On Saturday, June 18, 2005, Brendan Lyons, of West Chester, PA, completed his Eagle Scout project, culminating in a memorial service for Charley King and recognizing his ultimate sacrifice as the youngest Union soldier in the Civil War to be killed as a result of battle wounds.
A memorial stone was placed in West Chester’s Greenmount Cemetery, where both Charley’s parents were buried.
Jackie Shields and I were invited as guests and speakers during the ceremony. Following is my speech given in honor of Charley King:
June 18, 2005
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Good afternoon. It is an honor for me to be included in this memorial service and tribute to Charles King. Over the course of writing Broken Drum, which, incidentally, took us 5 years, we became very attached to Charley, as if he were an integral part of our own families.
Charley’s faded photograph, on display at the Antietam Battlefield Museum, was our inspiration for writing Broken Drum. We knew there was a story behind that solemn-faced, most likely nervous, young boy, who was a mere 12 years, 5 months, and 9 days old on the day he enlisted in the Pennsylvania 49th Volunteers. When I counted back the days, months, and years to his birth date, I found that Charley was born in April of 1849, exactly one hundred years earlier than my own brother’s birthday. A connection was made.
As mothers ourselves, Jackie and I could not imagine allowing our sons to go off to war at 12 years old. It would be difficult at any age, as many mothers know right now. Our first thoughts were that Charley was either an orphan or a runaway, and that’s when our imaginations took off. Our research brought us to Charley’s origins here in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Broken Drum is not a biography of Charley, by any means. Because of limited information, we did fictionalize a number of the events, but we also thoroughly researched the Pennsylvania 49th, as well as the everyday lives of drummer boys in the Civil War. We hope that we realistically portrayed the tremendous responsibilities that drummer boys shouldered during our Civil War and that we acknowledged the significant contributions they made to their regiments and to their country.
In the course of bringing our fictional Charley to life for our readers, we also hope that we portrayed the true character of Charley King, who was a favorite among the soldiers of Company F, and, I am most certain, a well-loved member of his family. As Jackie and I dragged out the writing of the book, my husband teased me more than once that we were taking so long because we didn’t want to kill Charley. Well, that’s true, we didn’t want Charley to die, but we had no choice as we could not change history.
Jackie and I did most of our writing at my home on top of Braddock Mountain in Maryland, which looked out across the valley to the long impressive ridge of South Mountain. To this day, I do not look at that ridge without thinking of Charley’s trek over that mountain and the skirmish he was involved in at Crampton’s Gap the day before he went into his final battle at Antietam. I have been humbled by the more than 23,000 candles illuminated at Antietam Battlefield on a dark night each December, knowing that Charley was one of those 23,000 wounded and killed on that horrendous day—each one a hero in his own right.
Brendan Lyons, thank you for remembering Charley King and for bringing this memorial service to fruition. Andy Lefko, thank you for searching us out and inviting us to participate. We are honored.