The Civil War should’ve been named the “Boys’ War”. During the conflict, there were between 250,000 and 500,000 soldiers under the age of 18 enlisted in both armies. There were 100,000 boys under the age of 15 marching off to war in the Union Army alone. After the fall of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln at first asked for 90-day enlistments, but after the Yankees were driven out of Richmond and the Rebel Army set their sights on Washington, D.C. Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers to enlist for 3 years.
Young boys on both sides of the conflict were eager to join up. The Northern boys thought it their duty to discipline the South and the Southern boys joined the Confederate Army to repel the Yanks whom they considered to be hostile invaders. Boys on both sides saw the war as a chance to escape boring life on the farm and all had visions of marching back home as heroes.
In 1861, the minimum age to enlist was 18 but it was easy to fool the recruiters who needed to fill quotas, especially with the urgency of the war. The easiest way to get around the age requirement was to lie, and many recruiters turned a blind eye even when it was obvious that some boys hadn’t even reached puberty. Some underage recruits wrote the number “18” on the soles of their shoes so they could honestly say they were over 18. Other underage boys were able to join up with the endorsement of an adult. If a boy’s father vouched for his strong work ethic and shooting abilities, he was in.
Forty thousand non-combat positions such as buglers and drummers in the Union Army alone were filled by young boys who signed up legitimately. Other positions included assisting surgeons with wounded soldiers and carrying stretchers into the battlefield. They also would relay orders, and some even picked up rifles alongside grown soldiers.
These boys suffered during the war as much as their older counterparts. Food was always scarce and at times the boys would sneak out from camp and gather berries or steal crops from nearby farmers. This practice was frowned upon at the outset of the war because it was breaking one of the Ten Commandments but as the war drug on, it was obvious that stealing from the enemy was weakening the enemy and thus helping the cause. Usually, the commanding officers forbade the foraging even though they shared in the spoils of war.
It didn’t take long for the excitement of going to battle to diminish for the young soldiers. Camp life was boring, and marches were long and dusty, and after experiencing the horrors of war their fantasies of glory quickly faded.
The youngest of these brave troops, David Bailey Freeman, hailed from Georgia. He was born in Ellijay in 1850, one of 10 children whose parents were well-to-do, religious, and prominent citizens of the community. His brother, Madison Freeman, was a patriotic Southerner and became a lieutenant in the Confederate Army even though he was burdened with the debilitating disease of phlebitis. Madison wasn’t sure if he would be able to serve with his disease and asked his mother’s permission to take along young David as his aid. They ended up at Camp Felton, near Cartersville, where David enlisted into the 6th Georgia Cavalry on May 16, 1862, barely two weeks after his 11th birthday.
He began his military career serving under “Fighting Joe” Wheeler and saw action at Resaca, Kingston, Cassville, and Kennesaw Mountain. And he was even with General Joseph E. Johnston when General William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta. When the war finally ended for the boy (Johnston surrendered on April 26, 1865 – the same day John Wilkes Booth was killed) the boy was barely a week shy of his 14th birthday.
When Freeman turned 21, he began a newspaper career as the editor of the Cartersville Courant. He eventually bought the Cartersville Courant-American newspaper which he renamed as the Cartersville News. A few years later, he also bought out the Cedartown Advertiser.
In 1875, when he was 24, he met and married Callie Dudley Goodwyne whose great-grandfather was a minute man in the Revolutionary War. Callie was born right here in Forsyth, Monroe County, Ga. in 1857.
The following year Freeman was elected mayor of Calhoun and his first son was born. He went on to become the mayor of Cedartown and Cartersville. His writing career included co-authoring “The Wizard of the Saddle”.
The Civil War’s youngest soldier died from a heart attack at the age of 77 in his Atlanta apartment on the evening of June 18, 1929. His body was taken by train to Cartersville and David Bailey Freeman answered his last muster call to his place in Heaven.