John Clem

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John Clem
John Clem signed CDV.jpg
Lance Sergeant Clem, age 12
Birth nameJohn Lincoln Clem
BornAugust 13, 1851
Newark, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMay 13, 1937 (aged 85)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchSeal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.png Union Army
Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service1863–1864, 1871–1915
RankTwo silver five-pointed stars Major general
Unit 22nd Michigan Infantry
24 Infantry Regiment Badge.png 24th Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican 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 U.S. Army in 1915, having attained the rank of brigadier general in the Quartermaster Corps; he was the last veteran of the American Civil War still on duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. By special act of Congress on August 29, 1916, he was promoted to major general one year after his retirement.[1]


American 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 10 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.

Regardless of his entry into service, Clem 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 Ohioan, Salmon P. Chase, decorated him for his heroics at Chickamauga. Clem's fame for the shooting is also open for debate, despite press reports supporting the story into the early 20th century.[2] It is possible that he wounded Col. Calvin Walker, whose 3rd Tennessee opposed the 22nd Michigan towards the end of the battle.

Clem in 1867

In October 1863, Clem was captured in Georgia by Confederate cavalrymen while detailed as a train guard. The Confederates confiscated his U.S. uniform which reportedly upset him terribly—including his cap which had three bullet holes in it.[5] He was included in a prisoner exchange a short time later, but the Confederate newspapers used his age and celebrity status for propaganda purposes, to show "what sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies 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. He was promoted to captain in 1882 and transferred to the Quartermaster Department where he stayed for the rest of his career. He was promoted to major in 1895.

During the Spanish–American War in 1898 he served as depot quartermaster in Portland, Oregon as well as department quartermaster for the Department of Columbia. He then served in the occupation of Puerto Rico as depot and chief quartermaster in San Juan.

Clem was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1901 and to colonel in 1903. He then served from 1906 to 1911 as chief quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Clem in 1922

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 American Civil War veterans who retired at the rank of colonel. Clem was the last veteran of the American Civil War serving in the U.S. Army at the time of his retirement,[2] though another Civil War veteran, Peter Conover Hains, re-entered the service in 1917. On August 29, 1916, Clem was promoted on the retired list to the rank of major general.[6]

Personal life[edit]

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.

After retirement he lived in Washington, D.C. before returning to San Antonio, Texas. He died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia.

Dates of promotion[edit]

Through his military career Clem held the following ranks:[7]

  • 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



  • 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.[8]

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. The Sherman Brothers wrote the film's theme song; their 1968 movie musical score for The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band also included a song about him called "Drummin', Drummin', Drummin'," performed in the film by Walter Brennan who played an ex-Confederate soldier.

In 2007 Historical Productions released the movie Johnny: The True Story of a Civil War Legend, starring Cody Piper in the role of Johnny Lincoln (Shiloh) Clem. The film, which mixes historical and fictional narratives, includes numerous U.S. Civil War reenactments, and focuses on what life was like for Union soldiers.[9][10][11]


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

See also[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," Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  5. ^ "John Lincoln Clem," Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  6. ^ Official Army Register, 1922. pg. 1211.
  7. ^ Official Army Register, 1922, p. 1011
  8. ^ "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-04.
  10. ^ ""Johnny": A Documentary by Historical Productions Inc". Fifth Ohio Light Artillery. Archived from the original on August 26, 2016.
  11. ^ Rosen, David M. (2012). Child soldiers : a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 290–91. ISBN 9781598845266. OCLC 729344416.

9. [1] Chickamauga 10. [2]

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