The First “Man” to Die — Drummer Boy John Boulton Young

Court House, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1851 (James Fuller Queen, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

“He has beaten his last retreat, and will sleep peacefully until the Reveille on resurrection morn.”

— Inscription on the monument to John Boulton Young, Sunbury Cemetery, Sunbury, Pennsylvania

John Boulton Young was a strong-minded, strong-willed, 19th-century boy whose curiosity and energy knew no bounds. Compelled by an indomitable spirit to leave his secure life in a small Pennsylvania city and rush head-long into adulthood, his star rose quickly, brightened the lives of those around him, and flamed out—all before he had turned fourteen.

Formative Years

John Boulton Young and Family, U.S. Census, 1860 (public domain).

Born in Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania on 25 September 1848, John Boulton Young was a son of Pennsylvania natives, Michael A. Young (born circa 1819) and Elizabeth (Boulton) Young (1828-1905). Known affectionately as “Boulty” (alternatively, “Boltie”), he grew up in Sunbury, residing there in 1850 at a hotel with his mother, Elizabeth, and his maternal grandmother, “Cathrine Bolton,” who was listed as the head of the household on that year’s federal census. Also living there were Boulty’s older brother, William L. Dewert Young (aged 3), and younger sister, Mary Elizabeth (aged 5 months), as well Boulty’s maternal aunt and uncle, Harriet Bolton (aged 16) and William Bolton (aged 18), who was employed as a bartender, and two lodgers, Barney Uren and Charles Lander.

In early 1852, the Youngs welcomed the arrival of another child. Their joy was short lived, however; that daughter, Catharine, died just four months later—in April of 1852. By 1860, the Youngs were living in their own home in Sunbury, and the household now included Boulty and his older brother, William Dewert L. (born circa 1847), and their younger siblings: Mary Elizabeth (1850-1926), George Weaver (1853-1921), Kate Irene (1855-1927), and Gertrude Louise (1859-1898). The family’s patriarch, Michael Young, supported the growing family on the wages of a laborer, and had worked so diligently that, by June of that year, he had amassed $800 in real estate and $260 in personal property holdings (roughly $33,000 in 2019 dollars).

The Youngs’ sense of security, though, would not last long. Before the year was out, they and their fellow Northumberland County residents were reading regular newspaper accounts of the worsening relations between America’s North and South. On 20 December 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States, followed by Mississippi, Florida and Alabama on 9, 10 and 11 January 1861. Like rapidly toppling dominos, Georgia and Louisiana then also abandoned the Union on 19 and 26 January 1861, followed by Texas on 1 February. Fort Sumter then fell to Confederate States Army forces on 15 April.

Watching many of their neighbors march off less than a week later with John Peter Shindel Gobin and their hometown militia, the Sunbury Guards, in response to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers “to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union,” they shared the hopes of many that the conflict would be quickly resolved. But when the Sunbury Guards returned in August, following the completion of their Three Months’ Service, and began talking of reenlisting, the people of Sunbury quickly came to realize that a great and terrible war had only just begun, and that far more would now be asked of their community, county, and the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Civil War Military Service

Knowing that the battle to preserve America’s Union was far from over, the Youngs’ fellow Sunbury resident, John Peter Shindel Gobin, a first lieutenant with the Sunbury Guards, joined many of his men in signing up for an additional three-year term of military service. Re-enrolling at Sunbury on 19 August 1861, Gobin elected to serve with an entirely new regiment formed only recently by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, was commissioned as a captain, and began recruiting additional residents of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania to join the fight as part of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Enrollment and muster-in dates of John Boulton Young, Co. C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain; double click to enlarge).

That same day, inspired by Gobin’s leadership, the Youngs’ second oldest child, John Boulton Young, also enrolled in Sunbury. It was just over a month before his thirteenth birthday. Military records documented that, at the time of his enlistment, “J. Bolton Young” was still a student who was just four feet tall, and that he had light hair, gray eyes and a light complexion.

