Born in Killleshandra, Ireland, John Drum came to America at fourteen. After a year in New York, his family moved to California. There he became a Deputy U.S. Marshal and joined the local militia (a precursor to today’s National Guard). He was mustered into the Union Army as a lieutenant in the Eighth California Infantry and served until the close of the war. In 1866, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the regular army. For the next thirty-two years until his death in battle, he made the military his career.
Promotion was slow in the regular army, and in 1884 Lieutenant Drum was promoted to Captain in the Tenth U.S. Infantry. During his years on the frontier, he fought the Comanches and fought in the campaigns against Geronimo’s Apaches. Afterward, he served on recruiting duty. From 1894 until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Captain Drum was Military Instructor at the College of St. Francis Xavier, New York City (now Xavier High School). His official title was “Commandant of the Xavier Cadets.”
At the Battle of San Juan Hill, he was killed leading his men in front of Santiago. He was buried on the field and reinterred at Arlington Cemetery. One of his sons, Father Walter Drum, a Jesuit a Georgetown University, presided at the services. His son Hugh Aloysius Drum became a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army. In 1889, when Captain Drum’s son John turned twenty-one, he wrote the following letter, which his descendants have preserved:
My Dear Son:
By the time this reaches you it will be near your birth-day which on the 15th inst. makes you a man. You will then have attained your 21st year, and I hope it will reach you in time and find you well both in body and mind.
I will say here that your mother and myself have done all we could for your education and welfare, and that I know you have appreciated our efforts, and that we will continue to help you until we can see you started on your career.
As you will soon be your own master I will say a few words to you. Never forget your Father and Mother. Never cease to help your Mother if she needs it. Never forget your brothers and sister, and as you are the eldest be their friend and Mentor. Stand by them through thick and thin. Unite them. In union there is strength, and certainly with six of you much should be accomplished if you are one in sentiment and feelings. I should have put it first, never forget our God or religion. Keep out of bad company or society. Be sober, honest, truthful and industrious. Be slow to take offence, but protect yourself and family from insult. Be charitable, and always take the part of the poor and lowly not running to extremes.
You are a native citizen of the greatest and freest nation on the earth. You will have a say in the government more then I ever had, or could have had and I tell you now guard well the freedom handed down to you. Support the constitution as handed down by the fathers of the Republic. Vote as your conscience tells you. Oppose all measures looking to any change in the government from its present free standard. Watch men, and oppose them, who would try to break it up or would attempt to take away any of the rights of the poor, lowly or uneducated, for the rich and educated can always defend themselves. If you should enter political life, try to bring back its tone, and the men who lead to the simple life and the sterling worth of the days of Jefferson, and Jackson, so that riches and luxury may not sap the foundation of our government. Oppose any man who attempts to stir up religious strife no matter what his politics may be. Never oppose man on account of his religious views if he is otherwise patriotic, pure, hones and a believer in the Republic, and that all citizen have the same rights and are equally protected.
At last, never forget that you are of Celtic blood and that your ancestors came from Ireland. Never forget that poor old Mother land, and if you can ever help her, consistent with your duties as an American, do not fail to do so.
And now I will close by sending you my blessings and wishing you a long and prosperous, honorable and happy life.
God bless you my son. John Drum