Today is the 151st anniversary of the death of Clarence D. McKenzie, the young drummer boy from Brooklyn who was killed so far from home. Last year for the sesquicentennial of this event I pitched the idea of writing about young Clarence for an online magazine. The article did not quiet fit into the scope of the periodical but I plowed ahead knowing full well that the piece may or may not get published. Nothing ventured, Nothing gained. The article was eventually not picked up, but I did have a good exchange with the editor who was honest and forthright. It was a good experience and I enjoyed writing the piece. Now, in tribute, I am posting this in a series over the next several days. Here is part one:
The funeral procession left Brooklyn’s St. John’s Church late in the afternoon. It was July 14th, just over a month after the boy was killed in his encampment in Annapolis, Maryland. His body had made a circuitous route home, first being on display within camp for the men of regiment, 1,000 strong, to view before being transported by ship back to Brooklyn. His remains were taken to his parents home, where his parents, older brother, and younger sister grieved privately. It was time for the funeral. A military escort carried his remains to St. Johns, while local schoolchildren, public officials, neighborhood friends, and the plain curious observed the solemn affair. Three thousand persons crammed into the church to listen to the Reverend Dr. Guion of St. Johns and Reverend Mr. McClelland offer sermons. It was a mixture of the earthly and the spiritual. First, Reverend Guion discussed the gravity of the war now underway; next Reverend McLelland offered solace and inspiration to the schoolchildren in attendance. He mentioned the Bible he had given to young Clarence just prior to his embarkation with the 13th Regiment. How it was one of just two presentation bibles purchased by the church two years earlier to be given only on the most special occasions to the most worthy individuals. The Bible was here now atop the casket, a symbol of the boy’s sacrifice. After the orations the schoolchildren and others walked past the open casket for a final viewing. A contingent from Company D carried the boy to the accompaniment of a funeral march played by four drummers to Green-Wood Cemetery. He was buried in a modest grave, a small wooden headboard marking the grave of the Little Drummer Boy Clarence David McKenzie, the first Brooklyn casualty of the American Civil War.
Tomorrow: part two