The hagiography was immediate. First came the viewing in Annapolis. After the body was returned to his parents home there were several additional weeks of observances by clergy, military and civil officials. Then came the funeral attended by the children of Public School Number 8, Sunday Schoolers, friends, neighbors, and thousands of others. Reverend Guion emphasized the justness of the Union cause, the traitors responsible for the war, and the importance of putting down the rebellion. Next came Reverend McClelland. In the finest Victorian oratory McClelland reminded the audience of how, “We loved the boy for his sweet and genial disposition, for the noble patriotism that fired even his young bosom.” He mentioned the Bible, its Moroccan leather, gilt edges, and brass clasp. It had been made in England and purchased, with another, in Manhattan years earlier. It was almost providential, he averred, that he did not give the Bibles away after initially purchasing them, but had waited for a proper time, the moment coming two years later when the little drummer boy left with his regiment. Finally, almost anti-climactically, the boy was taken to the cemetery and buried in a modest grave.
That was not all. Almost immediately a small book entitled, The Little Drummer Boy, Clarence D. McKenzie, the Child of the Thirteenth Regiment, N.Y.S.M., and the Child of the Mission Sunday School appeared. Something of an oral history of the young boy’s life the slim monograph, published by the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, recounts the boy’s life from the working class neighborhoods of Brooklyn to his salvation and eventual martyrdom. In a representative passage Reverend Luther G. Bingham, the books compiler, the states that “Among the many heart stirring incidents of “the war” now waged between those, who ought to be friends, perhaps none has created more deep and wide spread sympathy in New York and Brooklyn, than the sudden and accidental death of the youngest drummer boy of the Thirteenth Regiment..”
The reason for such sympathy was the timing. If McKenzie had died six weeks later no one would have noticed, and certainly the would not have turned out by the thousands for his funeral or written books in his honor. Thee country no longer had the luxury. Seven days after the funeral the Battle of Bull Run took place in Virginia.
There had began some skirmishes, even minor battles, prior to First Manassas but nothing on the scale of what took place on the the shores of Bull Run creek on July 21st. All told 5,000 men, North and South, were killed, missing, or wounded that day. And the casualties continued from there. The following spring came the even bloodier Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, soon to be eclipsed by the even the even more ghastly Seven Days’ Battles in Virginia. Death was now so plentiful that massed, ritualized grieving for any one individual was not a luxury. All officers could do was bury the dead on the battlefields where they fell or, perhaps, in a local cemetery. Eventually even this proved insufficient. On July 17, 1862 Lincoln signed legislation creating the national cemeteries. By the end of the year there were fourteen facilities across the nation, including one in Brooklyn. When the last army surrendered in May 1865 there were more cemeteries, and they would be needed. Four full years after the accidental death of Clarence McKenzie 750,000 other Americans had also been killed.
Tomorrow: part five