In 1861 war was at the doorsteps. Waifs of war on both sides volunteered for the glamor of war or to protect their families, in spite of orders from President Lincoln to the contrary. Most served as drummers or messengers. Some fought as infantrymen. Some were wounded, captured or killed and many lived the horror of battle, coming of age during an incredibly bloody war.
The youngest reported child in the Union Army was William Henry Bush with the 4th Battery of the Indiana Light Artillery, who at age 5 was taken to war by his father as his valet. Although never formally enlisted, Willie wore a private's uniform and even met Abraham Lincoln.
Drummer Boy in Harms Way
It was August 1861 and Avery Brown determined to enlist. The problem was he was just 4-foot-6 and 8 years old. He played the snare drum at recruitment stations to boost enlistments and was allowed to continue as a drummer boy on the front until medically discharged in 1863. Slightly older, Chauncey Perry “Commodore” Byam was reportedly 9 years old when he was a drummer boy for Company D of the Iowa Volunteer Infantry. John Clem, also 9, joined the 22nd Michigan as an unofficial drummer boy until allowed to officially join in 1863. Twice wounded, John became the youngest soldier ever promoted as a noncommissioned officer. Following the war, he re-enlisted and was promoted as a second lieutenant by President Grant, retiring in 1915 as a major general. No confederate soldier is reported to have served under the age of 11.