I can still remember searching in the library of my elementary school for a book to read when the librarian asked me if she could be of any help. After finding out that I liked to read history books she suggested a book about Gettysburg that was part of the illustrated Landmark History series that was so popular in the 1960s.
I was 10 years old and I can still remember how captivating it was to read about Civil War soldiers fighting a desperate battle. At that point, I was too young to really appreciate all the sacrifices that men, women, and children made during the Civil War, but I was certainly motivated to find out more about that time period.
I also knew that it was books that would be my gateway to further my understanding of a slice of American history that would continue to interest me for many decades to come. I owe that kindly librarian, whose name I cannot remember, a great debt for opening my eyes to a subject that would fascinate and move me for so many years.
A book is a powerful tool to entertain, inform, educate, and impact a child. It has been my privilege for several decades to work as a part-time professional reviewer of children’s books. Over those years I have reviewed approximately 2,500 children’s books written for youngsters from pre-school through high school.
In that body of reviews I have formally reviewed upward of 500 Civil War books published for younger readers. Many of those books were fine additions to the libraries of schools, communities, or individuals. A few titles were either poorly written, sloppily researched, or ill conceived but these were certainly the exceptions.
However, while there are many excellent books about the Civil War, there are a few that have stayed with me in terms of the impact they had when I read them and beyond. These more singular books may not be everyone’s favorites but they are mine based upon years of reading and writing about Civil War publications designed for younger readers.
What follows are brief reviews of 20 books about a variety of Civil War subjects, each of which seem to me to be worth taking a look at.
All but two of these titles remain in publication, but all are available for purchase inclusive of secondary markets.
Many of these books are also available in digital formats at reduced prices or at local libraries for free.
The reviews that follow are not in rank order but rather should be taken as a group of excellent titles worth considering when you next are in the market for a book to buy for a youngster. If pressed, and I was called upon to pick a book that I would re-read immediately, it would be Patricia Polacco’s amazingly touching story, based upon actual events, titled Pink & Say.
But that personal preference does not mean that any of the nineteen other books presented below would not be a wonderful gift for a child.
You may have other books that you would add to this list and that is certainly understandable. But here is my best effort at sifting through all the reviews I have written and offering the reader a top 20 list for consideration.
All I can say is, I still remember the thrill it was to read that book about Gettysburg a kind librarian directed me toward.
You too can be the person who helps a child better understand what history means by giving them something to read that just may lead them to interests they do not even know they have. Books can be gateways to opening the mind to thoughts and dreams that were previously unknown.
1. The Long Road to
There have been many books written about Gettysburg but this stands out as one of the best ever penned for younger readers. Jim Murphy is a masterful historian with a wonderful touch at bringing the life of common folk to the reader.
In this book Murphy sets the stage for this history of the battle at Gettysburg be initially focusing upon Lincoln’s preparation for the November 19, 1863 delivery of a few appropriate remarks at the newly opening National Cemetery. Murphy fades back in time to the actual battle and centers his attention upon two young soldiers whose lives led them to Gettysburg as well. Confederate Lieutenant John Dooley is a nineteen-year-old officer in a Virginia regiment. Only 130 pounds Dooley appears frail but he is a battle hardened and respected company commander. A young man who supports the Southern way of life, inclusive of slavery, Dooley hopes that the invasion of the North will set the stage for a Confederate victory in the war.
On the Federal side Murphy focuses in on Corporal Thomas Galway of an Ohio infantry regiment. Galway is an Irish immigrant and he knows prejudice on a first hand basis.
For Thomas Galway the Civil War was a conflict aimed at opposing oppression. Galway marches to Gettysburg hoping that a Union victory will mark a time when greater tolerance and freedom will emerge in American society.
Through a combination of selections from these two soldier’s diaries as well as a wealth of other primary sources Murphy creates a stirring account of the three-day fight at Gettysburg, its aftermath, and the long-term effects of the battle. Murphy provides the reader a clear look into the world of Civil War soldiers fighting in what has come to be widely viewed as the high tide of the Confederacy and the turning point of the Civil War. This book also features numerous period maps, photos, and illustrations.
These pictorial representations make this a striking book. In the end Lieutenant Dooley, a member of General Pickett’s ill-fated division, met defeat, wounding, and capture at Gettysburg. Thomas Galway helped repel Pickett’s Charge and went on to a long life working to ameliorate human suffering. These two men’s lives were so different yet became conjoined at Gettysburg. Ending with a review of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, this is a book to read, re-read, and savor. 1995, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $9.95.
