It’s been a while since I’ve posted any history on the blog. Today I’ll share the story of one of the oldest veterans ever to survive the Revolutionary War, Alexander Milliner. Too young at the time of his enlistment for service in the ranks, he was enlisted as drummer boy; and in this capacity he served four years, in George Washington’s Life Guard. He was a great favorite of the General who used to frequently, after the beating of the reveille, come along and pat him on the head, and call him “his boy.”
Milliner was at the battles of White Plains, Brandywine, Saratoga, Monmouth, Yorktown, and some others. The first of these he describes as “a nasty battle.” At Monmouth he received a flesh wound in his thigh. One of the officers came along, and, looking at the young drummer, said, “What’s the matter with, you, boy?” “Nothing,” he answered. “Poor fellow,” exclaimed the officer, “you are bleeding to death.” Milliner survived the wound and continued to serve, suffering with his comrades at Valley Forge.
After the war Milliner maintained his affections for his Commander-in-Chief. In an interview published in 1864 he recalled:
“One day the General sent for me to come up to headquarters. ‘Tell him,’ he sent word, ‘that he needn’t fetch his drum with him.’ I was glad of that. The Life Guard came out and paraded, and the roll was called. There was one Englishman, Bill Dorchester; the General said to him, ‘Come, Bill, play up this ‘ere Yorkshire tune.’ When he got through, the General told me to play. So I took the drum, braced her up, and played a tune. The General put his hand in his pocket and gave me three dollars; then one and another gave me more – so I made out well; in all, I got fifteen dollars. I was glad of it: my mother wanted some tea, and I got the poor old woman some.” (His mother accompanied the army as washerwoman, for the sake of being near her boy.)
In all, Milliner served six years and a half in the army. The following is a copy of his pension certificate:
UNITED STATES of AMERICA – WAR DEPARTMENT [Pension Claims.]
This is to certify that Alexander Milliner, late a drummer in the Army of the Revolution, is inscribed on the Pension List Roll of the New York Agency, at the rate of eight dollars per month; to commence on the 19th day of September, 1819.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the seal of the War Department.- JOHN C. CALHOUN.
Milliner lived to be 104 and died in 1865. A drum belonging to him is on permanent display in Rochester, New York at the Hervey Eli Chapter House, which is maintained by the Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
For more on Drummer Boys, see The Long Roll. This exclusive 50-page eBook presents the history of the Civil War Drummer Boy. DOWNLOAD HERE (PDF, must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view)