John Clem

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John Lincoln Clem
Little John Clem.jpg
Sergeant Clem, age 12, in 1863
Birth name John Joseph Clem
Born August 13, 1851
Newark, Ohio
Died May 13, 1937 (aged 85)
San Antonio, Texas
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1863 - 1864, 1871 - 1915
Rank two silver stars Major General
Unit Michigan 22nd Michigan Infantry
24th Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars

American Civil War

John Lincoln Clem (August 13, 1851 – May 13, 1937) was a United States Army general who served as a drummer boy in the Union Army in the American Civil War. He gained fame for his bravery on the battlefield, becoming the youngest noncommissioned officer in Army history. He retired from the Army in 1915, having attained the rank of Brigadier General in the Quartermaster Corps. When advised he should retire, he requested to be allowed to remain on active duty until he became the last veteran of the Civil War still on duty in the Armed Forces. By special act of Congress on August 29, 1916, he was promoted to major general one year after his retirement.[1]

Civil War[edit]

When enlisted, his name was spelled 'Klem'

Born with the surname Klem in Newark, Ohio on August 13, 1851, he is said to have run away from home at age 9 in May 1861, after the death of his mother in a train accident, to become a Union Army drummer boy.[2] First he attempted to enlist in the 3rd Ohio Infantry, but was rejected because of his age and small size. He then tried to join the 22nd Michigan, which also refused him. He tagged along anyway and the 22nd eventually adopted him as mascot and drummer boy. Officers chipped in to pay him the regular soldier's wage of $13 a month and allowed him to officially enlist two years later. Research has shown that Clem's claims about the 3rd Ohio and running away from home in 1861 (rather than in either 1862 or 1863) may be fictitious.[2]

A popular legend suggests that Clem served as a drummer boy with the 22nd Michigan at the Battle of Shiloh. The legend suggests that he came very near to losing his life when a fragment from a shrapnel shell crashed through his drum, knocking him unconscious, and that subsequently his comrades who found and rescued him from the battlefield nicknamed Clem "Johnny Shiloh."[3] The weight of historical evidence however suggests that Clem could not have taken part in the battle of Shiloh. The 22nd Michigan appears to be the first unit in which Clem served in any capacity, but this regiment had not yet been constituted at the time of the battle (mustering into service in August 1862 - four months after the Battle of Shiloh).[2] The Johnny Shiloh legend appears instead to stem from a popular Civil War song, "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" by William S. Hays which was written for Harpers Weekly of New York. The song was written following the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, and may have been written with Clem in mind because he had already become a nationally-known figure by that time.

Regardless of his entry into service, Klem served as a drummer boy for the 22nd Michigan at the Battle of Chickamauga. He is said to have ridden an artillery caisson to the front and wielded a musket trimmed to his size. In the course of a Union retreat, he shot a Confederate colonel who had demanded his surrender. After the battle, the "Drummer Boy of Chickamauga" was promoted to sergeant, the youngest soldier ever to be a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army.[4] Secretary of the Treasury, later Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and fellow Ohion, Salmon P. Chase, decorated him for his heroics at Chickamauga. Clem's fame for the shooting is also open for debate as there are no records of a Confederate colonel being wounded during the battle despite press reports supporting the story into the early 20th century.[2]

In October 1863, Clem was captured in Georgia by Confederate cavalry while detailed as a train guard. The Confederate soldiers confiscated his uniform which reportedly upset him terribly—including his cap which had three bullet holes in it.[citation needed] He was included in a prisoner exchange a short time later, but the Confederate newspapers used his age and celebrity status to show "what sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babes out to fight us." After participating with the Army of the Cumberland in many other battles, serving as a mounted orderly, he was discharged in September 1864. Clem was wounded in combat twice during the war.

Later life[edit]

Clem graduated from high school in 1870. In 1871, he was elected commander/captain of the "Washington Rifles" a District of Columbia Army National Guard militia unit. After he attempted unsuccessfully to enter the United States Military Academy, after failing the entrance exam, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him second lieutenant in the Twenty Fourth United States Infantry in December 1871. Clem was promoted to first lieutenant in 1874. Clem graduated from artillery school at Fort Monroe in 1875 and was transferred to the Quartermaster Department and promoted to captain in 1882 where he stayed for the rest of his career. From 1906 to 1911 he was chief quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Clem reached the mandatory retirement age of 64 on August 13, 1915, when he was retired and promoted to the rank of brigadier general, as was customary for Civil War veterans who retired at the rank of Colonel, becoming the last Civil War veteran to serve in the US Army.[2] On August 29, 1916, he was promoted on the retired list to the rank of major general.[5]

Personal Life[edit]

After retirement he lived in Washington, D.C. before returning to San Antonio, Texas. He married Anita Rosetta French in 1875. After her death in 1899, he married Bessie Sullivan of San Antonio in 1903. Sullivan was the daughter of a Confederate veteran, leading Clem to claim that he was "the most united American" alive.[2] Clem was the father of three children. Clem was a companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and the Military Order of Foreign Wars.

He died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Dates of Promotion[edit]

Through his military career Clem held the following ranks:[6]

  • Musician and Lance Sergeant, Co. C, 22nd Michigan Infantry - 1 May 1863 to 19 September 1864
  • 2nd Lieutenant - 18 December 1871
  • 1st Lieutenant - 5 October 1874
  • Captain - 4 May 1882
  • Major - 16 May 1895
  • Lieutenant Colonel - 2 February 1901
  • Colonel - 15 August 1903
  • Brigadier General (Retired) - 13 August 1915
  • Major General (Retired) - 29 August 1916

Awards[edit]

Memorialization[edit]

  • A 6-foot bronze statue of young John Clem stands near the Buckingham Meeting House in Newark, Ohio.
  • A World War II U.S. Army troopship, the USAT John L. Clem, was named in his honor. The ship was scrapped in 1948.
  • A public school in Newark, Ohio, is named after him: Johnny Clem Elementary School.
  • The city of Heath, Ohio, is co-extensive with Johnny Clem Township.[7]

Film portrayals[edit]

In 1963, Walt Disney produced a made-for-TV film entitled Johnny Shiloh, with Kevin Corcoran in the title role. The film was telecast on the Disney anthology television series.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Keesee DM. 2001. Too Young to Die: Boy Soldiers of the Union Army 1861-1865. Blue Acron Press. Huntington, VA. ISBN 1-885033-28-1. pp. 224-240.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Robertson, Ellen (Fall 2013). "Major General John Lincoln Clem". On Point - The Journal of Army History 19 (2): 18–21. 
  3. ^ The New York Times, Last Veteran of '61 to Leave the Army, 8/8/1915. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  4. ^ "John Lincoln Clem," gacivilwar.org. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  5. ^ Official Army Register, 1922. pg. 1211.
  6. ^ Official Army Register, 1922, p. 1011
  7. ^ ohio-state.edu

Gallery[edit]

(left to right) Drummer boy Clem during the American Civil War. Clem in 1922. Clem, photographed by Mathew Brady.

External links[edit]