The story of a Sauk County father who chose to join his teenage son on a Civil War battlefield captivated a crowded room as a local historian shared his research Nov. 7.
About 35 people listened as Sauk County Historical Society Secretary Bill Schuette discussed the role local drummer boys played in the war during a presentation at the Reedsburg Public Library.
George Inman was 15 years old in 1862 when he ran away from home and volunteered to join the war with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry. His father, Jack, caught up to him at Camp Randall in Madison and tried to convince him to return home. When George Inman refused, his father decided to join the fight as well. Both ultimately survived the war.
Schuette also highlighted his research into Frank Pettis, who was 11 years old in 1862 when he enlisted with the Union Army and served as a drummer boy for 3 years in the 19th infantry unit.
It took more than a year for Schuette to complete the research on the two drummer boys.
“As far as we know, they are the only two Sauk County drummer boys that served,” said Sauk County Historical Society Executive Director Paul Wolter, who joined Schuette during the presentation. “There were probably others, but these two we know about. There were lots of men that served but not so many boys or children.”
Schuette said after serving 3 years a drummer boy, Pettis re-enlisted as a solider at the age of 14 and participated in several battles, including the Siege of Petersburg. He survived survived the war in which nearly as many Americans died as have in all other United States conflicts combined. Besides his obituary and battle achievements, Schuette said not much is known about the life of Pettis, so he mostly drew his life based on the lives of other drummer boys during the war.
Schuette said the term “drummer boy” can be misleading, as most of the signal callers were between the ages of 14 and 40.
The job of drummer boys was to play a certain drum beat signaling commands such as wake up, march, advance or retreat.
“There was at least 40 to 50 different drum signals they had to use,” Schuette said.
Drummer boys also had other duties like assisting surgeons, grave diggers, helping remove wounded from the battlefield and even assisting surgeons during amputations.
“The little drummer boys would help hold them down while they took off the limb and then they would get rid of the limb,” Schuette said.
Jeremy Muscanero of Baraboo, who attended the presentation, said he liked hearing the stories of Pettis and Inman during the war.
“I knew a lot of young kids went to the war but to hear Inman’s dad chased him down met him in Madison and said if you’re going, I’m going too and jumped on board,” Muscanero said.
The archives presented were from the Reedsburg Public Library, Sauk County Historical Society and several online archives. Several artifacts from the Sauk County Historical Society also were displayed as well as books Schuette had written on both Inman and Pettis during their time in the war.
“The Civil War was not in Wisconsin, it was far away and it’s pretty much forgotten now,” Schuette said. “It makes it local and puts some ownership on these guys.”