“Civil War armies often included very young soldiers. Exactly how many is difficult to determine, given the scarcity of records and the honesty of “boy recruits” when reporting their actual age. It is clear, however, that thousands of minors served, and some were as young as nine years old.
Such young men, either serving in the ranks as musicians or as musket-toting infantrymen, took the same risks as their older counterparts. They experienced hunger, cold, fatigue, crippling wounds and illness and the horrific sights of the battlefield and the prison camp.
Clothing young soldiers was a frequent problem, as even the army’s smallest uniforms were too large and required alteration. Shoes such as these, common in the civilian world, would have been difficult to obtain for a young soldier, and would have been a much sought after item during soldier “foraging” expeditions.
Young boys were capable of amazing heroism. Orion P. Howe, age 12, for instance, joined Company C, 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a drummer boy. On May 19, 1863, during the assault on Vicksburg, Howe’s actions earned him the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
“A drummer boy, 14 years of age, and severely wounded and exposed to a heavy fire from the enemy, he persistently remained upon the field of battle until he reported to General W. T. Sherman the necessity of supplying cartridges for the use of troops under the command of Colonel Malmborg.”
After the war Howe settled in Springfield, Missouri and is buried in the Springfield National Cemetery.
Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30065″