Earles publishes illustrated story of local Civil War drummer boy

Daily Clarion/Andrea Howe Local historian/author Martha Earles has published a new book.

PRINCETON — The story of a young Irish immigrant who became an orphan at age 7 and found his way to Princeton on an orphan train — then became a much-beloved drummer boy for Civil War soldiers — is published by a local author.

Martha Earles of Princeton, a retired emergency medical technician who earlier published the bicentennial history of Princeton, has self-published the book, Drummer Boy of the 17th Indiana Regiment.

Earles became intrigued by the story of Irish immigrant Johnny Butler after discovering his drums in the care of the Princeton Public Library. Her book is illustrated by her cousin, Terry White.

The book details the life of Irish immigrant Johnny Butler in story form, from the time he arrived with his mother to New York, only to be orphaned at age 7, and rounded up while scavenging for food to be placed in the care of Randall's Island, also known as "the Nursery," for younger orphans.

Her book chronicles some of his days at the orphanage, where he learned drill marching, to the Children's Aid Society's move to dress him up and place on an "orphan train."

As the train made its way west, Butler was claimed by the family of a gunsmith in Princeton. Another Princeton man reimbursed the $17 train fare and investment to take over the care of the young man, then taught him music. Butler joined the martial band in Princeton, playing the tenor drum.

Earles' story recounts that Butler was planting corn on a farm three miles north of Princeton in April 1861, when he got directions from a rider asking him to go to the square to beat the drum for recruits for the Civil War.

Arriving at Devin's corner on the northwest side of the town square, he played drum and Charlie DeWitt played fife to raise a company.

A few months later, the 11-year-old Butler had a drum crafted by John Archer and J.C. Hutchinson for Company H of the 17th Regiment

He marched with the unit and later sent home. In 1864, at age 13, he re-enlisted in the 120th Indiana Regiment Company F of Gibson County, becoming the mascot of the 120th Regiment. He mustered out Jan. 8, 1866 at age 15.

According to her research, Butler worked odd jobs, attended business school in Vincennes, then traveled back to New York to learn more about himself. Unable to find any other family connections, he went to the oil fields of Pennsylvania and was eventually hired to lease land for oil exploration in Kentucky and Tennessee.

He kept up with music, joining the Franklin, Pennsylvania Silver Cornet Band in 1873.

Earles reports that Butler later organized Marvin Manufacturing Company and returned to Princeton, where he leased land and drilled for oil. He eventually sold his interest and moved back to Pennsylvania.

He returned to Princeton in 1916 to take part in the centennial celebration of the Grand Army of the Republic encampment, and also particpated in the first annual Field Day in Princeton. Butler donated drums he played in an 1876 parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to the Princeton Public Library. He also donated money toward construction of the hospital in Princeton, and following the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, started a public relief fund for Princeton tornado victims.

She has a limited number of copies of the book available locally for $10 each. Contact her by email at me.researcher@twc.com or phone 812-664-7725. The books are also available for order online for $16 at www.marthaearles.com

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.