Johnny Shiloh (1963)





Director:     .

Starring:     Brian Keith (Sergeant Gabe Trotter), Kevin Corcoran (Johnny Lincoln Clem), Darryl Hickman (Lieutenant Jeremiah Sullivan), Skip Homeier (Captain MacPherson), Edward Platt (General Thomas), Regis Toomey (Mr. Clem), Rickie Sorensen (Rusty), Ben Morgan (Sam), Eddie Hodges (Billy Jones), Hayden Rorke (General Ulysses S. Grant), Dan Riss (General Wheeler), Don C. Harvey (Confederate Colonel), Henry Wills (Stark), Buck Taylor (Josh), Billy Williams (Blue Raider #1).

Walt Disney film; drummer boy for the Union Army



Spoiler Warning:

Little Johnny Lincoln Clem beats on his drum until the officer in charge, Lt. Jeremiah Sullivan, orders the Union unit to charge the enemy.  He and another drummer boy follow after the line of attack still beating their drums. 

It turns that this is only a demonstration put on for the locals.  After they finish the demonstration, they have to get back into formation when Captain MacPherson shows up.  The captain is from the 3rd Ohio Volunteers and he has been ordered to take command of this detachment.  The men will be moving out to Camp Dennison for a short period of training before they go to the front.  They are to report to the Court House at 9 pm.

Johnny is really happy that they are finally going to war.  He tells his buddy Sgt. Gabe Trotter that he was thinking that they were never going to be called up for battle. 

The captain takes note of the drummer boy who seems so enthusiastic.  He tells the lieutenant that the boy is too young to be the drummer for the platoon.  The lieutenant realizes that but adds that the boy is a kind of mascot for the men.  He trains with them every day the men are out. 

Johnny tells his father the store keeper and Mrs. Jackson that their Blue Raiders are moving out tonight.  Mrs. Jackson seems worried and says she has to get home to speak with her husband Tom.  She leaves and Johnny asks his father why she looked so worried.  That 's because her husband will have to be going off to war too.   Johnny thinks he is going with the Blue Raiders, but his father tells him no.  The men were just letting Johnny play along with them as they practiced their maneuvers. 

Johnny talks to Sgt. Gabe saying he's just gotta go along with the platoon off to war.  The sergeant tells him that the boy never got mustered, so he's not even a real member of the Blue Raiders.  Johnny asks how can he get mustered?   Gabe tells him he will have to speak with Lt. Sullivan about that. So Johnny runs off to find the lieutenant. 

Johnny finds the lieutenant, but the officer also tells Johnny that he's too young.  He adds that Johnny can't go without a permission slip from his father.  So Johnny runs for home.  Dad tells him that he admires the fact that Johnny wants to go so badly, but he is just too young and that's that.  Johnny pleads with his dad that Lincoln needs every man he can get.  Dad, however, needs Johnny here and he will just have to stay home with his father.  Johnny asks if he can go see the Blue Raiders off on their journey?  Yes. 

Gabe shakes hands goodbye with Johnny, who keeps his head down.  The lieutenant also says goodbye to Johnny.  The train starts moving out. Johnny walks along with the train.

Johnny is a stow away in the baggage compartment.  When the train is well on its way, Johnny makes an appearance.  The captain is very angry at him, but what can he do with the boy now?  He turns him over to the lieutenant, who knows he can't throw the boy off the train.  What should he do with Johnny?  He decides to turn Johnny over to Sgt. Gabe Trotter.  Johnny apologizes to Gabe saying he's very sorry.  Gabe says the boy is going to be a lot sorrier before this is all over. 

To teach Johnny a lesson Gabe puts him in uniform and give him a rifle.  He then makes Johnny get in formation like all the regular soldiers.  Gabe keeps the heat on Johnny by scolding him for all his mistakes while in formation.  Later Johnny is on KP (kitchen police) duty throwing away the food garbage from the kitchens. 

Johnny tells Gabe that he's being a bit hard on him.  Gabe tells him that he can always quit.  But Johnny has no intention of quitting.  He goes on to his next assignment, bayonet training.  While marching, Johnny has a hard time keeping up with the troops.  At the mess hall in the evening, Johnny falls asleep while eating his meal.  Gabe comes over to him and tells Clem to get up.  Mess has been over for hours already. 

