Boy Soldier

John Clem, Boy Soldier

Sergeant John Clem: Boy Soldier

Sergeant Clem: Boy Soldier.

John Clem was born on august 13, 1851. At the outbreak of the Civil War (April 12, 1861) he was only nine years old. Less than a month after the start of the war, he attempted to enlist in the union army. He was rejected because of his age, and the fact that he was small for his age, looking more like a six or seven year old. He was turned down by both Ohio and Michigan regiments.

John was not discouraged by this rejection, and decided to march with the army anyway. Officers soon took note of his determination, and adopted him as an unofficial drummer boy. The officers chipped in to pay him the regular soldier’s wage of about thirteen dollars a month.

In 1862 at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing John’s drum was hit by an artillery shell, and the press soon dubbed him "Johnny Shiloh". He was finally allowed to officially enlist in 1863.

Soon afterward, his regiment trimmed a rifle down to his size, and he began to march as a full fledged infantry soldier.

In the fall of 1863, John was captured in Georgia by Rebel soldiers while he was guarding a train. The Rebels took his uniform away, which upset him terribly; in particular he was upset at losing his cap which had three bullet holes in it. He was released a short time later in a prisoner exchange.

Clem went on to fight in a number of battles and was wounded twice.

The February 6, 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly carried the following story about this brave little soldier: SERGEANT JOHN CLEM. OUR YOUNGEST SOLDIER.

SERGEANT JOHN CLEM, Twenty-second Michigan Volunteer Infantry, is the youngest soldier in our army. He is 12 years old, and small even for his age. His home is Newark, Ohio. He first attracted the notice of General Rosecrans at a review at Nashville, where he was acting as marker of his regiment. The General, attracted by his youth and intelligence, invited him to call upon him whenever they were in the same place. Rosecrans saw no more of Clem until his return to Cincinnati, when one day coming to his rooms at the Burnet House, he found the boy awaiting him. He had seen service in the mean while. He had gone through the battle of Chickamauga, where he had three bullets through his hat. Here he killed a rebel Colonel. The officer, mounted on horseback, encountered the young hero, and called out, "Stop, you little Yankee devil!" By way of answer the boy halted, brought his piece to "order," thus throwing the Colonel off his guard. In another moment the piece was cocked, brought to aim, fired, and the officer fell dead from his horse. For this achievement Clem was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and Rosecrans bestowed upon him the Roll of Honor. He is now on duty at the head-quarters of the Army of the Cumberland. --End Harper’s Story--

At the tender age of 12, Clem had had his drum shot off at Shiloh, his hat shot off at Chickamauga, had killed a Confederate Officer in combat, was wounded twice, had been a prisoner of war, and was the youngest non-commissioned officer in U.S. Army history.

Clem Retired from the U.S. Army as a Major General in 1916 after the outbreak of World War I. He was the last Civil War veteran on active duty in the US military. Clem died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


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