Hanks was just shy of his fourteenth birthday when a U.S. army recruiter
passed through the small town of Pawlet, Vermont in March of 1813. Hanks'
father allowed him to join the army as a drummer once he secured a promise
from the recruiting officer that his son only be used on recruiting rounds.
Perhaps the young musician's mother sensed that this promise would soon
be broken since before his departure she told him she would rather have
seen him "decently buried than in the army."
Hanks found himself assigned to the 11th United States Infantry where the other men adopted him as a sort of mascot and offered him their protection when needed. The men could not shelter him from the demands of the American war department when the 11th U.S. was ordered into action. Only seven months after joining up, Hanks had his first real taste of war at Chrysler's Farm. The poor conditions, the cold, and the hundreds of dead and wounded soon changed his romantic vision of military life.
In March of 1814, Hanks' regiment was ordered to Buffalo to fill out Jacob Brown's forces gearing up for the Niagara campaign. For four months Hanks and his fellow soldiers endured a grueling regimen of training under Winfield Scott. Hanks remembered him as "the most thorough disciplinarian I ever saw."
That summer on the Niagara peninsula, Hanks rejoiced with the Americans as they chased the British off the battlefield at Chippawa and narrowly escaped being shot at Lundy's Lane. As he charged into battle that day a spray of grape shot scattered all around him: at his feet, breaking branches over is head, and shattering the fence he was climbing over. Of this incident he wrote, "a thousand times I have reflected on this incident as the most wonderful Providential preservation from instant death."
Hanks was discharged from the army in the spring of 1815. He wandered about the northeast painting houses, furniture and portraits. He later studied medicine and went on to become a teacher. Hanks married and raised a family as well. It is thought that he worked on the manuscript of his wartime adventures between 1831 and 1847. It has since become regarded as one of the most lively and honest accounts of soldiering life in the American army of the period. Jarvis Hanks died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1858.