Friday, November 28, 2008

Drummer Boy of Rappahannock

Frontispiece from Dodge, Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock

Robert H. Hendershot, about 1895, with GAR badges & "Drummer Boy" medal. Photograph from Gerry, H. E. Campfire Entertainment, 1903

Source of above photos: "Robert Henry Hendershot" on wikipedia.


[image not available]

Exceptional full length view of this well known drummer boy, posed with drumsticks in one hand; his arm rests on his drum which sits on a table at his side. His hat rests atop the drum, and there are two US flags also. FM: C. Gullmann, Artist Po' Keepsi, N.Y. No BM. Overall very fine condition, light soiling throughout. Very minor paper loss to image at upper right edge.

Robert Henry Hendershott was born in Cambridge, MI in 1850. A rambunctious and rebellious child, he ran away from home and performed with the Dan Rice Circus for a time, until being offered a messenger's joby with the Lake Shore & Michigan Railroad. When the war broke out, he immediately enlisted as a drummer boy with a boys' company, at the tender age of 10, and continued to get into mischief. When told he was too young to enlist to service with a company of the 9th Michigan, he stowed away onboard their train and convinced it's commander Captain Charles DeLand to use his services as his helper. DeLand soon sent him back home to his mother, but Hendershott returned to the regiment & offered his services as a drummer to Co. B of the same regiment, being finally mustered in in March 1862. Hendershott continued to get into trouble, stealing a pig, leaving camp without orders, etc.

On 7/13/62 at Murfreesboro, TN, Hendershott, along with most of the regiment, was captured & taken prisoner. He was shortly thereafter paroled & sent to Camp Chase in Ohio; he then told authorities that he suffered from epilepsy, attaining a discharge. He must have soon been bored with home life, as he soon re-enlisted in the 8th Michigan, giving the false name of Robert Harry Henderson. he served as drummer for the regiment's recruiting party, but was charged with desertion after making an attempt to reach the front. Robert was discharged, but turned up again, enlisting for a third time in November 1862.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Hendershott gained his nickname after he told the story that when the regiment crossed the Rappahannock, he was told to stay behind as he was too young, but he clung to the back of the boat and made his way across. His drum was destroyed by a shell, took a Confederate prisoner. Another story told by Hendershott in the 1890's was quite a different tale - when reaching the opposite bank, he took part in the plundering & looting of the city, set a house on fire, took a Confederate prisoner and marched him to General Burnside, who offered his congratulations. There were also varying accounts of his being wounded at Marye's Heights.

Newspapers printed his heroic story following the battle, spreading the tales of his exploits far & wide. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that he had enlisted under an assumed name, and was yet again discharged & denied pay. He travelled to New York City and was given a hero's welcome; he also traveled to England, and was given a new drum. In 1864 he enlisted again, this time in the Navy, but simply left after just a few months.

After the war, some began to come forward to contest Hendershott's claims of his actions at Fredericksburg, including the regimental drum major who said that Robert was ill the day of the battle. He denied all charges of falsehoods throughout the remainder of his life, until he died in 1925 at the age of 25. Though he remains one of the war's best known drummer boys, his reputation was permanently sullied.

Source: Too Young To Die - Boy Soldiers of the Union Army 1861-1865 by Dennis M. Keesee.

America’s Civil War: Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock

During the Civil War the oft-reported tales of brave little drummer boys became symbolic of feats of soldierly virtue and noble, selfless sacrifice. The best known of those young men was Johnny Clem of the 22nd Michigan Infantry, who is said to have inspired Samuel Muscraft’s popular play The Drummer Boy of Shiloh. There were others, however, who also claimed honors due to their wartime service. One of them was Robert Henry Hendershot, a Jackson, Michigan, boy.

War fever had gripped Jackson after the fall of Fort Sumter, and like many others Hendershot longed for the glory of battle. His widowed mother may also have hoped that military life might instill some discipline in her delinquent son. He was a frequent runaway, and his aversion to school was such that he could not even sign his own name. He claimed to be 10 that summer of 1861, but like many aspects of his life, that is in dispute, as various documents give birthdates ranging from early 1846 to 1851, and no less than four different birthplaces, from Michigan to New York City.

When he enlisted, Hendershot was a slight-framed boy, 4 1/2 feet tall, with fair hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion. He bore a deep scar under his right eye that he would submit as his first badge of courage. He soon dropped his implausible claim to have received that scar as the result of a severe wound at Shiloh. (At the time his regiment had been camped more than 600 miles away.) By the end of 1862, though, events at Fredericksburg would give him another, more believable opportunity for fame.

