John L. Clem, Muster Roll Document, Signed 46 Times


Drummer Boy of Chickamauga 

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John Lincoln Clem earned fame during the Civil War for his unverified presence at Shiloh, and for his actual service at Chickamauga, as a 9-10 year-old drummer boy for the 22nd Michigan regiment.  His cherubic face, recorded in numerous publicity photos and woodcuts for illustrated newspapers, became a symbol for the childish innocence of the nation, lost in Civil War. 

His later life was marked by years of faithful military service (President Grant personally arranged his 1871 commission in the Regulars), but also by an enduring love of publicity.  He retired from the army as a brevet major general in 1916. Corbin remained in the service and rose to the rank of Major General and Adjutant General of the U.S. Army during the war with Spain.

This fascinating muster roll tells the story of two months service of a famous regiment of African-American “buffalo soldiers” on the Texas frontier. Captain Corbin, also breveted general for bravery leading colored troops at the battle of Nashville, signs twice on the verso.  He retired from the army as a brevet major general in 1916. Each of the black enlisted men also signs, mostly with marks, although post librarian Pvt. Jack Jones and a few others sign in the unsteady hands of adults who came late to literacy. 

Clem summarizes the company’s service with the statement, “During the last two months the company has performed ordinary garrison and fatigue duty at Fort Brown, Texas.” 

The document is clean and easy to read; torn in about 7 places at the folds, as is common with such docs; lt. ch. at extrems. does not affect any writing; several enlisted sigs, marked out w/ blue grease pencil; else v.g.  A rare treasure, bearing on multiple areas of interest, including the Johnny Clem legend, buffalo soldiers, the Indian wars, and the connections with the less-famous, but more distinguished officers Doubleday and Corbin.      

(Clem, John Lincoln, “Johnny Shiloh,” the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”)  Partly Printed Muster Roll of Capt. Henry C. Corbin’s Co. I, 24th U. S. Infantry. (Col. Abner Doubleday, commanding). Fort Brown, Texas: 31 December, 1873.  Giant folio; single leaf.  Second Lieut. John L. Clem prepared this muster roll, and signed it 42 times (once as “2 Lt. 24th Inf.”), to verify the record of each enlisted man in his company.  He also printed his name in two other places on the document.

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