9-Year-Olds Volunteered for the Civil War
Library of Congress
No, that's not a kid playing Civil War dress-up. That's little Johnny Clem, and he didn't exactly buy that outfit at Toys "R" Us: He actually wore it, or one like it, on a battlefield when he personally shot down a Confederate colonel (the records don't specify where, but judging by his height, we're guessing it was somewhere painful). How the hell is that possible outside of video games? Because, although the age for enlistment for drummer boys and such during the Civil War was officially 16, the enlistment officers were willing to look the other way and often let kids as young as 9 years old volunteer.
"You're about 54 between all of you combined, right? Yeah, good enough."
Drummer boys weren't just adorable mascots tucked safely back at camp, either. They were smack dab in the middle of battle because, lacking walkie-talkies, their drum calls told the troops important stuff like when to advance, start firing, and break for lunch. And, yep, they were sometimes targeted -- the opposing sides knew perfectly well that taking the drummer boy out meant eliminating the commander's communication with his troops, and unfortunately the drums didn't offer a whole lot of protection. In fact, it was because of the distressing number of casualties in this sector that the (not expertly enforced) 16-year-old minimum age rule was created ... in 1864, only a year before the war ended.
Besides Johnny Clem, the second most famous drummer boy is probably Robert Henry Hendershot, who was 10 when he joined up; at the ripe old age of 12, he supposedly captured a Rebel soldier during the Battle of Fredricksburg and was discharged after being wounded two days later in another battle.
The wound was tendinitis from playing too hard.
Hendershot was accused of being a fraud later in life, but Clem's awesomeness was confirmed by pretty much everyone who knew him. He saw action at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw, and Atlanta, was wounded twice, and legend says that when an enemy colonel told him to surrender, Johnny said nothing and simply shot him with his cute little sawed-off musket. He was discharged from the Army as a sergeant ... at age 13.
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Related Reading: Kids today can be pretty badass too. Check out this 13-year-old bullfighter and tell us you aren't impressed. Then check out this kid-focused revolver ad and appreciate just how fucking crazy our grandparents were. And have you heard about the Wonder Twins of Terrorism? If not, read this!