In the fall of 1861, Hendershot was a fixture in the camp of the Jackson County Rifles. There, he incessantly practiced his drum calls, an activity that caused at least one recruit to call him ‘a perfect little pest.’ He apparently accompanied the Rifles to Fort Wayne, outside Detroit, where the unit became Company C of the 9th Michigan Infantry. Robert claimed to have enlisted along with the others, but said that the mustering officer rejected him because of extreme youth. In any case, he boarded the train that carried the regiment south, either as a stowaway or as a servant to Captain Charles V. DeLand, the commander of Company C and editor of Jackson’s American Citizen.

Robert formally enlisted in the 9th in March 1862, when the regiment moved from Kentucky to Murfreesboro, Tenn. He remained with Company C, which was posted at the Murfreesboro courthouse as provost guards. He was there on July 13 when Confederate Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a pre-dawn raid on the town. During the battle, Robert claimed that he fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire, a claim later substantiated by several 9th Michigan soldiers.

The courage demonstrated by Hendershot and others proved useless, however. By the end of the day Forrest had captured the entire Union garrison. (See March 2002 ACW for an article on the raid.) Afterward, the enlisted men were paroled and sent to Camp Chase, Ohio. Soon after, on July 31, 1862, Robert was discharged, either because of wounds or for extreme youth, he would say. In fact, Hendershot was medically discharged because he suffered frequent and severe epileptic seizures, which had plagued him since early childhood.

Although his parole forbade him to fight against the Confederacy, in early September Hendershot appeared at a Detroit recruiting office. Because of the parole, he signed on with an alias, ‘Robert Henry Henderson.’ His critics would call that despicable, while others would say that it had been a common practice. Hendershot claimed he had done so at the urging of the recruiter, Lieutenant Michael Hogan.

At first there seemed little chance that Hendershot would find himself back on the battle line, for Lieutenant Hogan decided to retain him as his personal servant and aide. And so he remained for over two months, until the arrival of Chaplain George Taylor. Taylor developed a fondness for Robert and gained permission to have Hendershot placed under his care.

See also:

Robert Henry Hendershot

Robert Henry Hendershot; Or, The Brave Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock, by William Sumner Dodge, Church and Goodman pub., Chicago, 1867.

Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock, by Donald C. Pfanz, America's Civil War.


Was there more than one "drummer boy of Rappahannock"?

See "Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of Sandwich and Bourne", Sandwich, Massachusetts, September 8, 1889, by Ambrose E. Pratt, Falmouth, Mass., Local Publishing and Printing Company, 1890, p. 92, which reported that Col. Myron P. Walker of Belchertown, once a drummer boy in Co. C 19th Regiment, was in 1899 dubbed the "Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock" by a Toastmaster who said:

"When the war broke out there was a little fellow in a small town of Hampshire county, only thirteen years of age who was bound to go to the front. His good mother demurred, yet he was determined to go and upon the assurance that he would be well looked after by some of the larger boys, her consent was given, and the lad enlisted as a drummer boy in Co. C. 10th Regiment, and in the army records became known as the drummer boy of the Rappahannock. During the long marches, when the short legs of the diminutive drummer boy would weaken, and marching was a severe ordeal for him, the great, strong men would take him on their shoulders, and while he slept they would carry him over many a weary mile. It gives me great pleasure, in calling upon him at this time, not so much because he is your guest, not because he is Past Department Commander of the veterans of this commonwealth, but because of our personal friendship, and I give this sentiment:

The soldier in time of war, the bulwark of the nation; in time of peace one whom it is a delight to honor; one who compels our admiration, as he "Shoulders his crutch and shows how fields are won." For all he dared, remember him today. And to respond I call upon the "Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock," Col. Myron P. Walker, of Belchertown.

So, which is it? Was Hendershot or Walker the "Drummer Boy of Rappahannock"? Maybe both?

The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia. Hendershot was with Co. C, 9th Michigan. Walker was with Co. C, 10th Regiment Massachusetts.

According to Union Regimental Histories, the Massachusetts 10th Regiment was at Rappahannock Station November 7, 1863. So, Walker probably was there (see below -- he enlisted in 1861 and was with the 10th until 1864).

And, Hendershot's claim to the title is well-documented. See, e.g., Robert Henry Hendershot; Or, The Brave Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock, by William Sumner Dodge, Church and Goodman pub., Chicago, 1867.

So, it appears that although Hendershot earned the title virtually contemporaneously with the Civil War (see e.g., the recommendations of Hendershot ca. 1866 to President Lincoln for Hendershot's admission to West Point, including one from General Grant, Letters, p. iv, et seq.), at least by 1899, some 35 years or so after the Civil War, some in Massachusetts were referring to Walker by the same title.

Myron P. Walker (1885) of Springfield son of Asa and Fanny Pease Walker was born in Belchertown Feb. 18, 1847. He married in London, England in June 18, 1878 Mary N. Crocker. He was educated in the public schools of his native town.

