One day in early 1864 at Chattanooga, Rev. Calvin Holman of the U.S. Christian Commission busied himself about camp when the army’s commander, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, arrived on his horse accompanied by a pint-sized boy in uniform riding a large bay. The boy, drummer Johnny Clem, had made quite a name for himself for his courage under fire.
So the story goes, Holman, 40, a peacetime minister with the Methodist Episcopal Church, persuaded Johnny to pose for this portrait. He strikes a casual, thoughtful pose as he sits on a stool against a canvas backdrop, with a well-worn brogan planted firmly on the dirt floor. He wears sergeant’s chevrons on his sleeves and a rounded badge on his coat. He presses an object, perhaps a ribbon, against his face and holds another item that resembles a spur.
Holman had a thousand of these cartes printed, and sold them to raise money for wounded soldiers. Printed on the back is an interview with Johnny by Holman, dated Feb. 15, 1864. Titled “The Young Patriot,” it reads:
“Sergt. Johnny Clem gave me the following account of himself. ‘I joined the 22d Mich. when ten years of age. I have been in the service 2 years and 3 months. This,’ pointing to a badge on the breast of his blouse, ‘is a Roll of Honor given me by Gen. [William S.] Rosecrans, for bravery. You see, at the battle of Chickamauga, our lines had been broken, and our men were retreating, and I was trying to rally them, when we were surrounded, and a rebel Colonel rode up and said, ‘Surrender, you son of a Yankee!’ Now I had picked up a gun, and as I could not hold it up, I brought it to a ‘charge’ and fired, when down came Mr. Rebel from his horse. Then they took me as a prisoner, and sent me with others to the rear, where I rolled myself in a blanket, and they went away and left me, so I found my way into our lines again.’ A short time after this, in [Joseph] Wheeler’s Raid on one of our wagon trains, our hero was taken prisoner again, ‘and’ said he ‘they gave me nothing to eat and stole my cap, and I told them I thought it was small business, so after 2 1-2 days they paroled me.’ He is now at Gen. Thomas’ Head Quarters at Chattanooga, and rides at the General’s side, and is reported as having been promoted to the position of Lieutenant on his Staff. He neither drinks, smokes, nor uses profane language; but is soldierly in his deportment, improves his time in study and intends to go to West Point and secure a good military education.”
John Lincoln Clem (1851-1937) went on to become a brigadier general in the Quartermaster Corps. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Holman died in 1902 in Kansas at age 79.
Most Hallowed Ground is part of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Project. Established by Jim Quinlan of The Excelsior Brigade, its mission is to identify all Civil War veterans on the grounds. For more information, contact Jim at 703-307-0344.
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