Those same military records also show that John Boulton Young and/or Gobin lied about the boy’s age, indicating that Boulty was 14 and eligible to join his neighbors in the fight to preserve America’s Union. This disinformation campaign continued even after Young officially mustered in for duty as a Musician with the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg on 2 September 1861 (the same day on which Gobin also mustered in there).

* Note: According to historians at the American Battlefield Trust, “For most of the war, the minimum enlistment age in the North was legally held at 18 for soldiers and 16 for musicians, although younger men could enlist at the permission of their parents until 1862. In the South, the age limit for soldiers stayed at 18 until 1864 when it was legally dropped to 17.”

The youngest member of his unit, which was composed primarily of seasoned members of his hometown militia, Boulty became the heart of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, along with his fellow C Company members. Designated as the color-bearer unit, they were awarded the honor of protecting the national and regimental colors. Also serving with Boulty, the youngest member of the 47th Pennsylvania, was Benjamin F. Walls, a 65-year-old successful farmer from Juniata County who became the oldest member to enroll in the regiment.

Clearly proud of his company’s diversity, Gobin appointed the senior Walls as his first Color-Sergeant, and then made sure that the much younger pre-teen marching at the head of the grown men within his ranks would stand out even more prominently by dressing his drummer boy in attire which differed radically from the standard navy blue wool uniforms of the regular United States Army that were worn by every other soldier in the regiment. Boulty, in fact, became the only member of the 47th Pennsylvania to ever don the colorful regalia of the Zouave soldier.

Sporting a red-trimmed, navy blue wool jacket and red wool pants, Boulty also strapped on leather gaiters that were similar to those worn by the men of the Band of Brothers’ Easy Company during World War II in order to safeguard his still-developing legs against potential injury. And, because he was still so small, he was equipped with a child-sized set of drumsticks and a smaller, lighter-weight drum which was just 13 inches tall and 13½ inches in diameter.

Camp Curtin (Harper’s Weekly, 1861, public domain).

On 17 September 1861, Captain Gobin updated his community regarding the regiment’s progress via a letter penned at Camp Curtin:

We expect to leave tonight for Washington or Baltimore. Our company has been made the color company of the regiment, the letter being accorded to rotation used, C. It is the same as E in the 11th. Wm. M. Hendricks has been appointed Sergeant Major, so that Sunbury is pretty well represented in the regiment, having the Quartermaster, Sergeant Major and Color Company…. Boulton is lying by me as I write, just about going to sleep.

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics, during which time they were housed at Camp Curtin No. 2, on the field next to the main camp, Boulty and his fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent by train to Washington, D.C. where, beginning 20 September, they were stationed at Camp Kalorama on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown—roughly two miles from the White House. “It is a very fine location for a camp,” wrote Gobin. “Good water is handy, while Rock Creek, which skirts one side of us, affords an excellent place for washing and bathing.’”

In a letter penned on 22 September by Gobin’s clerk, Henry D. Wharton, to their hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, the following details were revealed about the regiment’s travels:

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of “magnificent distances.” We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the “Soldier’s Retreat,” a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the “inner man” supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our “little Zouave,” stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

47th Pennsylvanian Henry Wharton described the “whopper” of a rainstorm endured by his regiment (Sunbury American, 29 September 1861, public domain).

On 24 September, Boulty, Gobin and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were formally mustered into the U.S. Army. Assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith’s Army of the Potomac three days later, they were ordered to head for the eastern side of the Potomac River. As he tapped out a cadence on his drum, Boulty marched in front of C Company as it and the other Mississippi rifle-armed companies of the regiment marched behind the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band. Arriving at Camp Lyon in Maryland during the late afternoon, they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in charging double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp. The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated close to General Smith’s headquarters, and were charged with defending their nation’s capital.

