The Remarkable Journey of Johnny Clem: From Drummer Boy to Major General

Nine-year-old John Lincoln “Johnny” Clem fled his Newark, Ohio, home in May 1861 to enlist in the Union Army. Still, the Army was reluctant to draft a small youngster. He was turned down by the 3rd Ohio Regiment commander, who stated that they “weren’t enlisting infants.” Clem would not give up and tried his luck with the 22nd Michigan Regiment, but he was turned down again. Clem, unflinching, followed the regiment, adopted the persona of a drummer boy, and was granted permission to remain. He was not formally recruited, but he did camp work and was paid $13 a month like a soldier, thanks to the regiment’s officers.

In April 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh, Clem’s drum was destroyed by an artillery round, earning him the nickname “Johnny Shiloh, The Smallest Drummer.” A year later, during the Battle of Chickamauga, he rode an artillery caisson to the front lines, wielding a musket modified to his size. During a Union retreat, a Confederate officer chased after Clem’s cannon, shouting, “Surrender, you damned little Yankee!” In response, Johnny shot the officer dead. This act of bravery brought him national fame as the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

Clem stayed in the Army for the duration of the Civil War, taking two wounds while acting as a courier. He was formally enrolled between Shiloh and Chickamauga, started getting his own salary, and was quickly advanced to the rank of Sergeant at the tender age of twelve. Due to his lack of formal education, Clem was denied admission to West Point after the Civil War. On December 18, 1871, a personal plea to his former commanding general at Shiloh, President Ulysses S. Grant, resulted in his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Regular Army.
Clem’s military career flourished, and by 1903, he had achieved the rank of Colonel and served as Assistant Quartermaster General. He retired as a Major General in 1916, after an extraordinary 55 years of service.

General John Lincoln Clem passed away in San Antonio, Texas, on May 13, 1937, just three months shy of his 86th birthday. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, leaving behind a legacy of remarkable dedication and bravery.

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