The men get their photos taken by none other than Matthew Brady, photographer.  Johnny gets his photo taken too. 

Johnny reports to the captain.  In the room Johnny's father stands by the side.  Captain McPherson tells Johnny that his father is here to take him back home.  Johnny tells his father that all he will do is run away again back to the army.  He looks for help from the captain, but McPherson tells the lad he is not a member of the army and he has to go home.   On the train heading back home Mr. Clem falls asleep and Johnny uses the opportunity to get off at the next station. 

Johnny hitches a buggy ride back to Camp Dennison.  He has his drum with him and jumps in by the side of the other drummer boy and starts drumming to the rhythm.  Gabe sees him and halts his marching men.  He takes Johnny over to see the captain, but Johnny says he's not going back.  He has already asked the Indiana contingent if they would take him on as a drummer boy and they said they would.  The meaning being that if he is good enough for Indiana, he ought to be good enough for Ohio. 

Gabe now asks the captain in private if they could just keep Johnny.  The captain says Gabe will have to take care of the boy and get Johnny a regulation army drum.  So Johnny can stay.  When Gabe opens the door to go out, Johnny is right there and he shouts:  "Wow-wee!"

And now Johnny marches with the Blue Raiders as they head to the front.  At night Gabe wakes Johnny and has Johnny come with him to an overlook point where they can see all the tents and camp fires of just the northern Army of the Cumberland.  This army is one of the principal Union armies in the Western Theater.  Gabe is impressed by the massive number of tents and fires.  On the other side of the mountain are the Confederate armies.  The rebs have more men than the union men and if Gen. Buell doesn't arrive in time, the rebs could drive the union army out of the area.

One day Gabe takes Johnny to a log cabin church for a prayer or two.  Johnny says a prayer and asks what's the name of the place where they are.  Gabe tells him Shiloh.  Just as he does this some to the tents come under cannon fire.  Gabe and Johnny now have to quickly rejoin their unit.  The men start running toward the front lines.  There Johnny meets Gen. Thomas who tells Clem to be careful. 

In battle the confederates attack Johnny's unit and drive them back.  A union cannon ball knocks the rebel commander off his horse, but the rebs keep chasing after the fleeing union men.  The men get formed up at certain points to fire back at the Confederates after which they resume running from the battlefield.  Johnny gets knocked out from a cannonball explosion, but is able to get back up.  He then finds Lt. Jeremiah dead. 

After they flee over a wide creek, Gen. Thomas yells at the men that Johnny Shiloh here isn't running away one more inch   He asks the men to stand with him and Johnny and they rally and go on the attack of the oncoming confederates. 

At the night's encampment Gabe doesn't see Johnny.  He goes back to see if he can find him.  Johnny is still there half asleep, but still drums his drum.  He asks Gabe did they win?  No, they got licked pretty bad, but General U.S. Grant will get them tomorrow.  Johnny also says that he didn't run.  Gabe says he knows Johnny didn't run.

Chickamauga, Sept. 20, 1863.   [The battle was fought between the Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg, and was named for Chickamauga Creek, near the battle area in northwest Georgia (and ultimately flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of downtown Chattanooga).  The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and involved the second highest number of casualties in the war following the Battle of Gettysburg: 60,000 for the Union and 65,000 for the Rebs.]

From up a tree, a sniper blows a hole through Johnny's hat.  Gabe kills the sniper.  A little later Johnny saves Gabe by shooting a reb officer attacking Gabe with a sword.  Gen. Thomas arrives and gets his men to attack the nearby rebel forces. 

At the night's encampment, Johnny apologizes to the rebel colonel for shooting him. 

In the morning, Gabe brings Johnny to see the general.  General Thomas is with General Grant.  Gabe is promoted to a 2nd Lieutenant.  Now Grant promotes Clem to the rank of sergeant and makes him a messenger for General Thomas.  He also musters Johnny into the army. 

Gabe is a bit grumpy today because the rebs got Chattanooga surrounded.  Johnny says Grant and Thomas will get them out of this situation.   The men of the Blue Raiders give a gift of a gold watch to Johnny. 

Gabe and Johnny have to deliver a message to Gen. Steadman that Gen. "The Rock of Chickamauga" Thomas is going to drive his troops up the center tonight.  Thomas has ordered that in the case where the two messengers are attacked by rebs, Gabe will stand and fight while Johnny will ride to get the message through. 