2. Rifles for Watie
The war in the trans-Mississippi area was a confusing one. In places like Missouri, Kansas, and Indian Territory the war took on a brutal nature that was seldom matched in the east or deep south.
The trans-Mississippi spawned such men as Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson. Atrocities committed by both sides made this much more of a “dirty war” than was the case in other sectors. Another unique feature of the trans-Mississippi fighting was the presence of a few Native-American units.
On the southern side General Stand Watie stood out as a Native-American leader who served to the very end of the war as a Confederate commander.
In this Newberry Medal book, we are introduced to the strange sequence of events that made the fighting west of the Mississippi so convoluted.
Through the eyes of 16-year-old Jeff Bussey we see both sides of the story. Initially Jeff musters in as an infantryman in a Kansas regiment.
Jeff enlists to defend his family and their farm from the ravages of people such as Stand Watie and his Cherokee legion.
Jeff learns that being a soldier is not a glorious endeavor. He marches through dust and mud. He sees his friends shot in battle or sick in camp. He fears for his own life as each day may be his last.
Through a twist of fate, Jeff is able to join a tough group of cavalry scouts who ride behind enemy lines dressed in Rebel gear. While taking part in one scouting mission Jeff is forced to join in with a Confederate unit.
While his secret identity is not discovered Jeff is forced to ride along with the Rebels. Over time Jeff comes to see that there are good men on both sides. This knowledge confuses Jeff and he is no longer sure which side he is on. Forced by circumstances to face the reality that neither side is completely good or evil Jeff comes to question why war was necessary at all.
Laced with interesting values questions and an exciting narrative this book serves the reader well. It is an adventurous tale with believable characters. It also deals with a little-known aspect of the Civil War in a fine way.
1987, Harper Trophy, Ages 10 & Up, $7.99. ISBN: 0-06-447030-X
3. The Red Badge of Courage
Born six years after the end of the war Stephen Crane was never a soldier. Although he lived only twenty-eight years Crane was able to produce some wonderful fiction. His most memorable tale is this book dealing with the Civil War experiences of young Henry Fleming.
Born and raised on a farm in New York State Henry sees the coming of the Civil War as a great opportunity for adventure. He enlists in an infantry regiment and endures the boredom and tribulations of training to become a fighter.
Henry sometimes wonders what he will do when he first experiences combat. Thoughts of potential cowardice merge with dreams of glory.
Eventually, Henry and his regimental comrades meet their Rebel foes in a confusing battle that Crane based upon the actual fight at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
Henry finds combat different than his naïve expectations. Men are shot and die. Wounded soldiers scream out in agony and the enemy appears remorseless. Henry finds himself running from the fight and then is thrown into the depths of despair.
He wanders behind the lines and encounters other soldiers who are wounded, afraid, and dying. Eventually, Henry finds his way back to the regiment bloodied and confused. Through an interesting chain of circumstances Henry suffers no shame for his earlier flight. Indeed, he comes to the forefront in battle and earns his pride through acquiring a true “red badge of courage.”
In the form of Henry Fleming, Stephen Crane has given us a look at the inner thoughts of an adolescent serving as a Union soldier. Henry’s inner monologue and his conversations with his fellow soldiers offer a realistic look at the effects of combat upon young men.
Henry sought personal worthiness through glory. In the end he found that war was truly destructive in its myriad of permutations. However, by doing his duty and placing the needs of his comrades above his own he comes away changed in both good and bad ways.
This literary classic continues to be one of the best known fictional accounts of Civil War combat. 1995, Aerie Books, Ages 12 & Up, $6.95. ISBN: 1-55902-983-8
Brady Minton is a young boy growing up in rural Pennsylvania at a time when life was increasingly complex.
Living with his father who is a Protestant minister opposed to slavery,
Brady is unsure of his own feelings about that grave question. Brady’s mother, who grew up in Virginia, feels strongly that slavery is not a moral wrong and this basic conflict in his family dogs Brady.
Eventually, through a series of events, Brady is forced to confront not only the issue of slavery, but also his own place in the chain of events that connect his family with the Underground Railroad.
Set in the 1830’s this beautifully written novel tells a touching tale of a boy growing up and trying to find himself.
Brady is an engaging character who enjoys being in the woods, raising pet squirrels, being with friends, and simply being a boy. He is also a thoughtful lad who realizes that he sometimes disappoints his father. This conflict of values and beliefs helps create a literary vehicle that also taps into the root cause of the Civil War. Slavery divides Brady’s community, his father’s church, and his own family.
