Meet the youngest person to fight in the civil war in this middle grade historical fiction novel, part of the Based on a True Story series.
Do you have what it takes to run off and join the army, leaving your family behind? That's what John Lincoln Clem, a nine-year-old boy living in Ohio, does as the American Civil War rages on.
In 1861, Johnny sneaks onto a train filled with men from the 3rd Ohio Union Regiment, determined to fight for his country. Taken in by the older soldiers, Johnny becomes a drummer boy - not to mention the youngest person to serve in the war. Living a soldier's life, Johnny experiences the brutalities of battle and the hunger and illness in between. Eventually he is captured by the Confederates, imprisoned, and then sent home a hero.
John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb writing as E. F. Abbott, with illustrations by Steven Noble, is a fascinating novel for young readers, featuring black-and-white illustrations and photographs throughout. This book has Common Core connections.
The Based on a True Story books by E. F. Abbott are exciting historical fiction stories about real children who lived through extraordinary times in American History.
"Johnny’s pluck, erstwhile patriotism, and sheer determination make him a likable and sympathetic hero. . . . the blend of strong story and illustrations brings to life a unique Civil War tale." -Booklist
"In one of four titles launching the Based on a True Story series, Abbott (a pseudonym for author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb) profiles the youngest known soldier in the American Civil War.... Twenty short chapters, interwoven with archival photos and Noble’s line drawings, depict the grueling realities of a being a Civil War soldier...while dashes of hope...help keep this war story palatable for younger audiences." -Publishers Weekly
About the Author
E. F. Abbott is a pseudonym for Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, author of Selling Hope and The 13th Sign. She and her family live in Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
John Lincoln Clem
Civil War Drummer Boy
By E. F. Abbott, Steven Noble
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Macmillan
All rights reserved.
The huge iron train wheels rumbled by, sounding to Johnny like a herd of wild mustangs, like thunder. Louder, even. Wind and dust stirred up under them. He felt small — bug-tiny — next to those things. Things that big and powerful and loud made it hard to be a hero. Johnny spat at them.
Johnny hated train wheels. And he hated feeling small and powerless.
He used to stand there, next to the dusty roar, and scream cuss words at those wheels. Then for a while he'd just scream. But it didn't make him feel any better, no, sir.
"Staring at them isn't going to bring her back, John Joseph," Pop said.
Johnny hadn't realized Pop had walked up. He shrugged. Did Pop think he didn't know that? He was nine, after all. He knew Mama wasn't coming back.
"Heard word that the troops are mustering in town this afternoon," Pop said.
"Really? Today's the day?" It was the one thing that could turn Johnny's sour mood sweet: Union troops! "Let's go!"
Pop smiled, patted Johnny's head (which made him feel like a kid), and walked back down the dusty road toward home. Johnny spat at the train wheels one more time, for good measure.
"I hate you."
* * *
The town square in Newark, Ohio, was four dirt roads that cut across rocky ridges and miles of cornfields, and they all just happened to intersect at that spot. A handful of brick buildings stood squat along the square, and a small creek burbled nearby. Usually quiet. Usually boring.
But today! Today, the Union troops were mustering, and their gathering was quite the sight!
Today, the blasts of the mighty bugle could be heard from a half mile away.
Today, the smell of roasted chicken filled the air from the picnic baskets folks had packed for the troops.
Today, those usually boring brick buildings were decorated with red, white, and blue bunting. Ladies leaned out of second-story windows, throwing rose petals down on the crowd. Older women waved handkerchiefs (when they weren't honking their noses into them). Old men raised their canes and yelled "Hurrah!" and "Save the Union!" and "Beat back those fire-eaters!"
And the troops! There were so many of them — about a thousand men total. Gleaming brass buttons winked on knife-sharp blue uniforms. The soldiers held muskets and flags and musical instruments. Those men stood proud and tall. Those men stood like heroes.
It was, all of it, the most glorious sight Johnny had ever seen. His heart raced and his palms sweated and his chin lifted with Union pride.
A soldier with lots of colorful rope on his shoulders climbed atop a stump. Johnny had stood on that exact stump many times, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting loud speeches about the high prices of sour apple candy sticks at the general store. But this guy! He didn't cup his hands or nothing.
