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Make a Civil War Drum

During the Civil War, boys under the age of 16 served in both the Union and Confederate (southern) armies. Most of them played the drum, fife or bugle. Their music woke soldiers in the morning, called them to breakfast and summoned them to other activities. These boys did other chores such as cutting hair, carrying water and helping the wounded.


John Lincoln Clem was the youngest soldier ever to serve. When he was nine, he tried to join a regiment in his home state of Ohio. They turned him down. However, he ran away from home and attached himself to the 22nd Michigan Infantry. The soldiers gave him a drum and chipped in to pay him a soldier's wages. In April 1862 a shell smashed his drum at the Battle of Shiloh, and he became known as "Johnny Shiloh."


Without a drum, he was given a musket cut down to his size. During the battle, he was separated from his regiment. While caught on the Confederate side, he wounded a Confederate colonel. Later, the Confederates captured him and held him prisoner for two months. Eventually, they set him free.


John Lincoln Clem made the army his career. He retired as a major general at age 65 in 1916. He was the last man active in the armed forces who had fought in the Civil War. He died in Texas in 1937 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with full military honors.



Drums are among the oldest of instruments. They can be found in all countries and cultures throughout history. Drums come in all shapes, sizes and materials of construction. They have been used to send messages, to worship and to accompany singing and dancing.


A drum's sound is created by striking the head, which is stretched over a shell or frame. The head vibrates and pushes air through the shell which resonates and amplifies (makes louder) the sound. Drums are struck with sticks, mallets, or hands. Each creates a different quality of sound.



Follow these directions to make your own drum.


1. Find a Container


You can use any one of a number of different kinds of containers at home such as an oatmeal box, coffee can, salt box or small nut can. Remove the top and bottom of the can or box.


Oatmeal, coffee, salt and peanut containers


2. Draw a Design for the Outside of Your Drum


Piece of paperTake a piece of paper and cut it so you can wrap it around the container.


Make your own design on the paper with crayons, paints, chalk or colored pencils.


Art Supplies



Roll of Tape and Bottle of Glue Then tape or glue your picture around the container.





3. Make the Top and Bottom


Use material such as canvas, heavy paper, rubber inner tube or leather.


Cut two pieces of the material that are a little larger than the top and bottom of the container.



Tie the two pieces of material around the top and bottom of the container with two shoestrings, pieces of string, yarn or rubber band.



4. Drumsticks

To beat the drum, use your hands or such items as dowel rods or pencils.

Dowel Rods and Pencils


5. Drums


When you finish making your drum, it could look like one of these:


Sample Drums

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 09/10/2010

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