Johnny Clem
"Drummer Boy of Chickamauga"
August 13, 1851 - May 13, 1937

Johnny Clem 'Drummer Boy of Chickamauga'

John Joseph Klem ran away from home to join the Union army in the spring of 1861, when he was not yet 10 years old. He was turned down because of his age by a couple of regiments passing through his Newark, Ohio, hometown before he tagged along with the 22nd Massachusetts, which eventually adopted him as their mascot and drummer boy. Officers of the unit reportedly chipped in on his $13 monthly salary, and fellow soldiers were said to have provided him with a shortened rifle and a uniform in his size. He officially enlisted in the 22nd Massachusetts in May 1863 and received his own pay thereafter.

On September 20, 1863, many members of the 22nd were captured in the Battle of Chickamauga, but Johnny made his escape after shooting a Rebel officer who was trying to capture him. Union Gen. George H. Thomas promoted Johnny to lance corporal. When the newspapers picked up his story, little Johnny became a celebrity in the North and was known as the "drummer boy of Chickamauga," and also "Johnny Shiloh," since he was alleged to have had his drum smashed by cannon fire in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. At some time during this period he changed his name and its spelling to John Lincoln Clem.

In October 1863, John Clem was captured by Confederate cavalry while detailed as a train guard. He was exchanged a short time later, but the Confederacy used his captivity to show "what sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies out to fight us." In January 1864, General Thomas assigned Johnny to his staff as a mounted orderly, and on September 19, 1864, Johnny was discharged from the army. President Grant appointed Johnny to West Point, but he failed several times to pass the entrance exam. In 1871, when Grant made him a 2nd lieutenant, Johnny began a second army term that did not end until he retired in 1915 with the rank of brigadier general. He was the last Civil War veteran on the army rolls at the time of his retirement. He died at the age of 85 in San Antonio, Tex., and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Summer 2010