Johnny was with the regiment when it engaged the Confederate army on the afternoon of September 20, 1863 along a creek in north Georgia called Chickamauga. On that day, Johnny shed his drum and instead carried a rifle musket, trimmed down from regulation length to fit his short stature. The battle was chaotic and the 22nd Michigan was being surrounded when a Confederate Colonel noticed the child soldier with his shortened weapon. The Colonel demanded that Johnny surrender by saying “I think the best thing a mite of a chap like you can do is drop that gun”. Johnny disagreed. In his opinion, the best thing he could do was to use it. He refused to surrender and instead shot the Colonel and headed back to his unit.
Johnny, who at some point during the war officially changed his name to John Lincoln Clem to honor the President, was rewarded for his bravery under fire with a promotion to sergeant, becoming the youngest non-commissioned officer in the history of the United States Army. And the American public granted him another laurel wreath, deeming him “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”
The harrowing times were not over for Johnny. In October of 1863, he was detailed as a train guard when Confederate cavalry captured him. He was take prisoner and had taken from him his Union uniform, including his prized hat which sported three bullet holes it had received at Chickamauga. He was released in a prisoner exchange not long after, and would go on to fight in other battles as the armies marched toward Atlanta.
John Clem was officially discharged a year after his harrowing experience at Chickamauga in September 1864.
But John Lincoln Clem was not done with the army. After graduating high school in 1870, he tried--and failed--to pass the entrance exam for the West Point Military Academy. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him second lieutenant in the 24th US Infantry and over the years, he steadily moved up the ranks and upon retirement was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. In honor of his service, upon his death in 1937, he was buried in Arlington Cemetery,
Even without the feats ascribed to "Johnny Shiloh", the events that young Johnny Clem experienced before he turned 14 make his life a fascinating story that shows that often, children are capable of more than we could ever give them credit for.
References and Further Reading
John Clem, Drummer Boy of Chickamauga
The Boys of War
The Drummer Boy of Shiloh by WS Hays
Toni is a wife, mom and history buff who loves bringing the Civil War to life for family members of all ages.