Mr. Walker (1885), at the breaking out of the War, when only fourteen years of age, left school and entered the service as a drummer boy. The Belchertown company which he intended to accompany, being disbanded, he went to Springfield, offered his services to a Northampton company in the Tenth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. At first his services were declined on account of his size and age, but afterwards he was accepted as a drummer boy in this regiment, with which he remained at the front until the return of the regiment in June, 1864. He then found employment in a country store at Belchertown, and in 1868 went to California, where for a time he was again clerk in a store. In 1870 he accepted a situation in the general agency of the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, of Sacramento, Cal, and after went to San Francisco and was interested in a general agency of New York companies. In 1878 he returned to his native town.

Mr. Walker (1885), Jan 4, 1886, was appointed assistant adjutant-general with the rank of colonel on the staff of Gov. Robinson. He is a member of the Grand Army; was commander of the department of Massachusetts in 1888; member of the State Senate 1885-86; is a member of the Masonic Fraternity and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He has been president of the Tenth, and is an honorary member of the Thirty seventh Regiment Association.

History of the Military Company of the Massachusetts, Now Called the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. 1637-1888 By Oliver Ayer Roberts

Conclusion: Both Hendershot and Walker were drummer boys, but only Hendershot was "The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock".


However, Walker certainly was entitled to the abbreviated title, "Drummer Boy" as is evident from this report of resolutions adopted by the Massachusetts Senate, October 22, 1998:

Resolutions (filed by Mr. Brewer) "on the occasion of the dedication of a government headstone at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Belchertown in memory of the 'Drummer Boy' Myron P. Walker", were referred, under the rules, to the committee on Rules. Subsequently, Mr. Rosenberg, for the said committee, reported, recommending that the resolutions ought to be adopted; and they were considered forthwith, under a suspension of the rules, moved by Mr. Nuciforo, and adopted.


And, for further research, note this from the Archival Holdings of The Belchertown Historical Association:

Box 036b – Military; Civil War
20. Newspaper, “The Civil War Drummer Boy from Belchertown”, Cold Spring Gazette, 1961

Box 065 -- Myron Walker Memorabilia
6. One News clipping- No. 209- Cartoon of the Drummer Boy of Belchertown, Springfield paper -- no date.

13. Four photos -- Myron Walker, Drummer Boy- 2 1/2 by 4 1/4 inches

29. Nine copies — "A Drummer Boy's Tribute to his old friend and Commander, Col. Joseph B. Parsons."

30. Four copies of Walker genealogy and autobiography of Myron P. Walker.


BELCHERTOWN HISTORY -- A summary of the history of the Town of Belchertown originally written in 1960 by Kenneth A. Dorey and revised in 2005 by Shirley Bock, Doris Dickinson and Dan Fitzpatrick specifically for the Town of Belchertown Web Page.

Belchertown’s population at the time of the Civil War was 2,700. However, it sent 230 men to fight the War Between the States. The pride felt by the citizens is best typified by the Little Drummer Boy, Myron Walker, whose story is told later. ***

During the Civil War, the town contributed 280 soldiers; among them was the 14-year old drummer, Myron Walker. For some time previous to his enlistment, he had been an expert at the handling of drumsticks. Once while he was drumming in a drill in Ware, he attracted the attention of a visiting German count, who was so impressed by the lad’s playing, he presented an inscribed silver cup to Myron.

When the war started, many of Myron Walker’s local associates joined the army, but they did it too slowly to suit Myron. So he accompanied an eager number of townspeople to Springfield, and then, with the consent of his parents, joined the army at the age of 14. He was attached to Company C of the Volunteer 10th Regiment of the Massachusetts Infantry.

The day after the Battle of Fair Oaks, while Walker was using his battered, smoke-blackened cup to fill his canteen at a stream, Gen. McClellen came riding along on his horse and asked the lad for a drink. The boy handed it to him and apologized for the condition of the cup. The General’s response was so pleasantly sympathetic that he left behind a great admirer. Walker served as a musician with the army for four years and was present during many of the hard-fought battles. Drummer boys were usually assigned to assist the doctors and surgeons.

Returning to Belchertown after the war, he later went to California where he entered the insurance business. He returned to Belchertown and built a house on Main Street in the center of town. He became involved with the Grand Army of the Republic and with state politics and became a state senator for one term. He invited the soldiers of the 10th Regiment to a reunion in Belchertown. This turned out to be one of the largest events held in Belchertown. Special trains brought the veterans to town, parades were held, and the houses were decorated by a decorator from Boston. The governor and his entourage came to the celebration, and a dinner for all those attending was served on the Common. In 1980, his house on Main Street was scheduled to be torn down for a bank and a new post office building. The house was rescued by resident George Jackson, and by cutting it into three parts, it was then transported to its new location on State Street (Rte. 202) where it was reassembled. This architectural loss to the town center was replaced by a set of modern buildings.


Also, State Senator Myron P. Walker, of Massachusetts, was the famous "drummer boy of the Tenth regiment," entering the service when he was 14 years old, and remaining in it three years. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Friday, January 2, 1885.

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