On 29 September, Wharton again recapped the regiment’s activities, this time noting that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well – not a murmur – and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Later ordered with the 3rd Brigade to move to “Camp Big Chestnut” (named for a prominently located chestnut tree and later rechristened “Camp Griffin”), the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads on 11 October. In a letter home sometime around this same time, Gobin reported that members of the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing (companies A, C, D, F and I) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing’s companies (B, G, K, E, and H) were forced to return to camp by Confederate troops:

I was ordered to take my company to Stewart’s house [J. E. B. Stuart], drive the Rebels from it, and hold it at all hazards. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so waiting until it was just getting day, I marched 80 men up; but the Rebels had left after driving Capt. Kacy’s company [H] into the woods. I took possession of it, and stationed my men, and there we were for 24 hours with our hands on our rifles, and without closing an eye. I took ten men, and went out scouting within half a mile of the Rebels, but could not get a prisoner, and we did not dare fire on them first. Do not think I was rash, I merely obeyed orders, and had ten men with me who could whip a hundred; Brosius [sic], Piers [sic], Harp and McEwen were among the number. Every man in the company wanted to go. The Rebels did not attack us, and if they had they would have met with a warm reception, as I had my men posted in such a manner that I could have whipped a regiment. My men were all ready and anxious for a “fight.”

The Kalorama Eruptive Fever Hospital, also known as the Anthony Holmead House in Georgetown, D.C., after it was destroyed in a Christmas Eve fire in 1865 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Tragically, however, Boulty’s days of adventure had ended by this point in his regiment’s history. Struck down by Variola (smallpox), the young drummer boy had become so ill that regimental surgeons were compelled to have him shipped back to Georgetown, where the physicians and nurses at the eruptive fever hospital on the Kalorama Heights would have a better chance of saving his life.

According to Lewis Schmidt, author of A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, by mid-month, Gobin found himself penning a letter, in his official capacity as captain, that he had never imagined he would have to write, informing Boulty’s parents that “It is with the most profound feelings of sorrow I ever experienced that I am compelled to announce to you the death of our Pet, and your son, Boulton.”

Explaining that he had “immediately started for Georgetown,” after receiving word of Boulton’s death, “hoping the tidings would prove untrue,” Gobin added:

Alas! when I reached there I found that little form that I had so loved, prepared for the grave. Until a short time before he died the symptoms were very favorable, and every hope was entertained of his recovery… He was the life and light of our company, and his death has caused a blight and sadness to prevail, that only rude wheels of time can efface… Every attention was paid to him by the doctors and nurses, all being anxious to show their devotion to one so young. I have had him buried, and ordered a stone for his grave, and ere six months pass a handsome monument, the gift of Company C, will mark the spot where rests the idol of their hearts. I would have sent the body home but the nature of his disease prevented it. When we return, however, if we are so fortunate, the body will accompany us… Everything connected with Boulty shall by attended to, no matter what the cost is. His effects that can be safely sent home, together with his pay, will be forwarded to you.

Sparing Boulty’s parents the most horrific details about their son’s final moments, Gobin poured his heart out in a separate letter to friends, according to Schmidt:

The doctor… told me it was the worst case he ever saw. It was the regular black, confluent small pox… I had him vaccinated at Harrisburg, but it would not take, and he must have got the disease from some of the old Rebel camps we visited, as their army is full of it. There is only one more case in our regiment, and he is off in the same hospital.

Boulty’s death from Variola confluens was recorded in the U.S. Army’s Registers of Deaths of Volunteers in 1861 (U.S. National Archives, public domain; double click to enlarge).

The first member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to die, Boulty passed away in Georgetown on 17 October 1861, and was subsequently eulogized by newspapers across the great Keystone State, including Bloomsburg’s Star of the North:

SUNBURY, PA.— On last Saturday our citizens were pained to see the announcement in the Philadelphia Inquirer that John Boulton Young, son of Michael Young, of this place, and drummer boy of the Sunbury Company under Captain Gobin, in the 47th regiment, had died on Thursday in the hospital at Georgetown, near Washington. He had for some weeks been ill of the smallpox, but the latest intelligence previous to the announcement of his death, gave his friends the assurance that he was recovering. He was but thirteen years old, a bright, active boy, and the pet of the whole regiment. Captain Gobin had him dressed in Zouave style, and the little Zouave drummer attracted much attention wherever the regiment went. His death is a heavy blow to his parents, who have the sympathy of this entire community in their deep affliction. The flags in Sunbury were put at half mast in token of mourning for the death of the little drummer who died so young in the service of his country.