Then a drum started beating, low and slow. Quiet at first, underneath the noise of crying mamas and guffawing men. The crowd almost didn't even notice it. Like a heartbeat, taptaptap.
But it grew louder, louder, swelling and rising with each beat until it was bouncing and echoing off the buildings, BOOMBOOMBOOM. People grew silent as the beat of the drum rumbled through their chests.
And when it stopped — when the drumbeat silenced — Johnny felt like someone had ripped his heart clean out. The whole crowd held its breath and waited to be told to exhale, because the drum had taken over. The drum did that.
For the first time ever, that drum made Johnny feel like he was a part of something big.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" the fancy fella on the stump said. He said things, he didn't yell them. That struck Johnny as important. He decided to weave through the crowd to get closer to this importance. Johnny bumped against the waists of adults wearing belt buckles and leather gun holsters and dress ribbons until he was just below the important fella.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the United States are no longer united. We are a nation ripped apart at the seams, and for what reason?"
"Because of those greedy rebels and their slaves!" someone yelled from the back of the crowd.
"Slavery, yes," the man on the stump stated. This guy oozed calm. "But also tariffs. And a different economy. And states' rights. Those Confederate states that seceded? They left our Union because they believe their individual needs are more important than the needs of the whole."
"Selfish morons!" someone else from the crowd yelled, and a bunch of the adults chuckled.
The important man didn't laugh, no, sir. He shot a look of ice in the direction of the comment. "They believe in their cause as much as we believe in ours. Which is why this is going to be a war like none the world has ever seen."
The crowd cheered and waved things in the air at that, but Johnny felt like maybe they hadn't heard him right.
"We know in our hearts that the Union must survive. We are a nation built on differences. But we are only strong together."
Another cheer from the crowd, and this time Johnny cheered, too.
"And so I present to you" — the man swept his palm over the troops who had assembled in one corner of the square — "the Third Ohio Volunteer Regiment. I am Captain Leonidas McDougal, and it is my highest honor to lead these men into battle. It is my highest honor to do everything in my God-given power to keep this nation whole! The Union must be preserved!"
With that, he leapt off the stump. Bugles blasted through the air like triumphant eagles, brassy and showy, not sneaky like the power of that drum. The crowd cheered, rose petals rained down from above, and people swarmed to press gifts like combs, pocketknives, cigars, and slippers into the hands of the departing soldiers.
The Union must be preserved.
His help was obviously needed.
Johnny stood on tiptoe to spot the important man, Captain McDougal. The captain swung up on a horse several feet away. Johnny pushed back through the maze of belt buckles and ribbons until he stood beside the captain's mount.
"Captain McDougal!" Johnny yelled up to him.
The captain didn't hear him. The officer winked at a nearby girl in a frilly pink dress.
"Captain McDougal!" Johnny yelled louder.
The captain turned in Johnny's direction but looked over his head to the crowd behind him.
At last, Captain McDougal saw him.
"Captain, sir!" Johnny saluted. "My name is John Joseph Clem, and I volunteer my services to the Third Ohio Regiment, sir!"
As Johnny stood there, chest puffed out and arm stiffened in salute, he felt Captain Leonidas McDougal scan all four feet, forty pounds of him. The captain's mouth ticked up.
And then the captain laughed. Full-on, head-tilted-back, belly-clutching laughed.
"I'm not enlisting infants, son."
The captain dug his heels into the side of his horse and trotted away, stirring up a cloud of dust.
"I'll show him," Johnny muttered.CHAPTER 2
The big, bold drum overtook the thumping in Johnny's chest again, and all those proud fellas in their crisp blue uniforms filed toward the train station. Ladies wept, men hurrahed, and kids ran alongside the ranks, pumping fists in the air and doling out wisdom like "Hit those rebels right between the eyes!"
Johnny wanted to follow that beating drum more than he'd ever wanted anything.
Instead, he followed Pop down the dusty road home, kicking up a rock here and there and muttering nasty words under his breath.
Pop stopped, waited. "Why the long face, John Joseph? I thought that spectacle would cheer you."
"I volunteered for the regiment, but the captain laughed at me."
Pop's face twisted. "You volunteered? Don't be ridiculous."
Boy, did that ever get Johnny red. "Pop, if you say I can, they'll let me join the army. I'll sign up on one of those thirty-day stints. Surely we'll whup those rebels in a month's time! I just need you to say I can, and the army will let me in."
