Boys' war

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Boys' war

The book, The Boys’ War, by Jim Murphy is set during the Civil War from 1861-1865. The war was fought between the Confederate soldiers, who fought for the South, and the Union soldiers, who fought for the North. Despite recruitment standards established by both sides that prevented boys younger than eighteen from enlisting, shockingly, many of the soldiers fighting for both the North and the South were underaged. Many young boys desired to abandon their dull predictable lives on the farms for the thrill of fighting in war. They benefited from the fact that there was often no way to determine a boy’s age with certainty or if he was telling the truth about his age. As the author states, “In spite of this, a tall fourteen- or fifteen-year old could easily blend into a crowd of men and slip through in the hurry to form a unit “(8). Additionally, if a unit was in desperate need of more soldiers, an underaged boy could easily join the army in a fighting position. Another way for an underaged boy to join the army was as a musician, such as a drummer or bugler. As a musician was considered a non-fighting position, a boy who enlisted as a musician was not usually questioned about his age. However, in the midst of war, some musicians found themselves in dangerous situations. In describing a drummer’s job, Murphy reveals, “But like their counterparts with rifles, they soon learned how to face enemy shells without flinching”(41). For example, drummers were forced to continue their beat even when the battle field was covered with smoke and shots were fired all around them. In conclusion, underaged boys found ways to enlist and fight in the army, despite rules that aimed at preventing such young boys from fighting. The Civil War dramatically changed the lives of these young boys. These boys left home naive and unexpectant of what the conditions of war were really like but returned home as disciplined young men. They thought that going to war would provide a reprieve from their daily farm life and that war would bring thrilling experiences. In describing the boy’s expectations, the author states, “Most signed up for a much simpler reason-to escape the boring routine of farm life and take part in an exciting adventure”(8). The boys’ romantic visions of war changed as soon as they were involved in the heat of battle. The boys, some as young as twelve, witnessed the terrifying deaths of the enemy as well as friends in their own unit. As Murphy describes, “It was often well before they had a chance to fire a shot in anger that these boys learned about the cruel horrors of war...The officer would order the men on, not allowing them to dwell on what they were seeing or feeling”(31). These brutal sights and experiences had a tremendous emotional impact on the boys. In summary, despite recruitment standards, many underaged boys fought in the Civil War. They went to war seeking adventure and escape from their routine farm lives, but instead experienced the true hardships of death and fighting and were forced to grow up quickly.

The Boys' War

Jim Murphy

“He estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of all soldiers were underage when they signed up”(2).

“The boys were not just heroes, they were walking miracles”(94).

The Civil War


A map of the Confederate states and the Union states.

A sixteen-year-old boy name Edwin Francis Jennison who died in the Civil War.

Watch this video to gain an understanding of how many young boys fought in the Civil War.

Many young boys were drummers in the Civil War.


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