Courage and Distinction


One of my most recent cross-over projects was compiling over 100 period photographs of drummer boys from the Civil War (see During this process I was constantly taken aback by their youthful appearance. Some of these boys looked to be so young they couldn’t have been near their teens. Many of them ran away from home with romantic dreams stuck in their heads of the glorious life of a drummer. No doubt as they witnessed the horrors of war their starry-eyed inclinations were stripped away. As I examined some of these photos I felt at times that I was looking into the eyes of my youngest son (I have four children) imagining the hardships that he would have endured.

There were age-limits to who could enlist but they were often ignored. The youngest enlistees served the roll as “mascot” until they were old enough to serve as a drummer. My son would have been too young at the beginning of the war but closer to serving near the end. The stark reality is that most of these boys suffered and endured the same hardships along with the adults. They too marched for miles, fought boredom in camp and performed under fire. Some believe that the youngest soldier killed during the entire Civil War was a thirteen year-old drummer boy named Charles King. Twelve-year-old Union drummer boy William Black is said to be the youngest person on record to be wounded in battle.

Far too often the efforts of those who don’t fit under the title of a “traditional” soldier to include drummers, cooks, teamsters and even horses go unnoticed. The truth of the matter is that none of the soldiers who dominate our memories would have been able to fight without the dedication and efforts of the aforementioned. Drummer boys were responsible for the communication between officers and enlisted men. They projected orders in camp and on the field. Without them, mustering and maneuvering would have been in chaos. Therefore it is important to recognize their contributions for their importance and necessity. Drummer boys served their respective causes with courage and distinction.

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