The Civil War’s youngest soldier
In 1861 Edward Black was 8 years old. Though he was too young to fight for the Union Army—combat soldiers were supposed to be at least 18, though many 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds managed to lie their way into service—Edward was permitted to enlist as a drummer boy for the 21st Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Historians believe that made him the youngest soldier to serve in the Civil War.
Drummer boys in the Civil War
Drummer boys tapped out a rhythm on a single drum slung over their shoulder. The drumbeat helped keep troops in step when marching both in parades and on battlefields. Because the drummers led the troops into battle they were often killed or wounded. Or in Edward’s case, captured. Taken prisoner during the Battle of Baton Rouge, he was imprisoned on Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico. He was released when the Union Army won control of the island and the city of New Orleans.
To protect the nation’s youth, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the use of drummer boys to end in 1862. Edward was discharged from service and sent home to his family in Indianapolis. He took his drum with him.
Though he survived the war, Edward never fully recovered from injuries he suffered, as well as the trauma from taking part in horrible fighting. He died shortly after his 18th birthday. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
Gift to the museum
His drum was passed down through the Black family, finally coming to one of Edward’s second cousins, Elliott Beck Mount. Following her death in 1969, her husband, Allen Mount, gave the drum to The Children’s Museum. Today it is one of the museum’s prized artifacts—an important object in the American Collection.