Ultimately, that issue divided Brady’s nation and plunged the land into the cauldron of the Civil War. This wonderful novel will interest readers and tell a great story. Originally written in 1960, this recent re-issue by the Trumpet branch of Scholastic is a welcome addition to the field of Civil War related books for younger readers. 2001, Trumpet/Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $6.00. ISBN: 0-590-31412-2.
5. Across Five Aprils
There have been many books written about the Civil War but perhaps no novel aimed at younger readers can offer a more touching view of life during that time than Across Five Aprils. In this wonderful novel we meet Jethro Creighton and his family. Jethro is nine years old in 1861 when he and his kinfolk first hear about the firing on Fort Sumter. For the Creighton’s the Civil War comes as a seemingly inevitable curse. Jethro’s mother and father watch as the division of the nation plays itself out within their own family. Three of Jethro’s brothers, as well as his beloved teacher, all go off to join the Union armies. One brother, through an act of conscience, chooses to head south and become a Confederate volunteer.
This act has repercussions for the Creighton’s as some hardhearted neighbors vent their anger upon the family because of the “traitorous” actions of one of their sons. As the years pass by Jethro remains on the farm watching the seasons change amongst the fields of Southern Illinois.
Occasionally letters come home from far away places like Antietam, Fredericksburg, or Chickamauga. Sometimes newspapers reveal details of movements and battles that loved ones are involved in. In one instance a neighbor’s son, home due to wounds, shares a tragic reality by describing the death of one of the Creighton lads at an anonymous place known as Shiloh.
For another of the Creighton boys the suffering of war becomes too much to bear and he deserts and then hopes to be pardoned through the intercession of a powerful figure in Washington. Eventually, after the passing of five Aprils, the war comes to an end.
A Union victory is greeted with joy that is then stifled by the murder of Mr. Lincoln. As loved ones begin to come home a sort of redemption for the Creighton family ensues. The end of the war did not leave this vibrant family untouched. However, it was over and life went on as it did across the American nation.
This book contains so many elements of the Civil War that it is amazing. It is a beautifully written book that contains hope and fear, love and anguish, as well as wonderful characters. By reading this novel we come away with a deeper understanding of what the war meant to one Illinois family and what it must have represented to millions of other Americans. 1986, Berkley, Ages 12 & Up, $6.30. ISBN: 0-425-10241-6
6. Pink and Say
Sheldon Russell Curtis is a teenager serving in an Ohio infantry regiment.
He is badly wounded in battle somewhere in Georgia and survives only because of the helping hand of another young Union soldier named Pinkus Aylee.
Young Pinkus happens to be black and he and his newfound comrade manage to make their way to the plantation from which Pinkus escaped to join the boys in blue.
At the devastated plantation Pinkus finds his mother, Moe Moe Bay, holding fort despite the presence of Confederate “marauders” in the neighborhood.
Moe Moe Bay is thrilled to see her baby return home safe and sound and she throws herself into helping Sheldon.
While under Moe Moe Bay’s care Sheldon comes to see that there were far deeper meanings to the war than he had ever imagined.
The two boys become friends and adopt one another’s nicknames – hence the book’s title, “Pink and Say”. Once Sheldon recovers from his wounds the lads determine that it is time to return to their units. Sadly, Confederate irregulars arrive and tragedy besets Pink’s family.
The boys are then captured and part company at the doorstep to Andersonville Prison. Say is taken off to captivity while Pink meets a different destiny. While Sheldon survives his imprisonment it is at great cost. Based upon a true tale of bravery and comradeship this is a book that will touch your heart.
The epic journey of Pink and Say is in many ways an allegory for issues of brotherhood that were fought for and in some ways lost both at the time of the Civil War and in the present. Handed down across four generations, the saga of Pink and Say stands out among Civil War books for children.
This simple yet devastatingly compelling story is one that will appeal to and enhance readers both young and old. Accentuated by striking colored illustrations this book is simply a classic. It has also been recently reissued by its publisher in a Spanish edition. 1994, Scholastic, Ages 7 to 10, $18.99. ISBN: 0-590-54210-9
7. Soldier’s Heart
In June of 1861 15-year-old Charley Goddard chose to leave his family farm and join the Union Army. He enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and set off for what he thought would be a short-term adventure. Ultimately, four years later, Charley returned to his home in Winona a drastically changed person.
