Although he had difficulties with the entrance exam, it didn’t curtail his career because, in 1874, he was promoted to first lieutenant. The following year, he graduated from artillery school at Fort Monroe. 1875 was a busy year for Clem because he also married Anita Rosetta French, the daughter of a Major General in the U.S. Army. The promotions kept on coming for Clem; he rose to the rank of Captain in 1882 and transferred to the Quartermaster Department; he remained there for the rest of his career.
Clem never lost his ambition, drive or love of the army. In 1895, he was promoted to the rank of Major. Along the way, he served with distinction in the American Indian Wars against the Native Americans and received an Indian Campaign Medal. Clem suffered a blow in 1899 when his wife died. However, he didn’t stay lonely for long and married Bessie Sullivan, daughter of a Confederate veteran, in 1903.
Meanwhile, Clem remained busy and played a role in the Spanish-American War of 1898 for which he received a Spanish War Service Medal. He continued to rise through the ranks and became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1901. Just over two and a half years later, Clem became a Colonel; a position he held until he reached official retirement age.
Clem had the honor of serving as Chief Quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston in Texas from 1906 to 1911. He was retired in 1915 and was immediately awarded the rank of Brigadier General; this promotion was customary for Civil War veterans that reached the rank of Colonel. By the time he retired, Clem was the last American Civil War veteran still serving in the U.S. Army. Clem was finally promoted to Major General in 1916 while in retirement.
The man who could have died before he reached his teen years on the battlefield at Chickamauga enjoyed a lengthy retirement because he lived in Washington D.C and then in San Antonio where he died in 1937. Today, there is a 6-foot bronze statue of a young John Clem standing close to the Buckingham Meeting House in his hometown of Newark.
Although he was proud to serve his country, Clem was under no illusions with regard to the nature of war. Later in life, he wrote: “War is bald, naked savagery. As compared with the adult man, the boy is near to the savage.” He was also adamant that boys made the best soldiers because they are eager to please and had yet to develop the “spirit of caution” found in adults. Certainly, Clem lived an incredible life which started at the age of nine when he decided to stow away and never look back.