Pop's face twisted in the opposite direction, from smirk to scowl. "John Joseph, you're a child! That's ridiculous."
That was the second time he called Johnny that, ridiculous. Johnny couldn't hold it in. All the anger he'd bottled up over the last couple of months came spewing out.
"You know what's ridiculous, Pop? You. Working on those trains. Still. After everything. Don't that kinda make you Mama's killer?"
Johnny had barely finished saying it when Pop's open hand flew out and — smack! — landed square on his cheek. It burned hotter than Johnny's anger.
"Don't you ever say that to me again, John Joseph," Pop hissed. "You go to church right now and ask forgiveness for talking to your father that way."
"But, Pop —"
"Now!" Pop pointed back downtown, in the direction of the church. "On your knees, son!"
Johnny's shoulders fell. He headed toward church.
He wasn't about to argue with his pop on this one.
But he was nowhere near giving up, neither.
* * *
Johnny stood across the street from the Catholic church. A small cross sat atop the building. "I'm sorry for what I'm about to do," he whispered. "But I don't see any other way."
Johnny's little brother, Louis, nudged his shoulder. Johnny hated that Louis was already as big as him. "Whatcha doing?" Louis said.
Johnny sighed. He wasn't surprised that Louis and their sister, Lizzie, showed up, but it would've been a lot easier if they hadn't. "Praying."
Louis laughed. "You need it, from what I hear. Pop sent me and Lizzie to come to church with you."
Lizzie bounced on her toes behind Louis. "Can I light one of the candles for Mama today, John Joseph? Louis got to do it last time."
Johnny knelt on the ground beside her and put his hands on her shoulders. "All right. But hey —"
Johnny swallowed. There was no way he could allow himself to cry right now. No turning back.
"I'm going swimming in the canal instead, okay?" And then he added, "Don't tell Pop," because he knew then for sure they'd tell.
"You're going to get in so much trouble," Louis sang.
"Maybe," Johnny muttered, and stood. "Go on in, okay? I'll deal with Pop ... later."
Lizzie frowned and shook her curls, and it about broke Johnny's heart in half. "You're not telling the truth, John Joseph. I'm gonna light a candle for you, too."
Johnny blinked because he couldn't have tears. "That's a good idea, Lizzie."
The two headed in through the big wooden doors.
Johnny pretended to head to the canal.
* * *
On the train platform, those awful wheels stood perfectly still. It was the first time Johnny had ever really looked at train wheels. Before the accident, he'd never thought to look. And after, there was no way he'd give them his attention as they whizzed by.
They were massive — twice Johnny's height, at least, each of them inches thick. They joined forces using long, strong iron bars and cogs and bolts. Of course they would crush whatever fell in their path. Horrible, awful, nasty things, train wheels.
Johnny shuddered, breaking out in a cold sweat. "You're such a baby, John Joseph," he told himself. "Soldiers ride on trains."
A quick glance around the platform told Johnny no one had noticed him — they were too busy weeping and hugging their loved ones to see him at the edge of the station, sweating and swearing to himself. He quickly counted to thirteen, his lucky number. Counting to thirteen was like his own private tempo; Johnny liked that it was an odd number that most people shied away from. He realized now, after hearing that drum this morning, that counting sounded like a drumbeat in his head: onetwothree fourfivesix seveneightnine teneleventwelve THIRTEEN.
With slick palms, Johnny grabbed the bars alongside the train steps and climbed aboard.
He spat down onto the wheel for good measure.
The train car was packed with soldiers shuffling baggage, soldiers clapping one another's backs, soldiers leaning out windows to kiss pretty ladies. But weaving through the crowd was a man wearing a black hat with a shiny brass nameplate and an official-looking bow tie. The train conductor.
Johnny had to hide — and quick! The conductor smiled, thumped a few fellas on their backs, and helped a guy shove his overstuffed knapsack onto the wooden rack overhead. With each movement, he got closer, closer....
Johnny's only chance was to stay low. He dove under a nearby seat and lay flat. A soldier sat down just after, and his feet and the feet of the others on the bench hid Johnny well enough.
The conductor passed into the next car.
