The Civil War has gone down in history as the deadliest conflict in American history. Between 1861 and 1865, more than 600,000 soldiers were killed — that’s more than American military deaths in World War I and World War II combined. Although the majority of the 3 million soldiers were grown men, it is estimated that as many as 20% were under 18 years of age.
The youngest of the child soldiers — some not even 10 years old — served as drummer boys and messengers. These positions still put them in danger as evidenced by the case of William Black. As a 12-year-old drummer, Black’s left hand and arm were shattered by an exploding shell. Black is supposedly the youngest wounded soldier of the war.
Another famous child soldier was John Clem. A drummer boy for the 22nd Michigan at the Battle of Chickamauga, Clem is said to have shot a Confederate colonel who had demanded his surrender. Afterwards he was promoted to sergeant, the youngest soldier ever to be a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army. Clem retired from the US Army a brigadier general in the Quartermaster Corps in 1915, the last veteran of the Civil War to do so.
Take an eye-opening look at Black, Clem and other child soldiers of the Civil War in the photos below and learn more about the children on the battlefield from The Civil War Trust.