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John Clem, Civil War Boy Soldier

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 24, 2023 3:04 am

John Clem, Civil War Boy Soldier

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 24, 2023 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, here to tell the story of John Lincoln Clem—the youngest non-commissioned officer in Army history—is Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, author of John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy.

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Listen to Echoes of History, Assassin's vs Templars on iHeart or wherever you get your podcasts. This is our American Stories and we love to tell stories about American history, sometimes about people you know, events you know, and we try to fill in the rest of the story of those stories. Or sometimes they're stories you've never heard of and they're some of our favorites.

Here is the story of the youngest non-commissioned officer in army history told to us by storyteller and writer Kristen O'Donnell-Tubb. I first learned about the amazing John Clem when my publisher, Macmillan Children's Books, approached me to write a story for a new historical fiction series they were developing. The series was called Based on a True Story and they'd compiled a list of a few of the true American heroes that they wanted to highlight. John Clem was on that list. When I did a quick Google search for him, I knew his story was the one I wanted to write.

John Lincoln Clem was born John Joseph Clem in Newark, Ohio on August 13, 1851. When he was nine years old, his mother was killed by a train. Later that same year, John became so enamored with the idea of restoring the divided union, he volunteered his services to Captain Leonidas McDougall of the 3rd Ohio Union Regiment.

Years later, he said laughingly, my help was obviously needed. Captain McDougall laughed at this offer from a nine-year-old boy saying, I'm not enlisting infants, son. Johnny Clem's father wisely refused to let his nine-year-old enlist, so Johnny concocted a plan. He told his brother Louis and sister Lizzie that he was skipping church to swim in the canal, but instead Johnny stowed away on a train. Now John was discovered quite quickly and was put on the next train home, but his father, in the meantime, believed his son had drowned. It's unclear whether they had already dredged the canal for his body when he arrived back home, but you can just imagine the heap of trouble Johnny was in. But young John Clem couldn't resist the call to aid the Union.

So again, on May 24, 1861, Johnny hid on an outgoing train. This second time, the boy made it all the way to Covington, Kentucky, where many Union troops mustered. Johnny was quickly adopted as a mascot and was paid $13 a month by the other soldiers in his regiment, out of their pockets. He was also given a uniform and a drum.

John's whereabouts for the next several months are a bit of a mystery since he wasn't officially enlisted. The next time we hear of John, it's in Tennessee at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6th and 7th, 1862. John says he was ordered by General Ulysses S. Grant himself to play a drum call known as the Long Roll, also called the Advance, without stopping.

It was an aggressive tactic. According to several accounts, General Grant praised Johnny's bravery during that battle. Clem says, at Shiloh, my drum was smashed by a fragment of shell.

They called me Johnny Shiloh for a while after that. At the ripe old age of 12, John Clem fought at the Battle of Chickamauga on the Tennessee-Georgia border on September 19th and 20th, 1863. He was still small, so he fought with a sawed-off musket. Just prior to the battle, Clem was officially enlisted as a sergeant by General George Henry Thomas.

John was disappointed with the rank, asking Thomas, General, is that all you're going to make me? When asked why he traded in his drum for a rifle, Clem replied, because I did not like to stand and be shot at without shooting back. At the Battle of Chickamauga, 12-year-old Clem injured a Confederate colonel when the colonel demanded Clem surrender. Clem ultimately survived the Battle of Chickamauga by playing possum.

I decided that the best policy was to fall dead for the moment, and so I did, Clem later wrote. He continued, I lay dead until after dark, when I came alive again and managed to find my way to Chattanooga. John Clem was captured shortly after Chickamauga. He later wrote, a few days after the Battle of Chickamauga, I was captured. It was at this period that I was exhibited by Confederate General Joe Wheeler as the Fighting Yankee Boy.

What he means by exhibited is that John Lincoln Clem became famous. After he arrived at his place of imprisonment, Confederate newspapers ran his photo with the headline, the Yankees are sending their babies to fight us. Union newspapers also picked up the story, instead touting the heroism of this young drummer boy imprisoned by rebels.

The story of Johnny Shiloh, as he was often called in these stories, may have close ties to the popular Civil War song, The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, by William S. Hayes. John Clem was held prisoner for two months before he was exchanged. After the Civil War, John Clem was honorably mustered out of service at the age of 13. He finished his schooling and then went to visit an old buddy who was an old buddy of his, now President Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant appointed Clem second lieutenant. Clem retired from the army as a major general in 1916 and was the oldest active Civil War veteran. John Lincoln Clem died in 1937 at the age of 85. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A six-foot statue of young Johnny Clem stands in Newark, Ohio.

A World War II transport and hospital ship was named in his honor. A public school in Ohio is named John Clem Elementary after him and, in 1963, Walt Disney produced a made-for-TV movie called Johnny Shiloh that detailed Clem's life. Raise your right hand, Johnny. John Lincoln Clem, do you swear your allegiance to the United States of America? Yes, sir.

You are then duly mustered into the Union Army with a rank of sergeant. Thank you, sir, and I promise I'll never let you down, sir. Late in his life, Clem wrote, war is bald naked savagery, and he warned that boys have a, quote, spirit of caution that is not yet developed. And yet, Clem made a decision at age nine to heed his nation's call, and his purpose never wavered. I visit a lot of schools to discuss my books, and when we talk about John Clem, I tell elementary students this. You know, adults like to ask kids, what do you want to be when you grow up? I think John Clem shows us that adults should be asking, what do you want to do with your life right now?

What a terrific story, and it is so true. War is bald naked savagery, but that question that we ask young people, who are you going to be, I think is right. It is the wrong question. Who are you now?

Who are you planning to be tomorrow? Is this important a question? And these history stories told like this to young people can only inspire them. And so many people who are young have done remarkable, bold, adventurous things, and infantilizing kids is I think one of the things we do a little too often here in this country, and letting them know they can do great things, and big things, and bold things. Well, that's what Kristen O'Donnell-Tubb did with her story. And by the way, she writes under the pseudonym E.F. Abbott. She's the author of John Lincoln Clem, Civil War drummer boy. A special thanks to Kristen for lending her voice, and as always, great job by Greg Hengler. The story of John Clem.

Johnny Shiloh, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-24 04:42:52 / 2023-04-24 04:47:58 / 5

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