By Lida Clapp

1. Children Soldiers and The Horrors of War

Unlike the later American wars, The Civil War of 1861-1865 attracted the attention of many young men and women who were thrilled to be surrounded with the stories of and opportunity to participate in the "glorious adventure" war. About 20% of those involved in this war were under the age of eighteen, more than 300 were under the age of 13 and few under ten. William Black was the youngest recorded wound
ed soldier in The Civil war. At the age of twelve, a shell shattered Black's left
arm. Poor soldier children like Black endured unimaginable horrors as they charged through storms of their enemies bullets while friends and family members fell toward the ground every second. They listened to the struggling wounded who pleaded for their family, the gift of life, and sometimes even for death to come and sweep they far away from the their hell which was war. They witnessed and even assisted surgeons as they amputated arms and legs of injured soldiers. Children faced the cruelty of Andersonville, a Confederate prison.

Not only did the young soldiers of The Civil War undergo barbaric and disturbing instances, mentally and physically, but the civilian children as well. They were forced to mature quickly as their father's left for war. Young boys overtook their father's positions in running the farms or businesses. They harvested, choppedwood, butchered animals for food, drove horses, cooked, and cared for their siblings and mothers.

Yes, both the northern and southern civilian children faced tough situations; the south definitely endured the most. More
than half of The Civil War battles were fought in the south, or the Confederate States. Families traveled underground to avoid artillery bursts and constant bullets that destroyed the upper parts of their homes. Some southern families couldn't even escape underground to avoid these dangers of war as their homes were transformed into field hospitals or were taken over by regiments. These southern children, and some northern children as well, sat in their own homes and watched soldiers slowly detach themselves from life as they accepted death's hand. “The rains have uncovered many of the shallow graves. Bony knees, long toes, and grinning skulls are to be seen in all directions. In one place I saw a man’s boot protruding from the grave … leaving the skeleton’s toes pointing to a land where there is no war.” – Thomas Galwey

2. Enlisting

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln made a law for the North saying that boys under eighteen years were allowed to enlist in The Civil War with the consent of their parents. Then, in 1862, Lincoln changed his mind and stated that boys under eighteen years old were no longer allowed to enlist. Throughout the war, the Confederacy remained with no minimum age for their solders. Seeing this, and taking note to the increasing number of casualties, recruiting officers willingly overlooked Lincoln’s wishes when underage boys came asking to enlist. These underage boys also cheated as they used fake names and ages to enlist so that their parents would not be able to deny their enlistment. If boys were not pickedto participate in the training to be a soldier in the war, they were still allowed the opportunity to occupant smaller, less valued jobs.

This is an excerpt of a boy who lied to his family in order to enlist.
Harrison Maxon (21), Edgar Houghton (16), and myself put our names down to enlist. 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 I 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. I told her [his sister] I had to go town. She said,“Hurry back, for dinner will soon be ready.” But I didn’t get back for two years.

3. Jobs

The boys who couldn’t get a job as a soldier mostly resorted to being musical children. Music children helped by relaying officers commands, signaling reveille, roll calling,sounding for company drill and taps. Other than being a soldier, the most important job was being a drummer boy. Taking on this role took more guts than it did to be an actual soldier as they were easy targets leading the team into battles. After listening to the same old music that the drummer boy played, one soldier made up a complaining song that started with “I’m sick of the fifer, more sick of the drum.” These music children were not allowed to fight during battles, but often they were forced to arm themselves in order to save their own lives and lives of friends.

Other jobs that children participated in were: being messengers, hospital orderlies, soldiers, canteen, bandages and stretcher carriers, assisting of surgeons and nurses, trench diggers, or shoe shiners.

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4. Heroic Deeds of Children During Wartime

The following five passages are stories of the heroic children during The Civil War.

  1. Johnny Cook, fifteen years old, was a bugler with the 4th U.S. Artillery. He participated in the battle of Antietam and noticed that the cannon worker had died. He then took over operations of the cannon and remarkably fought off three entire attacks by the South. Johnny Cook was awarded with a metal of honor for hisincredibly heroic work.
  2. Henry Shaler captured twenty five prisoners at the battle of Gettysburg. This is the most men that any man in the army was ableto capture. Henry shalerdid this by pretending to be a southerner soldier, telling the enemy (South) to stop shooting and put down their weapons in order to help him cary a wounded man to safety. When the enemy had obeyed his instruction, Shaler pulled out his pistoland was able to carry all twenty five men back to his camp asprisoners.
  3. Orion P. Howe was a drummer boy with the 55th Illinois Volunteers. Unfortunately, Howe was shot during the battle of Vicksburg. Withthis wound, the boywas still able to reach his general, General Sherman withan especially urgent request for newammunition.
  4. A boy from the 14th Connecticut Regiment was filling a coffee pot near the water when he was surrounded by southern soldiers,his enemy. The boyordered these soldiers to surrender, and thinking that the young child must not be alone, they obeyed his instruction. The boy took all of the southern soldier’s weapons and broughtthem back to hiscamp as prisoners.
  5. Johnny Clem ran away from his home to join the second Michigan Regiment. During the battle of Shiloh, Clem dropped his drum, grabbed a gun and shot aconfederate colonel. Clem became a war hero for his brave actions.

5. African American Slave Children

For the enslaved African American’s in America, this war meant freedom. Before the war bad begun, black children would risk their lives for a glimpse of freedom as they escaped with their families to the North. The majority of slaves felt that freedom was a priority, and retaining it was a miracle.
When president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves of America were ecstatic as they would finally be able to taste freedom without risk. Yes, the enslavement by the whites was killed, but racism still appeared throughout the North and South. This racism caused for many of these ex
-slaves, including children, to seek refuge in the Union lines as soldiers. They too, experienced the horrors of this brutal Civil War.

The encampment environments for emancipated slaves were harsh. They slept in wooden packing crates, the food was scarce, and disease was easilytransferred. As many as half of the blacks in these camps died of disease, such as Malaria and Typhoid. Some northerners set up schools and other programs to teach these underprivileged black children. No matter what they witnessed or endured, these African American children had revitalized hope for their future, as they were now officially free citizens of America.


6. After The War

In 1865, when the four-year war had come to an end, mixed feelings were projected throughout America’s North and South. Southern children were sad with their defeat while the northern children were jubilant with their win. Homes in the south were destroyed and fields remainedthe final resting place for rotting corpses. Desperate soldiers took animals and crops; many families faced starvation and disease. Almost child in America lost a relative or friend, and would continue to morn over their loss forever. These children of America will never forget what they saw, heard and read, they are scarred for life.

Despite these hardships, both the North and South, the black and white, and the young and old citizens of every American were thankful that the bloodiest war in had finally finished. With this in mind, the young children of America could now begin their lives as normal children should, with a clear sight into the future, not one clouded by blood and war.


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"Children of the Civil War." ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation. Web. 29 May 2012. <>.

"Children and the Civil War | Research & Encyclopedia Articles." BookRags. BookRags. Web. 29 May 2012. <>.


Orion P. Howe:*

John Cook:
"John Cook – Bugler." John Cook – Bugler. Web. 29 May 2012. <>.

Aftermath of civil war:

black soldiers poster: