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John Clem

How Did Johnny Clem Become a Legend?

Between 250,000 and 420,000 boys under the age of 18 were part of the American Civil War. This number was for both the Union and Confederacy. According to records, about 100,000 of these boys were younger than 15. But have you heard about the 10-year-old drummer boy who became a legend? 

Johnny Clem became a drummer for the 22nd Michigan at the age of ten in the Union Army. He became a legend when he shot a Confederate Colonel during the battle of Chickamauga in 1863.

Who was Johnny Clem?

Johnny Clem was known as The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga and went by the nickname Johnny Shiloh. On August 13, 1851, he was born in Newark, Ohio, to his parents, Roman and Magdalene Klem. Clem’s birth name was John Joseph Klem which eventually changed to John Lincoln Clem. Lincoln came from his high respect for the former US President, Abraham Lincoln, and switched his family name’s first letter from K to C to sound more like an American. (Source: Tunnel Hill)

Clem worked on their family farm while attending his school in Newark as a young boy. When he was nine, he lost his mother in a tragic train accident while she crossed the railroad tracks. Roman soon remarried, and it was believed that the tension between Clem and his new stepmother prompted him to run away from home to join the army. (Source: American History Central)

Clem became the youngest soldier ever who became a non-commissioned officer in the US Army. After his actions at Chickamauga, he was promoted to sergeant, where he was acclaimed as a national celebrity.

Wearing his wielded musket trimmed to his size and joining the 22nd Michigan unit, Clem shot the colonel and successfully went back to Union lines, and this became his legendary action from then on. According to various sources, it was after this Confederate colonel spotted Clem standing in front of the unit and shouted at him to say something that said damned little Yankee devil. Instead of surrendering, Clem bravely shot him. (Source: American Battlefield Trust)

Clem died in Antonio, Texas, on May 13, 1937, at the age of 85, and was buried in full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. (Source: American History Central)

How Did Clem Get Into The Army?

In May 1861, the same time Clem left home to join the army, when the late president, Abraham Lincoln, called for volunteers to serve in the Union army for a three-year term. At that moment, a brave nine-year-old, Clem, was one of the respondents. Due to his age, Clem’s offer of service was refused.

Clem did not easily give up his desire to be in service and tried again. His persistence won over the unit’s officers and let him follow the regiment as their adoptive mascot and drummer boy. These officers contributed to pay Clem’s monthly salary of thirteen dollars, and he was finally allowed to be enlisted in 1863 when he was thirteen. (Source: American Battlefield Trust)

Did Clem Ever Have His Own Family?

Anita Rosetta French was the name of Clem’s wife, whom he married in San Antonio on May 24, 1875. At the time, he was stationed in Texas. French was the daughter of Major General William H. French, the commander of the 3rd Army Corps for months during the Civil War. The couple was married for twenty-four years until Anita died in 1899. Clem and French were blessed with only one son named after Clem, John Clem Jr.
Elizabeth Sullivan, Clem’s second wife, was from San Antonio, Texas. He married her on September 23, 1903, four years after his first wife’s death. Together, they were also blessed with one child, a daughter this time named Elizabeth Ann, who was born on June 24, 1906. (Source: American History Central)

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