Note: This story about the youngest Civil War soldier in the Union Army is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery II.
When President Abraham Lincoln called for 100,000 volunteers to fill the ranks of the Union Army in 1861, long lines of men and boys streamed into recruiting centers across the nation. Local volunteer regiments formed in small towns and big cities across the North.
In August, 1861, the Third Volunteer Company, organized by Captain Samuel Mott in Delphos, Ohio, was mustered into the Army at St. Mary’s, Ohio. Among the eager recruits was an eight year old fatherless boy named Avery Brown. The minimum age for enlistment during the Civil War was eighteen years old, though younger boys were sometimes allowed to enlist with parental consent. But eight years old was far too young, and Avery was turned away.
Born September 28, 1852, the red haired, blue eyed youngster had a harsh childhood but did not allow it to dampen his spirits. Avery endeared himself to enlistees by playing his snare drum as a morale booster at the recruitment station and Captain Mott took the young boy under his wing. Captain Mott decided that the 4’6” tall boy had as much spirit as any full grown man under his command, and if Avery wanted to serve his country, he damned sure should be allowed to serve!
Twice Avery accompanied new recruits to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and twice he was denied permission to enlist. On the third trip, Captain Mott refused to allow the processing of the latest batch of 101 recruits, unless the drummer boy was also allowed to volunteer. “I have come here with 101 men who are ready to enlist on one condition, that our drummer boy be mustered in with us and permitted to go to the front. Otherwise we disband right here and return home,” Captain Mott declared.
The Army needed those men, so permission was reluctantly granted, and on August 18, 1861, Avery Brown was mustered into Company C, 31st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, at the age of 8 years, 11 months, and 13 days, making him the youngest enlisted soldier in the Civil War.
Four days later Avery’s unit was assimilated into the 118th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under Captain Rudolph Ruel. On September 11 they left for Cincinnati by railroad, and on the 15th the unit crossed the Ohio River and stopped at Covington, Kentucky.
The 118th then moved on to East Tennessee, crossing the Cumberland Mountains to engage heavily entrenched Rebel forces at Loudin, Tennessee. The enemy was routed and the victorious 118th marched to Knoxville, where they met strong resistance and were forced to withdraw back to Loudin. They advanced to Kingston, Tennessee, where they remained during the seventeen day siege of Knoxville.
When the Confederate forces withdrew from Knoxville, Avery’s unit marched to Tunnel Hill near Chattanooga. From there the 118th joined the Georgia Campaign. Their next contact with the enemy was at Resaca, Georgia on May 25, 1863, where the Rebels were forced to retreat. From then until the end of the Battle of Atlanta, they were constantly under fire and took many casualties.
Along the way, Avery was presented with a captured Confederate drum at Burton’s Station, Virginia. He carried it for one and a half years. during which he was called the “Drummer Boy of the Cumberland.” Avery Brown served on the front lines for eighteen months, during some of the bloodiest battles the 118th fought, until illness forced him to take a disability discharge in 1863. By the time of his discharge, he had suffered from mumps, measles and rheumatism, the latter making it necessary for him to quit the Army. Stoic in the face of so much human suffering, the young boy had tears in his eyes as he left his company for the last time. In June and July of 1865, the majority of the unit’s survivors were mustered out. Of the 1,000 men enlisted in the 118th Regiment, only 400 returned home.
After his discharge Avery lived in Delphos, Ohio for three years. In 1866 he moved to Elkhart, Indiana, where he worked as a stonecutter and musician. Over the next 25 years, Avery Brown organized bands throughout Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, becoming one of the Hoosier state’s best known solo cornetists. He became close friends with Charles Gerard Conn, who owned the Elkhart-based Conn Musical Instrument Company, and became a member of Conn’s Veteran Light Artillery, the only all-veteran company of its kind to be formed following the war.
Due to his friendship with Conn, Avery was in a unique position to test every new Conn cornet model as it came out of the factory. In recognition of Avery Brown’s service to his country, and as a tribute to their friendship, Conn presented Avery with a special gold plated engraved cornet, which became Avery’s most cherished possession.
Avery and his wife Cynthia left Elkhart during the 1890s to move to Texas, Wisconsin, and then Michigan, but they returned to Elkhart a few years later, where he lived out the remainder of his years.
The youngest Civil War veteran died at his Elkhart home on November 2, 1904, and is buried in Elkhart’s Grace Lawn Cemetery. The captured Confederate drum he played is on display at the Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol, Indiana, along with his discharge papers and a tintype photograph of the young “Drummer Boy of the Cumberland.”
Thought For The Day – The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. – Ellen Parr