Posted 7-20-01
55th Illinois Drummer Boy

In the midst of the Grand Assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi on 19 May 1863, the 55th Illinois Infantry had a small drummer boy that was normally assembled with the rest of the musicians, but was detached this day. He spent his time collecting ammunition from the dead and wounded soldiers further to the rear from where the main battle line had then been assembled.

Making his own shirt a sack to carry them to his command at the front. He'd drop one load off and hurry back for more and return to the line to drop it off and go back for yet another load. Upon his third trip one of the officers yelled back to bring with him "Caliber 54." He soon found himself at the headquarters of the 15th Army Corps Commander, William T. Sherman, who relayed the story in a letter of recommendation to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.

The boy had been wounded in the leg by the time he had reached Sherman. He stated to the general that Colonel Malmborg's men were all out of ammunition and needed cartridges. Sherman was more concerned for the boy's welfare attempting to see to his comfort in getting him to a hospital. The shots were still flying pretty thick around Sherman and the lad, and the boy wouldn't hear of going off to the hospital until the cartridges were sent to the front. He informed Sherman that he could make it to a hospital on his own and continued on his way past his headquarters. Just before he disappeared over the hill behind Sherman, he turned around and yelled back at the general: "Caliber 54!"

Sherman was so impressed by this that in his letter to Edwin Stanton, he knew the boy was far too young for West Point but recommended that he be considered for a midshipman.

© Dan Moran - 2001