Quirky Founding Fathers and Bonkers Bits of American History and War
Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History

Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History

Khalid Elhassan - May 2, 2020

Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History
Union child soldier Alexander H. Johnson. Massachusetts Historical Society

3. America’s Child Soldiers Were Often in Even More Danger than the Adults in Uniform

For the most part, child soldiers in the US Army were utilized as drummers, buglers, cooks’ assistants, nurses, orderlies, general gophers, or put to work in other non-combatant positions. However, during the storm of shot and shell as battles raged, Civil War child soldiers were frequently just as exposed to bullets and artillery as were the grown men on the firing line.

Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History
A powder monkey aboard the USS New Hampshire. National Archives

In the US Navy, children frequently served as “powder monkeys” in warships. Tasked during combat with rushing gunpowder from magazines to canons, they were just as exposed to danger during action as were all other sailors aboard ship, regardless of age. Indeed, considering that they were scurrying about carrying sacks of gunpowder liable to go off if it came into contact with any spark or shard of flaming timber or scorching shell fragment, the little powder monkeys might have been at greater risk than the rest of the crew.

Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History
Headstone of Union child soldier and war fatality Charles King. Civil War Rx

2. Child Soldiers on the Firing Line

During the Civil War, the military made some nominal effort to keep its child soldiers safe. They were prohibited from fighting on the front lines or being present in the firing line during combat. However, children are children, full of curiosity and frequently heedless of and insensate to danger and mortal risk to life and limb. They often ignored the restrictions.

During the war, there was no dearth of instances in which child soldiers snuck off to the firing lines in order to see for themselves the excitement of battle from up close. In the heat of battle, many picked up rifles and rushed into the maelstrom, fighting and dying alongside the adults.

Quirky Founding Fathers and Other Bonkers Bits of American History
Injured Union child soldier Edward Black, by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress

1. Shortcut to Instant Age Eligibility

During the Civil War, there were age restrictions on official enlistment in the military. In the Union, enlistees had to be over 16. However, such restrictions were usually honored more in the breach than in the observance.

Many an under-aged Northern boy, eager to enlist, had little trouble in finding a recruiter willing to sign him up so long as he was willing to put one hand on the Bible, raise the other, and swear that he was “over 16”. Some children ingeniously reconciled their consciences with the lie by writing the number “16” on a piece of paper, and sticking it to the bottom of a shoe, thus enabling them to honestly swear that they were “over 16”.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Battlefield Trust – Children of the Civil War

Anthony, Dave, and Reynolds, Gareth – The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories From American History (2017)

Baseball Almanac – Ten Cent Beer Night

Brodie, Fawn McKay – Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974)

Cracked – 5 Stories That Prove the Founding Fathers Were Total Maniacs

Dickinson College – Benjamin Rush, Race, Slavery, and Abolitionism

Dugatkin, Lee Alan – Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America (2009)

KFOR, November 11th, 2013 – Great State: World War II Veteran Recalls Strange Incident During Coral Sea Battle

Koerner, Brendan I. – The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking (2013)

Listvrese – 10 of History’s Most Prolific Con Artists and Their Famous Cons

Listverse – 10 Stories That Show the Weird Side of Thomas Jefferson

New York Herald, July 8th, 1849 – Arrest of the Confidence Man

New York Times, June 13th, 2013 – Bonnie and Clyde, the Aerial Version

NPR – Thomas Jefferson Needs a Dead Moose Right Now to Defend America

Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident

Smithsonian Magazine, October 11th, 2011 – Edison vs Westinghouse: A Shocking Rivalry

Swarthmore College, History 41 – Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress

ThoughtCo. – Was Abraham Lincoln Really a Wrestler?

Vanderbilt Magazine, November 1st, 2007 – Tumors May Have Fueled Hatfield-McCoy Feud

West Virginia Encyclopedia – The Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Wikipedia – Ariel-1

Wikipedia – Child Soldiers in the American Civil War

Wikipedia – Electrocuting an Elephant

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