Drums of War

This is the story of a boy, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, who went off to war at age 13, saw his step-father killed in battle, his one brother go down with an injury, saved another brother's life when he was shot, and spent his last 4 months of a 3 year enlistment as the last surviving family member still fighting. His company fought at Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fair Oaks, the Wilderness Campaign, among other battles. He served his entire 3 year enlistment, plus one month, before being mustered out. He lived a long and fruitful life, long enough to return to Gettysburg for the 75th anniversary of that battle in 1938. When he died at age 92 in 1939, he was the last surviving 3 year enlistee of the entire Union army. He was my Great Grandfather on my father's side, Martin Hager, a drummer for Company K of the 61st Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.


The spring and summer of 1861 were heady times, full of excitement and war fever. Ever since Fort Sumter was taken on April 12th, the War of the Rebellion was on, and everyone wanted to join the fight. In Pittsburgh, a man by the name of Joseph Gerard formed a Zouve outfit, a company of soldiers with fancy uniforms, which began drilling in earnest in preparation to join the effort to preserve the Union. They were initially attached to the 7th Pennsylvania volunteers, but would eventually be accepted into the Army of the Potomac as Company K of the 61st Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.

Gerard became the captain of the company, with his two oldest stepsons, Louis and Augustus (Gust) Hager, as his First and Second Lieutenants. Another, younger stepson, Martin Hager, begged his stepfather and mother to allow him to join the fight, as well, but Martin was only 13 years old. His mother would have none of it, and Gerard, while he appreciated Martin's desire, knew that the minimum age for enlistment in the Army of the Potomac was 16.

In August, the company, along with the rest of the regiment, entrained to Philadelphia, on the other side of the long state of Pennsylvania, to join forces with the rest of the volunteer regiments from Pennsylvania, from whence they would make there way down to the Capital in Washington City, to become a part of the great Army of the Potomac.

When the troop train pulled into Harrisburg, about two-thirds of the way to Philadelphia, young Martin was discovered, having stowed away on the train before it left Pittsburgh. Gerard was flustered and furious that his stepson would do such a thing, knowing there would be hell to pay with his wife once Martin's deception was discovered back home, but he was stuck with him. Martin would have to lie about his age, say he was 16, and enlist as a drummer.

And that's what he did.

Add a note