In addition to making the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer on 18 October 1861, the heartbreaking news of Boulty’s death was also reported in newspapers nationwide, including that same day’s edition of The National Republican and the next day’s Baltimore Sun.

The official cause of death listed by R. J. Thomas, A.A.S., Boulty’s physician at the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital, was “Variola Confluens.” The most virulent form of the disease more commonly known as “smallpox,” which was in itself an acute infectious disease that, even in mild cases was highly contagious, this strain of the disease was notable for the high fever it produced and for the number of eruptions it caused on various body surfaces that resulted in severe scarring. It would have been a terrible ordeal for anyone to endure — let alone a child like Boulty.

* Note: Instead of producing individual, isolated boils or pustules known as “pocks,” the Variola confluens contracted by Boulty would have primarily produced eruptions on his face that were in such large patches that his skin would have appeared to have been burned or blistered. In addition to the horrific facial disfigurement, Boulty would likely have experienced hair loss, severe pain and damage to his mucous membranes, mouth, throat, and eyes as the fever ravaged his body and continued to climb. If the disease had progressed into the hemorrhagic phase prior to his death, the pocks on his face and mucous membranes would then also have begun to bleed.

Most likely exposed to the disease sometime while he was encamped with his regiment in Virginia during mid- to late September 1861, Boulty would not initially have experienced any symptoms during the first ten to fourteen days of the disease’s incubation period. The first symptoms he did feel would have been rigor (sudden chills as the onset of fever began, alternating with shivering and sweating). As this primary fever increased in severity, Boulty’s temperature would have risen to 103° or 104° Fahrenheit or higher over a two-day period, quickening his pulse and causing intense thirst, headache, constipation, vomiting, and back pain. As his condition worsened, he may also have experienced convulsions and/or a rash-like redness on his abdomen or inner thighs that might have looked like scarlet fever, but which was, in fact, a series of small, flat, circular marks on the body known caused by bleeding under the skin and known as “petechiae.”

It was only on the third day, post-incubation period, that Boulty’ s commanding officer would have noticed that his young charge’s face was erupting with boils, but even then Gobin might have missed that sign because such pocks typically appeared as a patch of redness on the forehead, near the roots of the hair. Within hours of this first eruption, however, Gobin would most certainly have realized that something was wrong as the boy began scratching to relieve the itch on patches that had spread across his face and body—particularly when the pocks began to fill with fluid which caused them to expand to pea-sized bumps.

Likely sent to the regiment’s hospital sometime around this time, Boulty would have been transferred to the eruptive fever hospital on Kalorama Heights in Georgetown before the week was out because, by day eight or nine, his skin would have become inflamed and swollen as the fluid in the pocks changed from clear to yellow, began to smell, and began to spread to his mouth, throat, nose, and eyes, putting both his breathing and vision at risk. Increasingly hoarse, despite the increase in saliva he was experiencing, Boulty’s body would then also have been overtaken by secondary fever, followed possibly by delirium and then coma.

Boulty most likely did not make it to the disease’s latter phase when the pustules would have begun to dry up and the other symptoms would have begun to lessen (typically on the twelfth day, post-incubation). Generally, Variola confluens, in cases such as his, weakens the heart muscle to such an extent that it results in myocardial insufficiency.

John Boulton Young was initially laid to rest in the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery, now known as the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. in 1861 (public domain).

As Gobin indicated in his letter to the Youngs, John Boulton Young was initially buried far from home—laid to rest with military honors at the Soldiers’ Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (now the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery).

* Note: One of the oldest national cemeteries in America, the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery was established during the American Civil War by the Commissioners of the United States Military Asylum who donated six acres of land on the northern portion of the asylum’s (soldiers’ home) land for use as the burial ground for Union soldiers who had been killed during the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. After the first interments were made on 3 August 1861, interments were also added for Union soldiers felled in subsequent battles.

