Charles Edwin King
Charles Edwin King was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1849. After the fall of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, many locals answered president Lincoln’s call for 90-day volunteers to help defend the Union. Departing with their militia units for what was expected to be a short war, they set off for the training camps at Harrisburg, accompanied by young Charlie as their drummer boy.
However, when the militia were ordered to the front, Charlie’s parents ordered their son back home to the safety of West Chester. That did not sit well with the boy, who moped and pined for the excitement of the military camp. When the militia returned upon the expiry of their 3-month enlistment, local volunteers were again sought, this time for 3-year terms in the newly formed 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The town’s grocer, Benjamin Sweeney, was elected as captain of Company F of that unit. Captain Sweeney assured Charlie’s parents that he would look after and protect their son if they allowed him to enlist.
Swayed by Sweeney’s promises and by their son’s pleas, and perhaps fearing that the lad might otherwise simply run away and enlist on his own as other boys were doing at the time and so it might be better to entrust him to the care of somebody they knew, Charlie’s parents relented. On September 12, 1861, aged 12, the lad was duly enrolled as a drummer boy in the 49th Pennsylvania.
Within a short time, Charlie was promoted from drummer boy of his company to drum major of the entire regiment. In the following months, the 49th Pennsylvania took part in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, during which Charlie saw more death and mayhem than he might have imagined in his boyish fantasies.
In September, 1862, the 49th Pennsylvania participated in the Maryland Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Antietam on September 17th, 1862. Charlie’s regiment was deployed near Miller’s Field and the East Woods during the course of that battle, when it came under Confederate artillery fire. The 49th Pennsylvania’s casualties were relatively light, but Charlie was one of the regiment’s unlucky few, and was struck down and grievously injured by an exploding shell.
Taken to a field hospital, Charles Edwin King died 3 days later of his wounds. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being the youngest military combat fatality of the Civil War.