Johnny Clem – Bob of the Shiloh


John Lincoln Clem (1851 – 1937).

In June 1861, a young man in Newark, Ohio, watched Union troops march on his city and, despite his younger years, wanted to join and fight in the Civil War. The boy's name was John Joseph Klem.

Earlier, Klem tried to enlist in the 3rd Ohio Infantry, but because of age and small size, young Klem was rejected. Johnny Clem (he would be known by this name and spelling, he would later be called Johnny Shiloh, and he officially changed his name to John Lincoln Clem) was persistent with a desire to join the military, so he went along with the 22nd Massachusetts while marching Newark.

22. Massachusetts made Clema his mascot and drummer. He was provided with a shotgun and a small uniform, and Massachusetts unit officers teamed up to pay Johnny a regular soldier thirteen dollars a month. Johnny wasn't even 10 years old, but now he was a drummer (but not necessarily a good one!), Unofficially fighting for the Union.

Two years later, Johnny Clem will be allowed to enroll. On May 1, 1863, Johnny officially became a musician at Company C, 22nd Michigan. The nurse describes Johnny Clem; "it was a fair and beautiful child … about twelve years old, but very little for his age. He was only thirty inches tall and weighed about sixty pounds." Johnny Clem was one of the youngest soldiers for either the Union Army or the Confederacy in the Civil War. Johnny would go on to glory in the Civil War and make an army career.

Johnny Clem was also commonly known as "Johnny Shiloh." The story goes that young Clem was at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 and his drum was broken by an artillery projectile, and then he took a gun for combat. This story was very popular and in the end the poem, play and song were all called "The Drummer's Chess Boy". Clem at Shiloh, however, is a questionable history.

There were others who claimed to be the real "Shiloh boy drummer," but a survey by the National Park Service found Clem most likely. Clem's service says he was in 3 Ohio, 22 Michigan and 22 Wisconsin. The problem is that 3rd Ohio was not in Shiloh and 22nd Michigan and 22nd Wisconsin were not organized until after Shiloh. At this time, Johnny Clem was not yet officially a soldier, but was a young man dressed as a soldier trying to play the drum. He would not be assigned to any unit that was in Shiloh. This writer will leave it to the reader to decide if Johnny Clem is also Johnny Shiloh. We will see that there is no reason to doubt the courage of Johnny Clem.

At Chickamauga on September 20, 1863, Johnny Clem rode in front of artillery battle on artillery caisson, carrying a rifle. As the battle progressed, Union troops had to retreat, and during this the Confederate colonel encountered young Klem and demanded his surrender. Johnny Clem stopped as if obeying, but then he lifted his rifle at his enemy officer and fired, wounding him.

While teaching in Johnny's feats, General George H. Thomas promoted Johnny to the rank of spearman. The newspaper told the story of Johnny Clem and he gained celebrity status, becoming known as the "Drummer Boy of Chickamauga."

In October 1863, Johnny Clem was described in detail as a train guard in Georgia when he was captured by the Confederate cavalry. Johnny was released two months later during a prisoner exchange, but Confederate newspapers used his capture to ridicule the Union with this barge; "what a painful Yankee is chased when they have to send their babies to fight us."

Johnny Clem assigned to General Thomas; staff as a mounted editor in January 1864. During the Atlanta campaign, young Johnny was wounded twice. On September 19, 1864, he was discharged from the army. President Grant appointed Johnny Clem at West Point, but Johnny spent his youth and time as a soldier. A lack of formal education prevented him from passing the West Point entrance exam.

President Grant again advocated for Johnny Clem, appointing him in 1871 as the second lieutenant of the 24th Infantry, a unit of black soldiers. Johnny thus began his second military term. He was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Kvarner Corps. Clem could long remain on active duty to become the last Civil War veteran still on duty in the armed forces.

John Lincoln Clem ended his military career when he retired in 1916. Upon his retirement, by special act of Congress, he made him Major General John Clem. He passed away at the age of 85 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Civil war history is incomplete unless it includes the Johnny Clem story.