A predecessor of the Arlington National Cemetery, the Soldiers’ Home cemetery where Boulty was initially laid to rest is equally important from a historical standpoint because President Lincoln and his family frequently stayed at a cottage which was located on this cemetery’s grounds (now known as the Lincoln Cottage) throughout the Civil War. Lincoln was said to have been deeply impacted by the numerous military funerals taking place while he was in residence there.

In early 1862, the remains of John Boulton Young were disinterred and transported to Pennsylvania, where they were reinterred in the Sunbury Cemetery (also known as Penn’s Cemetery). According to a letter penned by Gobin to friends on 8 January 1862, Gobin “came to town [Washington, D.C.] this morning to attend to having Boulty’s body sent home. It will arrive there the latter part of next week probably Thursday or Friday.” Writing again to friends on 16 February 1862, this time from Camp Brannan in Key West, Florida where the 47th Pennsylvania was now stationed, Gobin added: “I see Boulty’s body got home safe. I am glad of it, as it is a load off my mind. I hope they did not open the coffin though, as it would have been very dangerous.”

Post-War Remembrance of Boulty

The Sunbury American reported on the monument erected to John Boulton Young in 1864 (6 February 1864, public domain).

On 6 February 1864, the Sunbury American reported that a monument had been erected at the Sunbury Cemetery in Boulty’s honor. The text clearly shows not just how much the boy was beloved by members of the 47th Pennsylvania, but confirms that he was truly just 12 years old at the time of his enlistment and just barely 13 when he died:


We have heretofore neglected noticing a handsome monument, erected in the Grave Yard in this place, to the memory of a youthful soldier, J. BOULTON YOUNG, son of Michael Young of this place, who died in the service of his country. It is a noble tribute by his comrades and fellow soldiers. The monument is an obelisk of four sides, mounted on an entablature. The inscriptions are as follows:

WEST SIDE.— J. BOULTON, son of M. & E. Young, born Sept. 25, 1848, died Oct. 17, 1861, aged 13 years and 22 days.

NORTH SIDE.— He has beaten his last retreat, and will sleep peacefully until the Reveille on resurrection morn.

SOUTH SIIDE.— Erected by his comrades of Co. C, 47th Reg’t. P. V., as a testimonial of the love bore to their Drummer Boy.”

On Decoration Day in 1868, Boulty’s grave was one of several decorated by his former comrades and other Sunbury citizens. The 30 May edition of the Sunbury American that year noted that:

In compliance with the order of Gen. John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the posts everywhere throughout the country will, to-day, (Saturday,), visit the cemeteries where the bodies of the dead soldiers of the Union rest, and in the beautiful language of the order, “gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime; raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; and in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”

To carry out this order, Post No. 105, of this Borough, appointed a committee to arrange the details for the ceremonies, and at a subsequent meeting the committee submitted the following, which was adopted:

As a tribute of respect to the memory of our fallen soldiers, the graves of those buried in the Cemetery, at Sunbury, will be strewn with flowers on the 30th day of May, under the direction of Post No. 105, Grand Army of the Republic.

The committee of arrangements directs that the members of the Post will meet at their Head Quarters, on Saturday, May 30th, at 5 o’clock, P.M., where wreaths and flowers will be prepared for them, and then march to the Cemetery. On reaching the Cemetery they will at once proceed to the monument erected to the memory of the soldiers of the 47th Regiment, where an address will be delivered by the Rev. Mr. Evans, after which the flowers will be strewn upon the graves of our comrades.

The ceremony at the Cemetery will conclude with prayer, and the members of the Post will then march to their quarters and be dismissed.

A cordial invitation is extended to all soldiers and others, who feel an interest in this work, to participate in the exercises with us.

It being a fixed fact that works of charity and benevolence cannot be conducted successfully without the aid and assistance of the ladies, we would respectfully solicit their co-operation with us in furnishing flowers for the occasion. They can leave them at our room, over the Post Office on Saturday morning.

By order of Committee of Arrangements.
CHAS. J. BRUNER, Chairman.

