Born in 1853, Edward (William) Black was the youngest known child soldier to have served during the Civil War. Joining the 21st Indiana Infantry in 1861, aged 8, Edward served as a drummer in that regiment. Sent home after a few months, Edward returned, this time with his father, and was reenlisted in the regiment as a drummer boy.
Edward traveled the continent as the 21st Indiana’s drummer. He served in the regiment as it garrisoned Baltimore, accompanied it on an expedition to the Eastern Shore, thence to Newport News, Virginia, before getting shipped to serve in the Department of the Gulf, where the young lad’s unit fought in Louisiana as part of the campaign that resulted in the Union’s seizure of New Orleans from the South.
In 1862, young Edward was captured by Confederates during the Battle of Baton Rouge and imprisoned in Ship Island, but regained his liberty when federal troops overtook his captors and freed the Union prisoners.
Discharged in September of 1862, Edward reenlisted in February of 1863 with his old unit, which in the interval between his discharge and reenlistment had been converted from infantry to artillery, and reconstituted as the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery Regiment. He would serve with the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery as that regiment was kept busy until war’s end, seeing active duty in Berwick Bay, conducting operations in Western Louisiana, participating in the advance on and the subsequent siege of Port Hudson, joining the Sabine Pass Expedition, before finally settling in for garrison duty, first at New Orleans, and then at Baton Rouge.
During that extensive service, the young boy was wounded more than once. In one instance, when he was 12 years old, he was grievously injured when an exploding shell shattered his left hand and arm. Edward’s injuries earned him the unfortunate distinction of being the youngest Civil War soldier injured on active duty.
At war’s end, Edward and his unit remained in the vicinity of Baton Rouge as garrison troops, until January of 1866, when the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery was finally mustered out, and its personnel were discharged.
Edward Black never fully recovered from injuries he received during the war, nor from the mental trauma of what he had been exposed to at such a tender age. He died in 1872, aged 17, and was buried in Indianapolis. His drum was passed on down his family over the generations, before it was finally gifted to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. There, it remains on display to this day as one of the museum’s most prized and popular exhibits.