American Civil War/The Boys' War: Available Information

Figure 1.--Here we have a CDV portrait of Robert G. Adams. This hand-painted portrait is undated, but as it was taken in Nashville we believe that it was taken early in the Civil War, probably 1861 or 62, at the C.C. Giers Studio. The portait is not identified as a Civil War portait, but we think that Adams was a young Civil War soldier and judgeing from his unifrm from a prosperous family. It is possible that he is wearing a military school uniform after the War, but the lac of badges suggests that he is a Confederaste soldier. The Confederate Army was noted for not using badges and decorations. Tennesee was a Civil ar battlefield throughout the War. Federal forces occupied Nashvill and much of Tennessee by 1862. Confederate General John Bell Hood led the Army of Tennessee in a last desperate effort to retake Nashville late in 1862. His already weakened army was devestated.

HBC has noted references to Civil War drummer boys, but we have as yet little actual informationon the many boys and youth tht served in the Civil war. We do know that thousands of children and youths were directly involved in the Civil War. Older boys and youths served as soldiers. Many younger boys were also invoved. Some were extremely young, including boys as young as 11 years old. We are not sure yet just what Federal or Confederate regulations were concerning the ages of boys signing up for military service. The younger boys generally served as drummer or buggle boys. Both the Confederate and Union soldiers tried to look after the younger boys. In major engagements they were often sent to the rear when charges into fortifications were planned. In some cases they had to be forced to the rear crying. Such a scene is portrayed in the movie Glory.

Federal Army

The Federal or Union Army maintained fairly detailed records on the age of the soldiers serving during the Civil War. Several scholars have combed through the available records. The precise numbers of boys that served varies depending on the specific study, but a good approximation is that about 0.8 million boys 17 years and under served, of these about 0.2 million were 16 and under and 0.1 million under 15 and younger. The numbers under 15 are much smaller. Apparently about 300 boys were 13 years or under. There were 25 boys that were 10 years of age or under. [Burke Davis, "The Civil War, Strange and Fascinating Facts"] For the most part these very young boys were employed as fifers or drummers, but regularly enrolled in the Army. Some boys were also bugglers, but bugglers tended to be slightly older as lung capacity and presence under fire was an important factor in the bugglers effectivness and sometimes the fare of the unit.

Confederate Army

Records for the Conderate Army are much sketchier. Ane studied sample of 11,000 men. Most were between 18 and 29 years of age. There was one boy of 13 years and three of 14 years. There were also 31 of 15 years, 200 were 16 years, and 366 were 17 years old. Much larger numbers as in the Federal Army were 18 years old, about 1,000. [Burke Davis, "The Civil War, Strange and Fascinating Facts"] This is too small a sample to compare with the more complete Federal records. It does, however, show that many quite young boys also served in the Confederate Army.


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Created: April 20, 1998
Last updated: 3:48 PM 10/20/2006