Gabe and Johnny head out, but soon are chased by a reb patrol.   Gabe gets shot off his horse and Johnny gets captured. 

Johnny is taken to rebel headquarters.  There he meets Gen. Joe Wheeler, who asks him:  "Son, don't you know it's dangerous riding around the countryside playing soldier?"  Johnny explains that he's a regular in the US Army.  The general is not sure he believes Johnny.  He tells him that he will be a prisoner of war and will eventually be sent to  Prisoner of War Camp.   Meanwhile, an older rebel boy will watch Johnny's every move. 

Johnny is there when Gen. Longstreet arrives at headquarters.  At night he tries to escape but doesn't get far because the other boy comes right after him.

Someone steals Johnny's clothes when the boy guard fell asleep.  So Johnny has to wear a confederate uniform. 

Johnny and the reb boy, named Billy, start becoming friends.  When the reb gets a letter from home and he can't read it, he asks Johnny to read it for him.  The letter is a sad one because it carries the news that Billy's best friend died in a northern prisoner of war camp. 

Johnny sits around the camp fire at night listening to the rebs singing some of their favorite southern songs. The sergeant comes over and tells the men to break it up.  They are heading for Chattanooga in the morning.  Billy is told to break the news to Johnny that he is going south to a prisoner of war camp.  Johnny is a bit scared because he has heard such terrible tales of the conditions in such camps.  Billy asks Johnny to not die in the prison like his best friend died.  And be sure and write to him from prison.  The boys shake hands goodbye. 

Johnny decides to escape again.  He is about to get on one of the horses, but remembers that the general has his gold watch.  He sneaks over near headquarters and then runs up on the porch when the two guards turn around and march off.  He get into headquarters through an open window.  He makes it all the way back to the horse.  Billy catches him again, but Johnny says he would rather die than go to a prisoner of war camp.  Billy says he will have to shoot him if he tries to escape.  Johnny gets up on the horse and starts riding away.  Billy raises the rifle to shoot, but just can't do it. 

Johnny gets back to his outfit.  There he tells them that Longstreet has now joined the forces to descend on Chattanooga. 

General Thomas says that Longstreet's move means Lee wants to take Chattanooga and then have the forces of Longstreet, Wheeler and Hood join him in attacking Gettysburg.  [Big mistake here.  Gettysburg was fought July 1863, while the Chattanooga Campaign or the Battles for Chattanooga, occurred November 2325, 1863 when Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant defeated Confederate General Braxton Bragg.]

A messenger breaks in with new that Gens. Hooker and Smith have joined forces and have broken the encirclement.  Gen. Thomas is very happy hearing this news.  Thomas says his army will join in on the fight.  He dismisses Johnny.  Johnny walks out of headquarters a bit down, but then he sees his best friend Lt. Gabe.  He is so very happy to see his friend still alive.  He thought Gabe had died.  When the rest of the Blue Raiders see Johnny, they put him like a hero up on their shoulders and carry him to their unit headquarters. 

Johnny gets a surprise package.  Some ladies up north saw a story in the paper about Johnny and sent him a completely new Union uniform to him.  This pleases Johnny a great deal, because now he can ditch the Confederate uniform.  And he now tells Gabe that he is glad that he and Gabe are going back home on leave.  "So we don't have to fight those soldiers over there."  He adds those men are much like the Union men and they treated him okay.  Gabe says he thought that was true.  Gabe and Johnny get on their horses and head off for home. 


Good kid's movie.  And I enjoyed it too.  It shows the kids something about what it would have been like to have been a soldier in the Union Army.  (With the big exception, however, that Johnny just saw a bit of fighting and not the great slaughters on the large battlefields of the war.)   Johnny was one determined boy.  He was so determined to remain in the army that he became a big headache for the staff of his unit, the Blue Raiders, who kept trying to tell him he cannot join the army.  And we got to hear talk about the Battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, which cleared the way for the Battles of Atlanta and Sherman's march to the ocean.  That's pretty good.  Brian Keith (as Sergeant Gabe Trotter) and Kevin Corcoran (as Johnny Lincoln Clem) were both good in their acting parts. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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