Charles "Charley" King
Great sacrifices were made at the Battle of Antietam. And one very small one.
Charles "Charley" King loved playing music. When war broke out, the West Chester, Pa. 12-year-old begged his father to let him enlist in the army as a drummer boy. He earned the backing of Company F Captain Benjamin Sweeney by practicing his drumming near the military camp where the company was being trained. Sweeney, who was recruiting soldiers to serve in the Forty-Ninth Pennsylvania, was impressed.
Sweeney convinced Charley's father that "drummer boys were non-combatants, who generally were safer behind the lines than on the battle line and helped with the wounded." He said Charley would be kept out of danger and would be looked after.
The family agreed to let the oldest of their five children enter the war.
Charley performed well as a musician-drummer boy with the company, impressing the men and officers so much with his drumming that he was promoted drum major of the field music of the Forty-Ninth Pennsylvania Regiment. It was a distinct honor for such a young volunteer. After participating in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Charley was a veteran, something that few of his age could claim.
With the movement of Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland in September of 1862, Charley marched with the rest of the Federal Army toward Western Maryland and a showdown with the enemy: The Battle of Antietam - the bloodiest single day of fighting in the Civil War.
During that battle on Sept. 17, 1862, enemy artillery exploded near the Forty-Ninth Pennsylvania, wounding several men including Charley, who was shot "through the body" by a piece of shrapnel. He was carried back to a field hospital in the rear of the lines.
When that day ended, almost 25,000 lay dead or wounded on the peaceful farm fields surrounding the small village of Sharpsburg. Three days later, Charley died of his wounds, as the youngest soldier of either army to fall during the four years of Civil War.
Charley's father retrieved his body after the battle and laid him to rest near his home in West Chester, at Old Cheyney Cemetery.
Information for this section was contributed by Andy Waskie.
Image Courtesy of The State Museum of Pennsylvania
- Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day, by William A. Frassanito, 1978.
- History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Robert S. Westbrook, 1898.
- Pennsylvania at Antietam: Report of the Antietam Battlefield, by Antietam Battlefield Memorial Commission, 1906.
- History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers: 1861–1865, by Samuel P. Bates.