The Drummer Boy of Shiloh

Duke Library

One of the legends of Shiloh was of a young drummer boy who died on the battlefield. Cast as a young lad who had run away from home to seek adventure, the drummer boy was representative of the many young and untrained soldiers who fought in the war. While many men later came forward, claiming to be the drummer boy—despite not dying in the battle—John Clem, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga” is believed to have the strongest claim to the title.

Writers and poets heralded the bravery of the young drummer boy from Shiloh—and by extension the heroics of all soldiers. Examples of drummer boy lore include Samuel J. Muscroft’s 1870 play “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh,” Herman Melville’s poem “Shiloh,” Richard Coe’s “The Men of the West,” H. Pleasants McDaniel’s “Our Boys who Fell at Shiloh” and “General Albert Sidney Johnston,” and Forceythe Willson’s “The Old Sergeant.”

The following is another example: William “Shakespeare” Hays’ popular 1862 song “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.”

“Look down upon the battlefield,
Oh Thou, Our Heavenly Friend,
Have mercy on our sinful souls.”
The soldiers cried, “Amen.”
There gathered ’round a little group,
Each brave man knelt and cried
They listened to the drummer boy,
Who prayed before he died.

“Oh, Mother,” said the dying boy,
“Look down from heaven on me.
Receive me to thy fond embrace,
Oh, take me home to thee.
I’ve loved my country as my God.
To serve them both I’ve tried”‘
He smiled, shook hands —death seized the boy,
Who prayed before he died.

Each soldier wept then like a child.
Stout hearts were they and brave.
They wrapped him in his country’s flag
And laid him in the grave.
They placed by him the Bible,
A rededicated guide
To those that mourn the drummer boy
Who prayed before he died.

Ye angels ’round the throne of grace,
Look down upon the braves,
Who fought and died on Shiloh’s plain,
Now slumbering in their graves.
How many homes made desolate,
How many hearts have sighed.
How many like that drummer boy,
Who prayed before he died.

Source: Duke Library and the National Park Service.


Leave a Reply

The Forgotten Men: Veterans of the Indian Wars

The confluence of Civil War memory and the historical legacy of the postbellum Indian wars has not received substantial attention from historians. But in the American West the two inevitably…