(Photo Source: The Liljenquist Collection.)
I want to begin this post with a little bit of another Civil War blog post, from Elizabeth Goetsch’s blog History and Interpretation (I found it through another good CW Blog Interpreting the Civil War):
When I worked at the battlefield, I encountered a woman in her early 50s meandering through the museum. I approached her, as I would any time I roved the museum, and asked her how she was doing. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “those poor boys and their mothers.” I was startled. While visiting the battlefield could prove an emotional experience, I rarely encountered the raw emotion through tears. In the following conversation, I learned that her son had recently been deployed and she struggled with being a mother of a soldier in a war zone. She commented on the casualty numbers (around 24,000 killed, wounded, or missing during the Battle of Stones River), but specifically clung to the number of killed. That is a difficult number to pin down, but estimated about 3,000. She pointed out that “meant 3,000 mothers did not have a son come home because of this battle.” She personally related to that tragedy.
As someone who has cried at battlefields before, and as someone from a military family, I can completely understand the visitor’s feelings and also those of Elizabeth. But now that you’ve read it, scroll up and look at the picture again.
Look at that damned rosy paint that photographer added to the photo.
At the beginning of the war, Lincoln allowed children under 18 to enlist if they had their parents permission, but revoked it a year later. This did not stop recruiting officers from looking the other way when young boys enlisted.
Many boys became drummers, messengers, stretcher bearers, and of course, some served as soldiers.
In searching for statistics about exactly how many young men enlisted or served, I found this great website that provided some primary sources from boy soldiers. Here’s the story of Elisha Stockwell, who enlisted at 15 to spite his father:
We heard there was going to be a war meeting at our little log school house. I went to the meeting when they called for volunteers, Harrison Maxon (21), Edgar Houghton (16), and myself, put our names down…. My father was there and objected to my going, so they scratched my name out, which humiliated me somewhat. My sister gave me a severe calling down…for exposing my ignorance before the public, and called me a little snotty boy, which raised my anger. I told her, ‘Never mind, I’ll go and show you that am not the little boy you think I am.’
The Captain got me in by lying a little, as I told the recruiting officer I didn’t know just how old I was but thought I was eighteen. He didn’t measure my height, but called me five feet five inches high. I wasn’t that tall two years later when I re-enlisted, but they let it go, so the records show that as my height.
He soon came to regret his decision, he wrote this after Shiloh:
As we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home, and I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away to get into such a mess I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me.
Read on to learn about a 9-year who boldly shot an enemy officer in battle!