The 13th performed essential if unromantic tasks in Maryland. Its Engineering Corps constructed a railroad hub between the Annapolis warehouse and the docks. The unit participated in minor raids that and captured some Confederate cannon and muskets. There was also guard duty in Baltimore, a hotbed of Confederate sympathizers where several Massachusetts troops had been killed in April on their way to Washington. Eventually the rest of the outfit would arrive, including Clarence brother William who was also a drummer in Company D, and the regiment would be at full strength. The only thing missing was the coveted opportunity to defend the capitol itself.
By all accounts Clarence was settling in well. He wrote frequently to his family and offered insights into what he saw and heard around him. In a May 10th letter he described a guest visit by the Eighth Regiment Band, whose musical talents entertained the men of the 13th NewYork. He also mentioned the Bible given to him before his departure and added quickly that he attended the following night’s prayer meeting. He ended asking his parents if they received the dollar he had sent. In another letter he told his parents about the food served in camp and promised with bemusement to mail them a “cracker,” the tasteless, impenetrable staple of the Union soldier’s diet also known as hardtack. William arrived on the 12th and was met by Clarence at the dock. In William’s letters home he proudly describes his younger brother’s popularity in camp and boasts of the musical ability of the drummers of the regiment. There was drill every day and parade each evening from 5:00 to 7:00.
Part mascot, part soldier, the drummer boy has a long martial tradition. Though too young to carry arms he nonetheless performs essential tasks such as calling troops to formation, providing the cadences that make marching more endurable, and instilling courage into the hearts of men about to endure combat. It is not uncommon for such boys to be killed on the battlefield in defense of the cause. Clarence McKenzie’s death, however, came accidentally and stupidly.
He was killed on June 11, 1861. That day Clarence and his brother William ventured from their encampment in Company D and to another company’s quarters to socialize. While the boys were playing in the corner a soldier of Company B, one William L. McCormick, was practicing the manual of arms with a rifle not his own. Had he bothered to check properly McCormick would have noticed that the gun was not only loaded and half-cocked. He did not notice and when his hand touched the hammer the rifle discharged. The ball ricocheted off the wall and hit Clarence in the back, mortally wounding the twelve year old. He died two hours later. Such carelessness was common among the young, poorly trained Civil War soldiers in the early stages of the war. Not yet having experienced hard fighting, too many men failed to take the situation seriously. The war was still all marching and parading. Earlier that same week a man in the regiment accidentally discharged his own weapon killing himself instantly. The day after the McKenzie shooting another soldier, in McKenzie’s own company, had his gun mistakenly discharge, though no one was maimed or killed.
The boy’s remains were taken back to company headquarters. News spread quickly and a group of Annapolis womenfolk soon arrived with flowers to arrange around the deceased. The body was packed in ice that evening and the following day a fife and drum corps led the coffin to the railroad hub followed by a sizable contingent of the 13th New York. Captain Henry Balsdon, William, and four others accompanied the remains to Brooklyn.
Tomorrow: part four