The Story of Michigan’s 9-Year-Old Union Soldier Who Became a Major General
There are requirements to join the military in just about every country around the world. That doesn't stop some people from lying about their age to serve and protect their country. World War II was rampant with 16 and 17-year-olds in the U.S. faking their papers saying they were 18 to voluntarily sign up and serve.
But during the Civil War, the Union Army actually allowed a 9-year-old to serve in the military, and within 4 years, he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army... at the age of 13.
John Lincoln "Johnny" Clem originally ran away from his home in Ohio at the age of 9 in 1861. His intent was to join the Union Army in his home state, and attempted to join the 3rd Ohio Regiment.
But they weren't "enlisting infants," and turned him down.
Their loss. Because Clem would prove to be one of the most dedicated, and loyal badasses in all of American military history.
Joining the Union, and the birth of "Johnny Shiloh"
Clem crossed state lines, and was eventually allowed into the 22nd Michigan Regiment. The Commander at the time gave him the role of drummer boy, and a soldier's pay of $13 a month. BUT, he wasn't a true listed member of the regiment because of his age. So his "salary" was paid by donations from the other soldiers and officers.
During The Battle of Shiloh, his drum was smashed in battle, and he became known as "Johnny Shiloh, the Smallest Drummer." Disney released a made-for-tv movie about this incident called "Johnny Shiloh."
Clem ditched the drum from then on, and became a full-fledge soldier. He rode an artillery Caisson to the front lines of the Battle of Chickamauga. It's rumored that in one of the Union retreats, a Confederate officer ran after Clem and yelled, "Surrender you damned little Yankee!"
Clem shot him dead, and won him the title of "Drummer Boy of Chickamauga." It also earned him the rank of Sergeant, making him the youngest soldier ever to become a non-commissioned officer in the US Army.
Johnny Shiloh Ditches the Drum
As the War raged on, he would switch roles, served as a courier. He was wounded twice at Shiloh and Chickamauga, and within three years, was receiving his own, sanctioned pay from the Army at 12 years old.
He was discharged from the Army at 13, but sought to rejoin by attending West Point Academy. However, he was turned away because he only had a third grade education. So, he sought the help of an old friend... his former commanding general at the battle of Shiloh - and now President of the United States - Ulysses S. Grant. Grant.
He gladly pushed through Johnny's application to allow him the opportunity to pass the entrance exam. When he failed, Grant went ahead and awarded him the rank of second lieutenant.
Clem remained in the military nearly his entire life, and in 1903, at the age of 52, he attained the rank of Colonel, and served as the Assistant Quartermaster General. Clem finally retired in 1916 a Major General, after serving an INCREDIBLE 55 years in the military.
He was the LAST Civil War soldier to serve in the US Military.