Children as Warriors

Many youngsters in their childhood have pretended to be warriors, hunters, soldiers, cowboys, etc. Yet, in reality, there were many children who really did serve in the military in some form. Here are some cases, they might be similar to one of your ancestors.

In the sailing vessels of long ago, space below deck was limited. So in a battle with cannons on board, a child was needed to be ‘powder monkeys‘ – bring buckets of gunpowder from the ship magazine below deck up to the deck to the cannons. This practice was used by many different nations including during the American Civil War.

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the US Navy typically enlisted powder monkeys between ages ten to fourteen, for a three-year term. They were the lowest ranking crew members aboard ship and were paid about $6 a month – roughly $150 in 2021 dollars. After the War of 1812, the Navy banned the use of boys younger than twelve aboard ships. In 1828, Navy regulations authorized ships to hire boys between ages fourteen to eighteen, at a ratio of one powder monkey for every two guns the ship carried. Powder monkeys aged thirteen and over continued to be used until the Spanish-American War (1890s), at the close of the nineteenth century. With age and experience, the youngsters could rise in rank.

Also in the US Army, especially during the American Civil War, many youngsters served as drummer boy, bugler or carried banners or the US flag for the regiment. The most famous and youngest during the Civil War was John Clem, born in 1851 and he enlisted in the US Army, Union side, in 1861, who was still nine years old, after the death of his mother. He makes the Army his career and served for decades.

Even in more recent times of the 20th century, many young men had their records falsified so they could enlist, ages 15 and 16. As you check various records on your ancestors, be careful to check birth dates and ages listed. Remember it could only be a few years off.

Photo: Powder Monkeys carrying the powder for the cannons on a sailing ship.

Related Blogs:

Finding Children In-Between Census Years

Unusual Aspects of Our Ancestors

The Sibling Never Known

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