Child Soldiers of the Revolutionary War

Child Soldiers of the Revolutionary War by Cohen and Ivan Daniels

Cohen Daniels, 14, and Ivan Daniels, 16, officers in the Tennessee Society Children of the American Revolution and National Society C.A.R., respectively, presented the story of “America’s Most Forgotten Veterans – Children” for the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter, NSDAR. Following their PowerPoint presentation, they performed stirring fife and drum music from the Revolutionary War period.

Take a moment and think back to what you were doing at the age of 7 or 10. Were you playing fetch with your dog, batting baseballs with friends, working in your family garden, harvesting crops on your family farm, or riding your bicycle in a state of glorious innocent youth? Well, at the tender age of seven, Nathan Futrell was the youngest drummer so far identified in the Revolutionary War. He served with the North Carolina Militia. Richard Lord Jones, at just ten, a fifer in Connecticut, was the youngest known enlisted soldier in the terrible fight for independence.

These interesting facts were shared by Cohen Daniels, 14, State President of the Tennessee Society Children of the American Revolution (T.S.C.A.R.), and his brother Ivan Daniels, 16, C.A.R. National Vice President of the Mid-Southern Region and Honorary State President for the T.S.C.A.R., at the September meeting of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter (MDW), National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).

Cohen spoke on the topic “America’s Most Forgotten Veterans – Children.” The current state project for the T.S.C.A.R. is titled “Stitching History Together,” a Traveling Tailor project which gives T.S.C.A.R. members around the state of Tennessee the opportunity to participate in clothing a mannequin in accurate 18th century reproduction hand-tailored clothing. The child soldier mannequin will be placed in a new museum exhibit in the children’s bedroom at the Carter Mansion at the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. On display with the mannequin will be “accoutrements, and interpretive panels to offer museum visitors an inspiring, and more inclusive, educational experience.”

According to Cohen, quite a number of child soldiers served in the Revolutionary War, most often in the capacities of fifer, drummer, and bugler. However, some filled the ranks as spies, messengers/couriers, Indian patrol, and, of course, fighting soldiers and sailors. Military musicians played an integral role on the battlefield. Child soldiers often worked on cannon crews called matross crews to assist in firing the cannons and to carry water to cool the cannons and slake the thirst of the cannoneers. They provided communication from the officers to the fighting men. Their instruments signaled attack and retreat. Cohen commented that the success of the fighting men could hinge on the skills of the musicians, placing a terrible weight on the back of a boy. The bravery and perseverance of the boy soldiers deserves remembrance.

The T.S.C.A.R. has been involved in research to identify as many child soldiers as possible and collect the information into a database. Some of the names shared by Cohen and Ivan include Daniel Applegate, 13, fifer at the surrender of Yorktown, and William Cross, who began serving as a soldier at 15. Later, Cross fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Fisk Durand, 10, enlisted with his brother as a drummer in the Connecticut infantry in 1776. Others include Elisha Garland, 13, fifer from North Carolina who was with George Washington at Valley Forge and James Gillies, 14, bugler for American General “Light Horse” Harry Lee. Gillies was killed by the sword of one of British Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s Dragoons.

Presley Larkins, 12, was a recruiter for Virginia forces and a fifer. After having smallpox, he went blind. However, once his vision was restored, he returned to duty in the Revolutionary War and later served as a soldier in the War of 1812. He served in the military all of his life in a unit now known as the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

William Price, 13, was the personal fifer for Colonel John Sevier and fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain. According to oral history, Cornelius Wilson, 11, had his lip cut so badly by a British soldier’s sword that he could no longer play the fife, so instead he became a drummer and continued to serve.

William Addison was 13 when he joined the militia and 14 when he was wounded in the Battle of Eutaw Springs. His payment for that service is noted in the pay book of Brigadier General Francis Marion, better known as the brilliant and shrewd “Swamp Fox.”

Robert Harris, 15, assisted a gunner by loading, firing, and sponging out the cannon. Joshua Prewett, 13, and John Vaughan, 15, were members of a matross crew which used a stick to pull the debris from the old charge out of a cannon so a new charge could be loaded.

John McAlister began to serve at 13 and was promoted to sergeant at 15. Phillip Russell, 15, was a teamster and soldier in Virginia charged with driving supplies, including ammunition, through the back country while guarding it from the British and Indians.

Magnus Tullock, 13, was a fifer who later became a fighter and saw five years of combat. He is buried in the Baker’s Creek Church Graveyard in Blount County, Tennessee. On April 12, 2023, the T.S.C.A.R. formally marked his grave.

The Justice brothers, Simeon, 11, and John, 14, were captured by the British at the 96 District in South Carolina but were later released. In those days, according to Ivan, boys were considered to be adults at the age of 10.

James Sevier, son of frontier soldier and statesman Col. John Sevier, fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain and was given the task of counting the wounded. Ivan portrayed young James Sevier in a first-person presentation before 800 school children at the site of the grave of James’ uncle Robert Sevier in 2022. The program was sponsored by the Sibelco Company in Spruce Pines, North Carolina, which owns the property. Ivan will continue to portray James at various events in 2023.

After the PowerPoint presentation, Cohen, an accomplished fifer, and Ivan, a talented drummer, performed a number of songs that were played during the Revolutionary War. “Yankee Doodle” was originally written by the British in the 1700s to mock the colonists. “Macaroni” referred to men in the 18th century who were “dandies,” effeminate and very concerned about being fashionable in dress. Saying that Yankee Doodle rode a pony was meant to diss colonists who actually rode horses. In a turn of the tables on the British, the colonists incorporated the song into their repertoire as a source of pride and patriotism.

The number “Welcome Here Again” was played to welcome the fighting men back from war. “Hell on the Wabash” and “Jaybird Fireman’s Quickstep” were played for fun and dancing.

Cohen has been a fifer since age 7, and Ivan has been a drummer since age 8. They are members of the Watauga Valley Fife and Drum Corps, the Official Fife and Drum Corps of Tennessee. They have performed fife and drum programs at state and national parks along the east coast of the US and as far west as Branson, Missouri. As primary storytellers for the Overmoutain Victory Trail Association, they relate stories about the child soldiers “who helped turn the tide of the Revolution,” according to Cohen.

For information about the C.A.R., check out or contact MDW Registrar Karen McFarland at (865) 258-8670. For information about the DAR, contact Registrar McFarland or MDW Regent Janet Guyett at (865) 712-8782.

Source: Child Soldiers of the Revolutionary War by Cohen and Ivan Daniels