his giant-sized soldier comrades with his daring courage and accomplishments. Plays, songs and journalistic articles turned up all over the northern states and made him a media darling of the time. But controversy and mystique surround him and his military exploits to this day, which only add to his historical allure. Juvenile readers should be amazed that one of their own in age and size of another era could have dared do what he did in time of national crisis: run away from home at age 9 and a half and "join up" to save the Union, to finally becoming a gun-toting drummer boy and courier for General Thomas during the Atlanta campaign. General Thomas promoted Johnny to sergeant after the Battle of Chickamauga in northern Georgia. Johnny Clem is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the tombstone epitaph "The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga."

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After Clem left the army in September, 1864 and after going back to school, tried to get into the army's military academy at West Point, NY, but failed its entrance exams. He clerked in Washington, D.C. after the war and met with President Grant, with whom he was friends during the Civil War, and received a lieutenant's commision from the president and remained in the army until 1915, retiring as a brigadier general and was soon raised in rank to major general, retired.