The Civil War is often referred to as “The Boys’ War” because many soldiers were still just teenagers. The official rule of the Union Army was that soldiers must be 18 years old in order to serve. However, many boys lied about their age and recruiters would turn their heads.
Many young boys who were too young to serve would work as drummer boys. The drummer boy’s job was an important one – drums were used to call soldiers to meals, wake them each morning, and rally them to march. Drums were also used to relay officers’ orders on an often-noisy battlefield. Certain drumbeats were, in fact, signals meaning everything from “attack” to “retreat!” It was a very important job.
Drummers also doubled as stretcher-bearers. They would walk around the battlefield looking for the injured and wounded, and then would haul them to the medic tents on stretchers. Often, as the drummer boys aged, they became soldiers, too.
The Legend of Johnny Clem
Johnny Clem was a young boy who ran away from his home in Ohio when he was just 9 years old. He followed the Union troops in hopes of joining the cause. Of course, due to his age he was turned away. But he didn’t give up. He tried enlist several times, and finally just flat-out refused to go home. So, a unit of troops from Michigan decided to “adopt” him, and he became their drummer boy.
Legend has it that the officers were so touched by young Clem’s dedication that they offered part of their pay so that he could have a soldier’s salary – a whole $13 a month! He was given his own boy-sized uniform and the officers cut a rifle down to size, just for him.
By the time he was 11, Johnny Clem was a regular soldier. He went on to spend much of his life serving the army, and was a brigadier general when he retired in 1915. He lived to be 85 years old, and is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Make Your Own Civil War Drum
All you need is:
- Empty cylinder-shaped box or can – such as an oatmeal box, salt container, or coffee can – with the top and bottom removed
- two heavy cloth squares, cut slightly larger than box top
- white paper
- colored pencils, crayons or markers
- pencil or nail, scissors
- First, decorate the paper with symbols and pictures that represent who you are and where you are from. Then, glue the paper to the sides of the box to cover it. Trim as needed.
- With a pencil or a nail (nail for coffee cans) punch a hole on each side of the top. Loop yarn through the hole so your child will strap for wearing their drum around their neck. Use enough yarn so that the drum hangs comfortably around the neck and lands at the waist area. Knot to hold in place.
- Use more yarn to tie the cloth as tightly as possible over the top and bottom of the drum. The tighter the cloth, the better the sound.
- You’re ready to play! Beat the drum (gently) with bare hands, or use chopsticks, tinker toys, or small sticks as your drumsticks.