Civil War Wiki
Willie Johnston
Personal Information
Born: July 1850
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
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Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: Union Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Drummer boy
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Battles: American Civil War
Awards: Medal of Honor
Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Willie Johnston (born July 1850), from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was a drummer boy in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. His service during the Seven Days retreat in the Peninsula Campaign was exemplary. He was the only drummer in his division to come away with his instrument, by no means a trivial accomplishment. As a result, he was awarded the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of his division commander, thereby becoming the youngest recipient of the highest decoration at 13 years of age.[1][2]

Early life[]

Johnston was born in Morristown, New York in 1850. Apparently his family moved to Salem, Vermont (now Derby). When his father enlisted in December, 1861, young Willie begged to go with him. The commanding officer agreed. He was enlisted as a drummer boy on December 11, 1861 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He was 11 years old and five feet tall.[3]

The war[]

Willie's first fight was at Lee's Mill, Virginia, on April 16, 1862.

During his next campaign, the Seven Days fighting from June 25 to July 1, 1862, Willie was cited for bravery.

During that retreat many men threw away all their equipment so they would have less weight to carry. Johnston, however, retained his drum and brought it safely to Harrison's Landing. There, he had the honor of drumming for the division parade, he being the only drummer boy to bring his instrument off the battlefields. Johnston's division commander noted this fact and included them in his report. President Lincoln heard the story and wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, suggesting the youth be given a medal. Stanton agreed, and Willie Johnston was presented his Medal of Honor September 16, 1863, at the age of 13, for a deed performed when he was but 11 years of age.[4]

This was the second Medal of Honor ever awarded. Secretary Stanton presented the actual award.

Medal of Honor citation[]

Rank and organization: Musician, Company D, 3d Vermont Infantry. Place and date: Unknown. Entered service at: St. Johnsbury, Vt. Birth: Morristown, N.Y. Date of issue: 16 September 1863.


Date and place of act not on record in War Department.


  • Wisler, G. Clifton. Mr. Lincoln's Drummer. 1995.
  • "Willie went to war", Vermont Civil War Enterprises, 2005, first biography, Marius B. Peladeau
  • A statue to him was erected in Santa Clarita, California.[5]
  • At the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont there is some Civil War memorabilia on display. This includes Johnston’s photograph and drumsticks. Johnston is featured in the museum's kit and as "Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer."[6]

Historical note[]

Until the establishment of the Medal of Honor there was only one medal a soldier could receive: a Purple Heart. However, since the Purple Heart had not been awarded since the Revolutionary War, and would not be used again until World War I, the Medal of Honor was effectively the only award available to U.S. military personnel at the time of the Civil War.

See also[]

  • List of Medal of Honor recipients


PD-icon This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. [1]
  2. This was the only medal available besides the purple heart, at the time
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. [5]