What was to be a brief and adventurous endeavor left a permanent mark upon Charley’s life. In his years of service he was to take part in some of the most terrible battles of the Civil War. Starting at First Bull Run the First Minnesota was to become one of the legendary regiments of the Army of the Potomac.
On July 2, 1863, during a critical point of the Gettysburg Battle, Charley Goddard and his comrades in the First Minnesota were thrown into the maelstrom of combat to plug a critical gap in the Federal lines.
While that engagement proved successful in saving the Union lines it cost over 82% casualties in approximately a half hour. For Charley experiences such as Gettysburg translated into seeing his friends and comrades killed or maimed in combat.
Memories such as these wrought a deep and lasting change upon Charley’s spirit. When Charley left for war he was a bright eyed and spirited boy. Four years later, Charley Goddard returned to the Northland of Minnesota still a youth at age nineteen.
However, he was fundamentally altered by the trauma of war. Charley was a young man with a “soldier’s heart”—a description that in later generations would be replaced by “shell shock”, “battle fatigue”, or “post traumatic stress syndrome”.
Based upon the real-life experiences of Charles Goddard and the First Minnesota this fictional account takes the reader into the swirl and savagery of battle. The millions of farm boys, clerks, mechanics and other civilians who made up the massive Union and Confederate armies came home changed by their exposures.
In some instances the patina of old age allowed them to come to grips with what they had seen and done. In other cases, like that of Charley Goddard, life was permanently defined and delimited by the clash of battle.
This is a moving novel, written by a masterful craftsman of children’s books. It captures the spirit of one person who actually survived the Civil War only to be a very real victim of it. It is good for us to remember the human cost of war and books such as this serve as vivid reminders. 1998, Delacorte Press, Ages 9 & Up, $16.95. ISBN: 0-385-32498-7.
8. When Johnny Went
Marching: Young Americans Fight the Civil War
G. Clifton Wisler
Between 1861 and 1865 approximately three million Americans, north and south, joined their respective nation’s armies. Among this multitude were tens of thousands of youngsters under the age of eighteen.
These young soldiers served in a variety of capacities including musicians, hospital aides, naval powder monkeys, and combat soldiers.
The story of these boy soldiers is told in this fascinating book written by one of the leading authors of historical fiction for younger readers. G. Clifton Wisler has written several memorable Civil War novels inclusive of Red Cap and Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer Boy.
He also has the honor of having five great-great grandfathers who served in Union regiments during the Civil War. Here, in this outstanding work readers will learn about the travails, accomplishments, and service of a select group of young soldiers.
Meet Orion Howe a thirteen-year-old who joined the 55th Illinois along with his brother Lyston and their father.
At Vicksburg Orion was part of a hopeless May 1863 assault upon the Confederate lines. When the attack stalled Orion was sent back for much needed ammunition.
En route Orion was wounded in his thigh but still suffered through to deliver the request for ammunition.
For his efforts Orion Howe was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1896. On the Confederate side of the line readers of this fine book will encounter James Philip Carver who enlisted in Ector’s Brigade of the Army of Tennessee at the age of seventeen.
Known as JP and a member of the 32nd Texas dismounted cavalry young Carver was a willing soldier who saw some hard fighting. At Kennesaw Mountain JP suffered a terrible wound through his right lung. Surgeons removed a shattered rib but held out no hope for his recovery.
Placed with the hopeless cases JP awoke in the night among a number of dead comrades. With great effort JP dragged himself to the surgeon’s tent where he received assistance. James Philip Carver surprised his doctors and survived.
He went home, lived through the end of the war, married, fathered thirteen children, and finally died in 1906. The resilience of these two young soldiers wearing blue and gray stands out as a testament to the courage of youth.
