Today’s history lesson is the extraordinary life of a drummer boy named William H. Horsfall. One of the most celebrated drummer boys in the American Civil War Horsfall ran away from home at age 15 to serve his country in the “Great Divide”. According to the Evergreen History Tour, he hitched a ride on the steamship Annie Laurie which was docked in Newport. Horsfall received the prestigious Medal of Honor for saving the life of Captain Williamson during the siege of Corinth. He was one of the youngest Kentuckians to receive this honor. The citation with his medal simply stated “Saved the life of a wounded officer lying between the lines.” Horsfall served throughout the war and beyond until March of 1866 when he left the army and lived the rest of his life in Newport. He died at the age of 75.
Horsfall himself recalled his wartime experiences:
I left home without money or a warning to my parents,and in company with three other boys, stealthily boarded the steamer ‘Annie Laurie,’ moored at the Cincinnati wharf at Newport and billed for the Kanawha River that evening, about the 20th of December, 1861. When the bell rang for the departure of the boat, my boy companions, having a change of heart, ran ashore before the plank was hauled aboard, and wanted me to do the same. I kept in hiding until the boat was well under way and then made bold enough to venture on deck. I was accosted by the captain of the boat as to my destination, etc., and telling him the old orphan-boy story, I was treated very kindly, given something to eat, and allowed very liberal privileges.
I arrived at Cincinnati without further incident, and enlisted as a drummer boy. In the fighting before Corinth, Miss., May 21, 1862-Nelson’s Brigade engaged -my position was to the right of the First Kentucky, as an independent sharpshooter. The regiment had just made a desperate charge across the ravine. Captain Williamson was wounded in the charge, and, in subsequent reversing of positions, was left between the lines. Lieutenant Hocke, approaching me, said: ‘Horsfall, Captain Williamson is in a serious predicament; rescue him if possible.’ So I placed my gun against a tree, and, in a stooping run, gained his side and dragged him to the stretcher bearers, who took him to the rear.
According to Deeds of Honor: Drummer Horsfall was on all the subsequent marches of his regiment. During the famous charge at Stone River he presently found himself hemmed in by rebel horsemen and hostile infantry. Even the rebels took pity on his youth and one of them shouted: “Don’t shoot the damned little Yank! I want him for a cage.” The plucky little drummer made a run for his life and safely got back to his regiment.
For many more posts on the history of drummer boys search this blog using the term “Drummer Boys.”