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The 12-Year-Old Who Fought In the Civil War

John Clem was born in 1851, which should have made him too young to fight in the Civil War, but he was determined. The Ohio youngster had to fight his way into the service, and when he was discharged as the war was winding down, he was a 12-year-old folk hero. Clem wrote his autobiography in 1914, which told some amazing stories, some of them backed up by the historical record.   

John’s interest in military service had begun shortly after Confederate rebels fired on Fort Sumter, officially starting the U.S. Civil War. At one point, he approached the Third Ohio Regiment of Volunteers, which happened to be passing through Newark, and asked the commanding officer to take him on as their drummer boy. “He looked me over, laughed, and said he wasn’t enlisting infants,” Clem later wrote. But he wasn't willing to let the matter drop. His sister Elizabeth later recalled that as the family sat eating dinner one night in May 1861, “Johnnie said ... ‘Father, I’d like mighty well to be a drummer boy. Can’t I go into the Union army?’ ‘Tut, what nonsense boy!’ replied father, ‘You are not yet 10 years old!’”

After the Klems finished eating, John announced that he was going out for a swim. Instead, he ran away from home.

Clem participated in some of the war's most famous battles, was captured by the Confederate Army, and was wounded twice. After the war, he went to high school -and then joined the army again! Read the story of John Clem at mental_floss. 

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