"All aboard!" the conductor shouted. The soldiers stamped their boots on the metal floor of the train as the engine chugged to life. From under the seat, the sound was deafening.
The train lurched forward. Every bone in Johnny's body jarred. Where he hid, he was likely right on top of one of those awful, monstrous wheels. Bile crept up his throat.
"So long, Newark!" one of the soldiers yelled. "We gotta go nab us some rebs!"
The soldiers cheered.
Johnny counted to thirteen.CHAPTER 3
On a bed of pain and anguish
Lay dear Annie Lisle,
Chang'd were the lovely features
Gone the happy smile.
Johnny's mother used to sing that.
His mother had an awful singing voice but a huge heart, and so she warbled songs in her horrible voice like she was a regular songbird.
When Johnny was little, it used to embarrass him in church, her singing like that.
He'd give anything to hear her awful singing right now.
Instead, he was curled up under a train seat between six sets of smelly feet, rattling toward war, listening to men belt out deep-voiced army tunes, riding on top of the thing that killed her.
Johnny hated train wheels.
He almost wished he would be found so he could think of anything else but those dadgummed wheels and her fragile body.
Johnny's stomach wanted to flop open and spill its contents. He wanted to shout, "Hey! Lookee under here! A stowaway!" For hours, he fought back both vomit and shouting. Hours.
Until, finally, those huge, loud wheels screeched to a stop. Johnny thought the squeals might split his eardrums open. Still, he'd never heard anything so sweet.
"Here we are, fellows!" a voice shouted. "Covington, Kentucky. Welcome to your new home!"
A new home sounded mighty nice to Johnny.
* * *
Johnny stayed curled up under that seat until the boots had all stamped off the train car and a man had pushed a wide broom up the aisle between seats. Luckily, the man didn't do a very good job, so he swept right on by Johnny. Johnny sneezed and crawled out, stiff but thankful to finally get off that godforsaken train.
Johnny peeked around the corner of the train door. If he thought the thousand blue uniforms of the Third Ohio had been impressive back in Newark, he wasn't prepared for the many, many thousands of soldiers waiting for orders at this station. Below was a sea of blue wool and brass buttons. Johnny's heart leapt with pride. He'd made the right choice.
Disappearing into the crowd wouldn't be easy, though. Johnny's tan shirt and breeches couldn't have stood out more if he was wearing a Shawnee headdress. He hopped off the train and snuck through the crowd toward the station. Most times, he could slide through a group of adults like melted butter. But today, a hand grabbed the back of his shirt.
"Boy, you shouldn't be in the middle of this. Go over there to watch." The soldier nudged Johnny in the direction of a group of civilians who'd gathered at the station, toting gifts and flags.
Johnny nodded. That was safest, for now. The little girl next to him bounced on her toes and reminded Johnny so much of Lizzie that he got a lump in his throat. Maybe he didn't make the right choice.
A whistle cut through the noise of shuffling and moving bags. "Sixth New York!" Those fellas who were with the Sixth slung their bags over their shoulders, grabbed the jackets they'd removed in the heat, and pushed toward the edge of the station.
"Wait, did they say Sixth or Sixtieth?"
"Did my regiment already leave? My regiment didn't leave, did they?"
"That's us, Buck!"
It was chaos.
Johnny watched five or six regiments assemble and leave this way, then a whistle blew and familiar words followed: "Third Ohio!"
Excerpted from John Lincoln Clem by E. F. Abbott, Steven Noble. Copyright © 2016 Macmillan. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
John Lincoln Clem is nine years old, and a resident of Ohio. With the US Civil War going on, and his mother dead, he decides to run off and join the US army. With the Third Ohio Union Regiment, he partakes in many battles (including Shiloh) and ends a war hero. The main character, despite being humanly quick to anger, is a very good person and surprisingly level headed for someone his age at that occupation. He meets many people, including a malcontent and a runaway slave, and is shows his bravery marching into battle Rat-a-tat-tatting. It appears to be historically accurate, and the use of photographs bring a real world touch to it. All of the characters have good motivations, but there is one simple problem. I simply feel that book is slightly sad, with many characters dying or disappearing for no reason. But the very strong ending makes up for it, although the last few pages are a drag. All in all, I feel that it is a strong historical fiction book for 8-12 year olds. Charles M., age 12, Richmond Mensa