Yesterday Johnny Rebs and Yanks alike commemorated the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired in the Civil War. Over at Visit-Gettysburg.com, they’re encouraging the kids to join the fun by trying on the same clothes that children wore during the war. And why let the fun stop there? Strap on a drum and run out into the middle of that reenactment.
One of the myriad ways the Civil War was tragic was that many aspects of military technology had very much advanced while war tactics remained primitive. They had Spencer repeating rifles that could fire 20 rounds in a minute — but be sure to listen for the drummer boy because that’s how we still communicate in battle! No, I’m not joking, soldier and I don’t like your tone.
A Harper’s cartoon from 1863 recounts the life of a typical drummer boy (who did much more than drum — he got to carry water!). Children were to be seen and not heard, unless they’re disseminating crucial messages in the heat of battle. It wasn’t bad if you didn’t mind being demeaned and imperiled simultaneously.
As a drummer, I know it’s possible to totally kill it with a pair of Ludwig 5B hickory drum sticks, but can’t you give them a one-shot pistol, a sword, something?
One of the most famous/youngest drummer boys was Johnny Clem, drummer boy of the Chickamauga. In 1861, he ran away and tried to enlist with the 3rd Ohio Infantry. They rejected him on account of his size and his being 10. Determined, Johnny tried again with the 22nd Michigan, where he succeeded. The unit adopted him as their drummer boy, and it was off to the
races front lines.
Johnny’s story was one of success. Not only did he avoid getting mortally wounded while tapping out a paradiddle, he was promoted to sergeant at 13 to become the youngest NCO in the US Army.
He went on to achieve the rank of major general. Much has been made of little Johnny’s exploits, including heaps of apocrypha, a Disney movie and a mythical song. Historians argue over whether he was at this battle or that battle. The point is, he was at A battle and he was 11.