The Youngest Non-Commissioned Officer In U.S. Military History Killed An Enemy Officer At 12 Years Old

John Clem

John Clem was nine years old when he ran away from home and tried to become a drummer boy with the Union Army. It was 1861, and his mother had died. However, the Union Army rejected him. Unfortunately for his military aspirations, he was too young and looked his age.

Joining The Union Army

Rejection did not stop him from trying again. Finally, the 22nd Michigan Infantry told him no, so he decided the best course of action was to follow them wherever they went.

They gave up and accepted him into the unit. The officers pooled their money to pay him since he wasn’t old enough to enlist.

His first Civil War battle was the Battle of Chickamauga in Walker County, Georgia, which put him at 12. It’s said that he used a short musket customized for his height.

The Union did not fare well during the battle. Its casualty count came in second to the Batte of Gettysburg. As they retreated, a Confederate colonel tried to get Clem to surrender. Clem refused and shot him.

Fighting The Confederates

After the battle, Clem received a promotion. He was now a sergeant and the youngest officer to serve. But, he was captured by the Confederates.

They took his uniform, and he became a propaganda piece. The Confederates told people the Union had to use children because they couldn’t find any officers.

In 1863, he was exchanged and back with the Union Army. He was injured in two different battles and discharged in 1864.

Back In The Army

Clem was able to go to high school and enlist in the Army. He applied to West Point but was rejected. However, his previous service was brought to President Ulysses S. Grant’s attention, and he was given a commission.

He entered the Army Artillery School as 2nd Lt. Clem but decided to transfer to the Quartermaster Corps. He remained there until his career was over.

He fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and served as a quartermaster in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He reached the colonel by 1906 and was the chief quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Clem was forced to retire at 64. Civil War veterans who became colonels were usually promoted to brigadier generals. In 1916, he received one more promotion to major general. He died in 1937.

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