Attached to this announcement was the list of soldiers whose graves would be decorated: “Boulton Young,” Peter Haupt, George Miller, and William Fry (47th Pennsylvania Infantry); Samuel Bartscher, Harris Hopper, James Hoey, and Emanuel Gotschall (58th Pennsylvania Infantry); Edward Beck and John Durst (7th Pennsylvania Cavalry); Frederick Kline (188th Pennsylvania Infantry); Lieutenant C. I. Pleasants (11th Pennsylvania Infantry); Philip Renn (2nd U.S. Infantry); and Lafayette and William Landau, Newton Sarvis, and Isaac Wilkerson.

Subsequent news coverage of that day’s ceremonies noted that “the procession was formed on Third street” in Sunbury at 5 p.m. “with right of column resting in front of Head Quarters of Post No. 105, G.A.R., under supervision of W. M. McClure, Post Commander, acting as Chief Marshal, aided by J. E. Torrington, Officer of the Day.” They were followed by: the subcommittee from the Committee of Arrangements; Selinsgrove Band; Chief Marshal and Aid; Post Chaplain Bruner and Clergy; Post 105, G.A.R., commanded by George B. Cadwalader, S.V.C., “and bearing wreaths, &c., escorting 22 little girls dressed in white, and carrying flags and choice flowers”; the International Order of Red Men, George W. Smith, Marshal “(in full Regalia)”; Lodge No. 22, A.Y.M.N., S. Engle, Marshal; Knight Templars, commanded by General J. K. Clement”; and “Citizens”:

The crowd waiting in the cemetery was so great that much difficulty was experienced in getting the procession into position in front of the monument erected in memory of the deceased members of Co. C, 47th P.V., the place designated for the exercises preliminary to the decoration of the graves, which were as follows:

Reading of General Order No. 11, by the Post Adjutant,
Prayer by Rev. S. W. Reigart,
Vocal Music — “The Officer’s Funeral,”
Address by Rev. W. W. Evans,
Vocal Music — “E Pluribus Unum,”
Decoration of Graves,

which was accomplished by dividing the members of the G.A.R. and little girls into detachments, the former escorting the latter, marching on both sides of each grave, facing towards it and depositing at the head thereof a wreath and strewing flowers upon it, the commander of the detachment saying, “This we do in memory of ______  ______, (mentioning the name of the occupant of the grave.) who died in defence [sic] of his country.” When all the graves and monuments had thus been honored, the detachments resumed their former positions. The “Star Spangled Banner” was then sung, after which Commander McClure, on behalf of the Post, returned thanks to the clergymen, the various orders and societies participating, and the citizens generally, for their kind assistance and sympathy manifested on the occasion.

The exercises were then closed with prayer by Rev. Mr. Hemperly, and the procession being reformed, was marched to place of starting and dismissed.

Present-Day Memorials

So great was the impact of Boulty’s death that present-day civic leaders continue to honor his memory. During the 1990s, Sunbury resident Garry Leister approached Norm Koch at Sunbury Monumental Works to carve a supplemental marker for Boulty’s grave. Installed on 27 August 1993 and dedicated on 31 May 1994, it preserves the data from the badly-eroded original marker that was erected by Boulty’s comrades.

But perhaps most touching is the loving care which has been rendered to Boulty’s military trappings over the years. From Gobin, who tearfully folded his young charge’s uniform before returning it to Michael Young that terrible fall of 1861, to subsequent generations of volunteers who have readied the boy’s uniform and drum for exhibits across the great Keystone State, Boulty’s adventurous spirit has been brought back to life, echoing across time to remind us all of the terrible costs of war.

John Boulton Young’s uniform and drum are on exhibit in the Northumberland County Historical Society’s museum in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Contact museum personnel for details before visiting since the museum’s hours of operation vary throughout the year.

To learn more about what happened to Boulty’s family after his death, read the next article in this series, What Happened to the Surviving Members of Boulty’s Family?”.


1. Affleck, M.D., J. O. “Smallpox,” in “1902 Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th and 10th editions (online), 2005-2019.

2. Barker, M.D., Lewellys Franklin. Monographic Medicine, Vol. II: “The Clinical Diagnosis of Internal Diseases,” p. 431 (“Variola confluens”). New York, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1916.

