Skip to content

John Lincoln Clem


John Clem at age 12

The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga

22nd MI Infantry, Company C

(1851 – 1937)


Born in Newark, Ohio August 13, 1851 as John Joseph Klem, at nine years old John Klem ran away from home to join the Union Army.  He changed his name to John Lincoln Clem to honor Abraham Lincoln and altered the German spelling of his last name from a K to a C. 

 John Clem attempted to enlist in the 3rd Ohio Infantry but was turned away by the commander due to his age and small size.  He then tried the 22nd Michigan Infantry and although rejected again, tagged along with the regiment anyway.

The Officers of the 22nd Michigan adopted Clem as a mascot and pitched in to pay him a salary of $13 per month from their own pockets.  On January 5, 1863 at age 11 he was formally accepted as a private in Company C of the 22nd Michigan Infantry.  Clem participated in the Battle of Chickamauga, killing a Confederate Colonel during one of the retreats with a musket trimmed to his size and avoiding capture at the surrender of Horseshoe Ridge on the evening of September 20, 1863.  For his bravery he was promoted to sergeant and placed on the roll of honor, becoming the youngest noncommissioned offer in the United States Army.  The national attention he received led to his nickname, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga”.

Popular legend claims that Clem was “Johnny Shiloh”, a drummer boy at the Battle of Shiloh who had his drum shattered by shrapnel.  This is historically unlikely as the 22nd Michigan, Clem’s regiment,  was not mustered until August 1862, the summer after the Battle of Shiloh.

In October 1863 Clem was captured by Confederate Cavalry who took away his uniform.  He was especially upset about losing his cap which had 3 bullet holes in it.  Clem was exchanged a short time later, but the Southern newspapers used his age and status to claim that the Union was in such bad shape they had to enlist children to fight.

Clem participated with the 22nd Michigan in several other battles, including the Battle of Atlanta and was wounded twice in combat.  He survived the war and was mustered out on September 19, 1864 at the age of 13.

Following the Civil War Clem finished high school and was appointed to the U. S. Army by President Grant as a 2nd Lieutenant.  Clem rose to the rank of colonel and assistant quartermaster general in his military career and retired in 1916 with the rank of major general.  He married Anita Rosetta French in 1875 and, as a widower, married Bessie Sullivan in 1903.  He was the father of 2 children. 

John Lincoln Clem died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937 at the age of 86.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

 Historical Data Systems. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line] Provo, UT: Operations Inc. 2009
%d bloggers like this: