In the 14th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army, twelve-year-old Private Joseph Moseley wore a uniform, carried a firearm that was probably taller than he was, and was paid six and two-thirds dollars per month. His two teenage brothers were also in the regiment. At home, the Moseley boys had left behind a mother widowed for eight years, and a brother and sister both less than ten years old.
Joseph joined the 14th Virginia in early 1777. He was discharged after a year, in February 1778, just after his thirteenth birthday. During his year of service, the regiment participated in major battles: Brandywine and Germantown. Both battles were losses for the Continentals. Joseph may have endured winter camp at Valley Forge. He definitely saw morale in the Continental Army at its lowest point, before the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and Baron von Steuben offered their aid and changed the course of the war.
Joseph Moseley was my great, great, great-grandfather. Until last week, when specific research details finally came to light, my family thought that Joseph had joined a militia unit as an older teen at the end of the war and spent a year performing low-profile duties for the men, such as gathering firewood, cleaning weapons, and digging latrines. We were stunned by the truth of a twelve-year-old boy in uniform who looked across battlefields at hundreds of disciplined redcoats with fixed bayonets.
Joseph's reasons for enlisting are among those found in the bulleted list from yesterday's post, disturbing echoes of the reasons why children enlist today. To imagine that he was the only child soldier in the Continental Army would be naïveté. He and countless other boys picked up the firearms of dead men and continued the fight for the Continentals. In doing so, they extended an armed conflict for six more years. And since our "Revolutionary War" was but one theater of a world war, the negative impact on the global economy was staggering.
Nations and factions have been using child soldiers for thousands of years. The effect on the children is a no-brainer. Joseph Moseley and the boys who fought at his side had no childhood. At the least, they suffered from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives, even if they volunteered for duty and were discharged with no physical injuries.
Today's child soldiers in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East are all of humanity's casualties. They show us the costs of war, no matter how hard we try to look elsewhere. The horrific imagery of child soldiers will continue to haunt us until we learn this lesson from history.
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