3. “Death of a Young Soldier.” Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania: Star of the North, Wednesday, 30 October 1861 (reprinted from the Sunbury Gazette).

4. “Deaths of Soldiers.” Washington, D.C.: The National Republican, 18 October 1861.

5. “Died” (death of Boulty’s baby sister, Catharine Young). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 10 April 1852.

6. Elizabeth M. B. Young, in “Boehm’s Reformed Church (United Church of Christ) Records,” Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 5 and 7 February 1905. Salt Lake City, Utah:, retrieved online 16 October 2019.

7. “History Day at Hunter House.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: The Daily Item, 17 April 2013.

8. Inkrote, Cindy. “Civil War drummer boy was different kind of hero.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: The Daily Item, 4 October 2009.

9. Letters of John Peter Shindel Gobin, 1861-1900. Various Collections (descendants of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, et. al.).

10. Marriage Record (Gertrude L. Young and Samuel C. Brown). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Boehm’s Reformed Church, 1882.

11. “Mrs. Gertrude Brown Dead” (obituary of Boulty’s sister, Gertrude L. Young Brown). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: The Daily Item, Saturday, 31 December 1898, p. 1.

12. Miss Kate Irene Young (obituary of Boulty’s sister, Kate Irene Young). Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania: The Daily News, 1 December 1921, p. 8.

13. “Mrs. Weaver, of Sunbury, Expires” (obituary of Boulty’s sister, Mary E. Young Weaver). Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania: The Daily News, 20 April 1926, p. 8.

14. “Our Fallen Heroes” (Decoration Day description which mentions John Boulton Young). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 30 May 1868.

15. “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865” (J. Bolton Young, in “Co. C, 47th Regiment, Infantry”), in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (RG-19). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives, retrieved online 1 October 2010.

16. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

17. “Silver Wedding” (25th wedding anniversary celebration of Boulty’s parents, Michael A. and Elizabeth Boulton Young). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 25 February 1871.

18. “State’s Smallest Volunteer Fireman Dies” (obituary of Boulty’s brother, George Weaver Young). Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: The Wilkes-Barre Record, 11 January 1921, p. 23.

19. “The Decoration of the Graves of Our Dead Soldiers.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 6 June 1868.

20. “The Drummer Boy’s Monument.” Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 6 February 1864.

21. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1850 (Bolton, Catherine; Young, Elizabeth, William, Harriet, Mary, William L. D., John, Mary; Uren, Barney; Lander, Charles). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

22. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1860 (Young, Michael, Elizabeth M., William D., John B., Mary, George, Kate, and Gertrude). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

23. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1870 (Young Michael A., Elizabeth, Dewert, George, Mary, Kate, Gertrude, Gobin, and “Bellfino” [sic; should have read “Delphine”]). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

24. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1800 (Young, Margaret, Dewert W. L., Mary E., George W., Kate I., Gertrude L., Gobin C., Delphine). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

25. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1900 (Young, Elizabeth M., George W., Kate I.; Culp, Delphine and William; and Weaver, Gertrude J.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

26. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1910 (Weaver, Mary E., Pauline, George B.; Young, George W.; Morgan, Richard). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

27. U.S. Census: Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1920 (Culp, Delphine, Leslie C., John B.; Young, George W. and Kate I.; Weam, George V.; Beatty, James H.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

28. Young Family Death Certificates (Culp, Delphine Young; Young, George Weaver; Weaver, Mary Elizabeth Young; Young, Kate Irene). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1926-1927.

29. Young Family Marriages (Gertrude L. Young to Samuel or V. C. Brown, 18 October 1882; Mary Elizabeth Young to George W. Weaver, 18 March 1886; and Delphine Young to William H. Culp, 22 February 1898), in “Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950” (Northumberland County; Pennsylvania; Family History Library microfilm 961,091: Young, Michael and Mary E.; Weaver, George W., John and Isabella, 18 March 1886; Family History Library microfilm 961,097: Young, Delphine, Michael and Elizabeth; Culp, William H., John and Annie C., 22 February 1898). Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch.

30. Young, J. Bolton, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

31. Young, Jno. B., in U.S. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861 (Pennsylvania). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.