The Face of Charley King

by Brendan J. Lyons | 2 min read

Do you know this face? That’s Charley King, a drummer boy from West Chester who became the youngest soldier to die in the Civil War. Almost twenty years ago when I was a Boy Scout in troop 51, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans came to us with Charley’s story—how he begged his parents to let him join the army; how family friend Capt. Benjamin Sweney convinced them to let Charley play drums for his Company; how Charley was killed at Antietam; and how to this day the location of his final resting place remains unknown.

Charley’s story captivated me, enough so that for my Eagle Scout project I fundraised, designed, and prepared the grounds to dedicate a monument to Charley with the help of my fellow scouts.

Chances are, if you’ve ever been to Greenmount Cemetery in West Chester, you’ve likely seen it. The monument is situated at the first fork in the road leading into the cemetery.

Over a decade later, Charley’s story and legacy has remained with me. I decided to look into his story and see if there had been any discoveries during the last decade or if there was any more to learn about Charley King. While I didn’t find any more information on his burial site, I did find Robert Westbrook’s collected diaries of the movements and battles of the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry—Charley’s regiment.

With Westbrook’s notes, I was able to track day-by-day Charley’s movements from, enlistment to death. I also discovered that the brother of one of my ancestors, Alfred Moulder, served alongside Charley as part of Company F. With that knowledge unearthed, I decided I had to share Charley’s story and tell it as faithfully as possible.

The result is Charley: The True Story of the Youngest Soldier to Die in the American Civil War. The book follows Charley from the time of his enlistment, through his training and the ill-fated Peninsula Campaign, and on to Lee’s Maryland Campaign and eventual death at Antietam.

If you’re at all interested in Civil War history, I suggest giving it a look! I’ve also developed a presentation on Charley’s life for anyone interested in learning more about his story, as well my process for researching and writing the book.

Further Reading

Robert Westbrook’s diary and notes on the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry is available online, courtesy of the Chester County History Center, and the book at Lancaster History Research Center.


The True Story of the Youngest Soldier to Die in the American Civil War

by Brendan J. Lyons

Available Now!