John Lincoln Clem was a United States Army general who served as a drummer boy in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Clem, who was born in Newark, Ohio, in 1851, gained fame for his bravery on the battlefield, becoming the youngest non-commissioned officer in Army history.
Clem retired from the U.S. Army in 1915, having attained the rank of brigadier general in the Quartermaster Corps. When advised he should retire, he requested to be allowed to remain on active duty until he became the last veteran of the Civil War still on duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. By a special act of Congress on Aug. 29, 1916, he was promoted to major general one year after his retirement.
Payton Seats, who portrays Johnny Clem in Civil War re-enactments, will present Clem to members and friends of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society in the Myers Inn Museum meeting room at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.
When he was 7 years old, Seats’ grandfather, Jack, introduced him to the Civil War. With his grandparents, he dressed in costume and attended a re-enactment. Two years later, he became a Civil War re-enactor and joined the Rosecrans Headquarters (a part of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society) as Johnny Clem, the Ohio runaway who enlisted as a Civil War drummer boy.
Seats has drummed through re-enactments, parades, Harlem Days, and the Ohio Statehouse Gala that helped kick off the equestrian statue of General William S. Rosecrans on Sunbury Square.
Seats is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, The 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and the 1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery A at the Ohio Statehouse.
As a high school student, Seats still enjoys doing Civil War presentations throughout Ohio. He has four main presentations: “Johnny Clem,” “The Life of a Soldier,” “Toys of the Victorian Era,” and “The Telegraph Operator.”
Currently, Seats holds the office of Camp Counsel of Dennison Camp No. 1 SUVCW (Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War).
“I have had the honor to receive the National Johnny Lincoln Clem award,” Seats said. “I have also had the honor to serve as appointed chaplain between the election and installation of officers.”
Seats also wrote three pieces what will form the closing chapter of a history book on Raleigh County, West Virginia, his home county.
“History has always been a major component of my life, because life revolves around time,” Seats said. “There is always change, adaptation and invention telling the story of our world. And history is the foundation of that story. Without history we are left without an identity or purpose.”
The program will be in the Myers Inn Museum, 45 S. Columbus St., Sunbury. Big Walnut Area Historical Society meetings are free to the public.
The Myers Inn Museum and Gift Shop is open from noon to 3 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
To learn more about the Big Walnut Area Historical Society and the museum, visit BigWalnutHistory.org.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093