Monday, May 11, 2015

John Lincoln Clem: Child Soldier

John Clem muster card
Muster card showing Clem
signed up under the name Klem
John Lincoln Clem was a soldier during the Civil War. He saw action at many battles, including the Battle of Chickamauga. He was a dedicated patriot and was known for his willingness to march right into battle, despite the dangers that surrounded him. He was also known as ‘Johnny Shiloh’ and ‘The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.’ He was also only twelve years old when he enlisted in the Union Army.

John Lincoln Clem was born John Joseph Klem in Newark, Ohio on August 13, 1851. He decided to run away from home when he was a few months short of his tenth birthday. It was his intention to join up with the Union Army. He first tried to join up with the Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, but his age kept them from accepting him. Still, the young man persisted.

Sources vary as to whether John Clem first joined up with the Twenty-Fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry or the Twenty-Second Michigan Infantry Regiment. However, it was the men of the Twenty-Second Michigan Infantry Regiment who eventually started pooling money together to pay the young man. They gave him a position as their drummer boy. They also outfitted him with a uniform and a gun, which were modified to suit his small stature. John Clem was often said to have been small for his age. He may have looked like a seven-year-old boy on the battlefield.

It was in May of 1863 that John Clem was finally allowed to officially join the Union Army. He had already been present at several Civil War battles, by that time, if you can imagine such a thing. The Civil War was the bloodiest and most deadly ever fought by the United States. It is quite the thing to imagine a young child marching bravely into battle with his drum and his rifle. Nonetheless, that is what he did. There is a story that John Clem’s drum was hit by a canon at the Battle of Shiloh. However, this sounds a little dubious. If it had happened, he would’ve had to have been with a different regiment. The Twenty-Second Michigan Infantry Regiment was not formed until after the Battle of Shiloh.

John Clem was definitely present at the Battle of Chickamauga. He is credited with shooting and killing a Confederate colonel there, at point blank range. He may have also been captured at the Battle of Chickamauga. However, some sources say he was captured after the battle. Either way, he was relieved of his uniform, which, by all accounts, bothered him a great deal. He had a hat with three bullet holes in it (or so it is said) that was very dear to him. He was released in a prisoner exchange soon after he was captured. He also changed his name to John Lincoln Clem around this time.

John Clem was discharged in 1864. He went home after his discharge and completed his schooling. It wasn’t long before he started entertaining thoughts of rejoining the military, though. After his graduation from high school, he tried to enter West Point Academy, but had difficulties. He was eventually allowed to reenter the military anyway. He served until 1915, when he retired as a Major General.

John Clem earned himself the distinction of being the youngest ever noncommissioned officer in the United States Army after the Battle of Shiloh, when he was promoted to lance corporal. He was also the last Civil War veteran to retire from the Army. He passed away in San Antonio, Texas on May 13, 1937. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.


Johnny Klem, retrieved 12/18/09,

John L. Clem, 1851-1937, retrieved 12/18/09, (Page No Longer Exists)