Local man’s book details adventures of Civil War drummer boy

-Submitted photo
Jerry Rowe was the subject of a photograph by Fort Dodge photographer Maureen Powers that shows him in a Union Civil War uniform making notes in a ledger at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village. Rowe has a print of the photograph on display in his living room.

George A. Tod was a teenager living in Webster County when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862 when the federal government sought 300,000 volunteers for the Civil War.

He was assigned as a drummer boy, survived combat and was captured. He escaped twice from Confederate prisons, including the dreaded camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

After the war, his luck ran out, however. He was plagued with personal and career problems for the remainder of his life.

Tod’s adventures are the subject of a new, short book by Fort Dodge historian Jerry Rowe that’s entitled “The Hard Luck Drummer Boy.”

For decades, Rowe has researched the lives of Civil War soldiers, often with the goal of obtaining proper military headstones for veterans buried in unmarked graves. Nearly 20 years ago, he was looking for information on Levi Young, a corporal in Company I of the 32nd Iowa Infantry. During his research he found a box full of old copies of the Fort Dodge Northwest, one of the earliest local newspapers. The newspapers from Jan. 10 and Jan. 17, 1865, contained stories about Tod.

-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Jerry Rowe, of Fort Dodge, shows a copy of his recently released book “The Hard Luck Drummer Boy.’’ The book is about a 16-year-old from Fort Dodge who joined the Union Army during the Civil War.

“I laid it off to the side,” Rowe said. “I thought it would be a nice story.”

The “nice story” he envisioned is now recounted in the book.

Rowe details how Tod enlisted in Company I of the 32nd Iowa Infantry at age 16. That unit consisted of men from the Fort Dodge area. Because he was a boy, he was assigned as a drummer. During the Civil War, drummers were essential for military communications. Different patterns of drum beats directed soldiers to charge, retreat and assemble at a given spot.

After a year and a half of fighting, Tod was captured by the Confederates in February 1864 near the Big Black River in Mississippi.

Tod was first held in the Cahaba prisoner of war camp in Alabama, before being shipped to Andersonville. He escaped from there in July 1864, but was recaptured. In September 1864, he escaped from the Confederate in South Carolina. He made his way back to Union forces that time, but he was never again put on duty because of injuries and illness.

-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Jerry Rowe, of Fort Dodge, reads his handwritten manuscript for his recently released book "The Hard Luck Drummer Boy.’’

After the war ended in 1865, Tod unsucessfully tried going to college and was even briefly enrolled as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Rowe said Tod then did odd jobs, like selling books.

Rowe said Tod ended up up living off a government pension of about $10 a month, which he said “isn’t enough to keep a squirrel alive.”

“Things never did work for him,” Rowe said. “He just couldn’t hit it. Everything went sour.”

He said he believes Tod suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

The book, which includes information on Company I of the 32nd Iowa Infantry, is a brisk read at 52 pages.

“It was never intended to be a long book,” Rowe said. “You can read it and enjoy it in a single night.”

Rowe is working on two more Civil War books. One is based on the diary of a soldier, while the other is about a Union Army doctor who was court martialed and later pardoned by President Abraham Lincoln.