John Lincoln “Johnny” Clem (1851-1937) Remembered as Hero

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BY DUANE VACHON – As this article is being written from Washington D.C., I thought it would be appropriate to share the story of a hero from this part of our nation.

In May 1861, a young boy from Newark, Ohio ran away from home to join the Army.  Not surprisingly, Johnny Clem, the 9-year-old from Newark was rejected first by the commander of the 3rd Ohio Regiment. He was told they “weren’t enlisting infants.”  Clem was told much the same thing when he tried to enlist in the 22nd Michigan.


Showing determination and grit well beyond his tender years, Clem tagged along with the 22nd regiment acting the same as a drummer boy.  It wasn’t long before he wore down their resistance.  Although he was not enrolled as a regular soldier, he performed various duties around the camp and the officers chipped in and paid him $13.00 a month, the pay a regular soldier would receive.

In April 1852 at Shiloh, Clem’s drum was smashed by an artillery round.  He became a bit of a folk hero and was nicknamed “Johnny Shiloh,” the smallest drummer.

Almost a year later at Chickamauga, as the Union was retreating, a Confederate officer ran after the cannon Clem was riding with. Just before the little drummer killed him, he yelled “Surrender you damned little Yankee!”

Clem, because of this courage, won the name of “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

Although wounded twice and taken prisoner, Clem stayed in the Army through the war.  He was eventually enlisted as a regular soldier and served as a courier.

At the end of the Civil War, he tried to enlist in West Point but did not have the education to be accepted.

He appealed to President Grant who was his General at Shiloh.  The President granted Clem a 2nd Lieutenant’s appointment in the Regular army on December 18, 1871.  In 1903, he became Colonel and Assistant Quartermaster General.  In 1916, he retired from the army as a Major General, the last officer from the Civil War still serving in the regular army.  He died in 1937 in San Antonio Texas and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Duane A. Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights.” He also writes a weekly column in The Big Island Reporter”  Reach him at





  1. His presence at Shiloh is a myth. The battle occurred four months before his Michigan infantry unit formed. The myth arose from a song or poem about a drummer boy at Shiloh, and it is believed he was in the inspiration for the fictional character, but there is no evidence he was actually there. He was at the other, though, and more.

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