The youngest Union soldier in the American Civil War is said to be buried in Grace Lawn Cemetery, but he’s not the only drummer boy laid to rest in Elkhart, according to the city of Elkhart’s website.
Avery Brown was 41 days away from turning 9 when he began serving in the Union army Aug. 18, 1861, according to an article published Oct. 25, 1976, in The Elkhart Truth. Avery grew up in Delphos, Ohio, where he learned to play the drums from Capt. Samuel Mott, who was a recruiter for Company C of the 31st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, according to 2005’s “Our Youngest Blue and Gray Callow Brave and True,” written by English and American Studies professor emeritus Jay S. Hoar of the University of Maine Farmington.
Mott had inspired Brown’s patriotism even before the start of the Civil War, Hoar wrote. He hired and paid the youth to play along with a martial band outside of the local recruiting station.
“Avery, whose martial music had inspired many, inevitably became the pet of dozens of young men then joining up to form three companies from northwestern Allen County,” Hoar wrote. “They insisted Avery be allowed to accompany them when they proceeded to Columbus.”
Back then, most Union soldiers were about 21 years old and volunteers were usually teenagers, said Dr. Tom Murphy, a history professor with Indiana University South Bend. The first two times Avery tried to enlist at Camp Chase in Columbus, recruiting officer Capt. Stansbury turned him away, Hoar wrote. He is said to have exclaimed emphatically each time that he “cannot enlist a baby.”
Avery returned a third time with an affidavit from his mother, granting him permission to join the Union army. He was also joined by Mott, who rallied other troops to approach Stansbury with an ultimatum.
“’I have come here with 101 men — 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,’” Mott is quoted as saying in Hoar’s book. “Otherwise, we disband right here and return home.”
The Union army needed all the men it could get, Hoar wrote. So Stansbury reluctantly enlisted Avery, who left Columbus with the 31st Ohio Volunteer Infantry on Sept. 27, 1861, for Louisville, Ky. Shortly after he put on his uniform, Avery was presented with a Confederate drum taken during a skirmish at Burton’s Station, Va., Hoar wrote. Today, the drum can be seen at the Percussive Arts Society in downtown Indianapolis. It’s on loan from the Elkhart County Historical Museum.
The drummer is important in battle because he helped officers communicate with soldiers over long distances and when shouted commands could not be heard, said Dr. Mark Noll, history professor at the University of Notre Dame.
“Shouts were what got people to do things together or to obey orders and, of course, shouting didn’t work when there’s a huge battle,” Noll said. “But a drum could be heard, so drummer boys had to memorize proper codes and then beat them out.”
Avery would serve in the Union army for 17 months, earning him the title “The Drummer Boy of Cumberland.” His military career later took him to other states including Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
However, the crude cuisine of military life was not fit for a growing boy and the cold weather caused Avery to turn ill, Hoar wrote. He suffered from mumps and measles, which led to diarrhea and piles. But it was rheumatism — a disease that causes pain, swelling in joints and stiffness in muscles — that led to his honorable discharge Jan. 26, 1863, according to historical documents at the Elkhart Public Library.
Avery and his mother moved to Elkhart in 1866, according to an article published Oct. 25, 1976, in The Elkhart Truth. He later moved around to states such as Texas and Michigan before returning to Elkhart. He died Nov. 2, 1904, and was laid to rest at Grace Lawn Cemetery.
Another Civil War drummer boy is buried at Rice Cemetery, though his mother was less receptive to him joining the war at such a young age.
Nine-year-old George Bickford Coleman ran away from his widowed mother’s home in New York to join the 13th New York volunteer regiment, according to his obituary published May 20, 1929, in The Elkhart Truth. His mother, however, visited their training camp and brought the young drummer home, where he stayed for two years.
He set out to join the army again and was accepted as a bugler in H troop of the 21st New York cavalry, the obituary read. He remained with the cavalry until they were discharged from service at the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Coleman traveled west in 1871 and took a job as a fireman for the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railroad, the obituary read. He settled in Elkhart, where he died May 19, 1929. He was laid to rest at Rice Cemetery.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said Coleman traveled west in 1971 and took a job as a fireman. That was in 1871. The story has been updated and The Elkhart Truth regrets the error.