Letter to My Grandson: Cat Warfare…The Little Drummer Cat

Dear Grandson,

Well yesterday was quite a day. Our country got a new president.  I hope you watched the inauguration. It pays to watch inaugurations, because you just never know what will happen. It is always a good show. Besides it is instant history and amazing to see how our nation peacefully transfers power.

I do not believe that there has ever been a time in our country’s history where everyone was pleased with a new president. As in all elections there are people who are happy and those who are disappointed.  There will be demonstrations, like today’s women’s march, by those who want the new president to hear their concerns.  That is actually a good thing. Peaceful dissent protects freedom.  Protests that become violent or cause property damage are unlawful riots instigated to oppress freedom.  One should never be confused with the other.

Trump is not the first unpopular president to enter the White House.  Lincoln was absolutely loathed when he entered office.  He was often portrayed in media cartoons as an uneducated socially awkward ugly black gorilla.

Then, too, there were new presidents that absolutely hated outgoing presidents. Grant would not ride to the Capitol with Andrew Johnson, so Johnson refused to attend Grant’s inauguration. After a particularly nasty campaign, on his inauguration day Eisenhower refused to even pay Truman a courtesy call at the White House.  Which is amazing since those two men were the American leadership who worked together to win World War II.  They were both considered great patriots.

Do you know who else was considered a great patriot?  A boy named Johnny Clem.  Johnny was born on August 13, 1851 in Newark, Ohio.  He was named John Joseph Kelm.  He changed the spelling of his name in later life.  Johnny was only 10 years-old when Lincoln issued the call for volunteers to serve in the army to put down the states in rebellion.   Johnny immediately tried to enlist, but he was told he was too young.

Johnny Clem

After his mother was killed in a train accident in May of 1861, the same month that Lincoln called for volunteers, the young lad quit school and ran away from home to join up with the Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  They, too, rejected him because of his young age and small size.

Next he tried to join the 22nd Michigan Regiment, but was again rejected. Instead of giving up, Johnny followed the regiment.  Eventually, they adopted him as sort of a mascot.  The regiment’s officers provided him with a uniform and gun, and used their own pay to provide him the wage of a regular soldier which was only $13 dollars a month. Soon, he became their drummer boy.

There is a legend that says that Johnny Clem was “Johnny Shiloh” a famous drummer boy who was in the most deadly part of the fight at the Battle of Shiloh. It was reported that he was almost killed by a shrapnel shell fragment that crashed through his drum knocking him to the ground unconscious.  At that point his fellow soldiers found him and rescued him from the battlefield.

Some modern historians say that this story is not true and that the Johnny Shiloh Legend came from a Civil War Song called the “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.”  There are several reports of Johnny being in the battle of Shiloh and a New York Times newspaper article in 1915 confirmed the legend as fact.  Johnny retired from the Military as a Bridger General in 1915 and did not die until 1937.  Since he was still alive and of sound mind at the time the article was published, the reporters of the newspaper could have easily verified their account by just asking him and his comrades.

After already being in several major battles, at age 12 Johnny was finally allowed to enlist in the Union Army. He would ride into action on an artillery caisson and shot a musket that had been modified especially for his small size.

In September of that same year at the Battle of Chickamauga, Johnny and his fellow Union soldiers were retreating when they were overwhelmed by Confederates. Somehow Johnny became separated from his regiment and ran right into a Confederate Colonel who demanded his surrender.  Johnny was no push over.  He shot and wounded the Colonel before escaping and rejoining the Union line.  His bravery and cool head under fire won him much fame as the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”  When he later learned that the soldier he had shot survived his wounds, he proclaimed it was the best news he had ever got.

After the battle he was promoted to sergeant and still holds the title of being the youngest non-commissioned officer to have ever served in the United States Army. He was also given a medal for his bravery.

Johnny Clem in Civil War Uniform

In addition to the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga, Johnny fought with General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army at the bloody battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek and Atlanta.  Just a month after the Chickamauga battle while guarding a train, Johnny was captured by Georgia Confederate cavalry.  He was very upset when the rebels took away his military uniform, including his cap with the three bullet holes in it.  Johnny was not a prisoner for long and was included in a prisoner exchange fairly quickly.

Johnny began his military career as a drummer boy.  During the Civil War, Drummer boys were very important.  It was their duty to use their drums to deliver marching and battle orders to troops.  Every infantry company had a drummer.  The soldiers relied on the drum beats to tell them what to do.  Drums woke the soldiers in the morning, they told them when it was time for roll call, sick call and guard duty.  They also played “taps” in the evening to tell the soldiers it was time to sleep.  These young boys followed their soldiers right into battle and used their drums to communicate orders from the commanding officers.

Johnny Clem and Union Army Civil War Drum

The drums they used were made of wood that had been cut into thin layers. The wood was steamed so that is could be bent into the circular shape of a drum. The top of the drum or “drum head” was made out of tightly stretched calf skin.  Rope was used to hold the calf skin in place.  Both Union and Confederate troops used drums as the main communication tool in battle.  Union drums were fancier and were usually painted with a large eagle and stars and stripes.

Both Civil War soldiers and drummer boys were young.  The average soldier’s age was 24.  Many of soldiers were 18 or 19 years old or younger.  A large percentage were young men from farms who had joined the war effort to get away from boring farm chores.  They thought that the war would be short and a great fun adventure.  These soldiers could not have been more wrong about army life or the war.

Regardless of how hard the war made their lives, these guys were still youngsters and needed to have fun once in a while. When they were not in battle would find ways to amuse themselves and often created games to play together.  One of these games was called. “One Old Cat.” It was quite a bit like the game of baseball, but only had three bases.  (Rules for the ball game of One Old Cat.)

In 1864 at the age 13 Johnny was discharged from the Army. He graduated from high school in 1870. He tried several times to get into West Point, but he couldn’t pass the entrance exam due to an incomplete education.  President Ulysses Grant on December 18, 1971, promoted him to the rank of Second Lieutenant.

Johnny had a remarkable military career and rose through the ranks to become a brigadier general and retired from military at age 64 on August 13, 1915.  By that time he was the last civil war veteran still serving in the army. On August 19, 1916 he was promoted, on the retired list, to the rank of major general.  Johnny Clem died in San Antonio, Texas on May 13, 1937, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnny Clem in old age

Johnny spent his entire life serving his country.  Love of country and patriotism is a beautiful thing. Johnny also had a pretty good sense of humor. After his first wife died Johnny remarried the daughter of a Confederate veteran.  When asked about how that was working out, he replied that the union could not get more united.

I did listen to President Trump’s inaugural speech.  I think he did a good job.  I agree with him that our country and citizens should always come first.  I also agree that whether a child is born in a city or on a farm on the plains of Nebraska they should both have the same opportunities. You know which line I liked the best?  When he said that there was no room in patriotism for prejudice.  Ain’t that the truth!

I hope you have a great weekend.  Sounds like the weather is going to be warm, but maybe a bit wet.  I think we are going to go shopping for a new computer desk.  I want our computer off of the kitchen table.

Sending lots of hugs and kisses.


Grandma Pat


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