The history of the boy soldiers of the Civil War is one that will move readers to their core. This book also features a series of wonderful photographs of youthful combatants. Purchase this book and take a few seconds and peer into those faces and then think about children their age and the things they saw and did during the Civil War. 2001, Harper Collins Publishers, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95. ISBN: 0-688-16537-0
9. Lincoln: A Photobiography
Winner of the 1988 Newberry Medal as outstanding children’s book of that year, this work is simply one of the finest biographies of Abraham Lincoln ever written for young people. Combining an excellent narrative with numerous photos this book provides an in depth, balanced, and moving portrait of the tragic figure that guided the nation through the fiery baptism of the Civil War. Starting with Lincoln’s birth in a dirt-poor family and building toward his inevitable meeting with an assassin’s bullet, Freedman consistently captures not only Lincoln’s story but that of the nation torn asunder as well. Lincoln’s life influenced the events of his age and was a direct product of them. In this sumptuous book we come in touch with a leader of great complexity. Lincoln was a man who hated slavery but he was also a person who questioned the ability of the different races to live together. A loving father and husband, Lincoln lived through the pain of losing children and loved ones. Embedded in a very complicated marriage, Lincoln bore the ups and downs of family life against the backdrop of unbelievable responsibility. By presenting Lincoln, his life, and his work in an evenhanded fashion, Freedman allows the reader to appreciate him as a man and not merely a saintly figure of a mythological past. This is a wonderful book and one that will engage and enhance those who read it. 1987, Clarion Books, Ages 10 & Up, $9.95. ISBN: 0-395-51848-2
10. A Separate Battle: Women and the Civil War
When many people think of the Civil War they conjure up images of battle flags, muskets, soldiers on the march, and the battles that were fought.
Yet, at a time when over thirty million Americans lived in the nation only 10% of those citizens actually served in the two armies. Further, fully half the population was naturally made up of women who had very little to do with the actual fighting of battles.
In an age when women were viewed as fragile and limited personages, the coming of war created a sudden burst of new experience that changed American society. For mothers seeing their beloved boys go off to an uncertain world in the army staying back home and passively waiting for the results of war was difficult. Faced with this reality, many women chose to work for organizations such as the Sanitary or Christian Commissions.
For others, the act of nursing became a means of expressing their patriotism and support of the various causes. On many farms, with men off in the army, the physically numbing work that had to be done fell to women to complete. In a few instances, women actually donned military uniforms and disguised themselves to join in the fighting of the war.
Other women left their homes to work in munitions factories. All in all, the lot of women did lead to a ‘separate battle’ to make a contribution at a time when their nation and families were being torn apart. This ‘separate battle’ demonstrated that, through the efforts of individuals and the collective millions of northern and southern women, great accomplishments could be wrought. It is these efforts that make up this wonderful study of women during the Civil War.
Focusing upon individuals such as Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Beecher Stowe as well as the universal work of women this is a beautifully written and amply illustrated history. Those of you who want to know more about an oft times overlooked element of the Civil War would do well to peruse Ms. Chang’s masterful book. 1991, Lodestar Books, Ages 10 & Up, $16.00. ISBN: 0-525-67365-2
11. The Boys’ War
While most Civil War soldiers were men there were many who strode off to join the armies who were in reality children. It would be a rare regiment that did not have at least some boys still in their teenage years hefting a musket and marching along.
In other instances lads as young as nine accompanied units in the capacity of drummer boys. Some musicians were very young as were powder monkeys on board the ships at sea.
Yet, factors such as minie balls, shot, shells, and disease were no respecters of age. A boy of twelve, living in camp, stood as great a chance of succumbing to illness as any other “soldier”. Thus, many of these boys did not survive the war and their childhoods ended in some anonymous hospital bed or a small piece of nameless earth in a farmer’s field.
The ‘boys’ war’ that Murphy describes is one that split families and plucked young men away from their farms, villages, or towns and set them down into a world they could not imagine.
Through tracing the daily life of soldiers, with a particular focus upon the lot of younger boys in uniform, the author provides an insightful and touching historical record. A sharp text combined with many illustrations makes this a valuable teaching tool.
Readers will be introduced to the boys and men who fought and died during the Civil War. Their experiences in camp, on the march, in battle, and in hospital are all detailed in this outstanding book.
Written with both great skill and great heart The Boys’ War is a wonderful study in young people trying to find their place in the sun at a time of war. This is a must read book that could well hook a reader’s interest in the Civil War. 1990, Clarion Books, Ages 10 & Up, $9.95. ISBN: 0-395-66412-8
12. Red Cap
G. Clifton Wisler
In 1862, at the age of thirteen, young Ransom J. Powell lies about his age and joins the Union Army as a drummer boy. As a member of the 10th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Ransom goes off to war expecting to find glory and bright images. What he encounters instead is all the blood and suffering that only warfare can produce. Stricken by these terrible images of death and destruction Ransom then comes to be part of one of the true horror stories of the Civil War. No aspect of that conflict stands out more in terms of pure suffering than the fate of prisoners of war. For no good reason both north and south treated their captive foes in an abysmal manner. For Ransom Powell, and his comrades in the 10th, their fate was to be imprisoned at Andersonville. There, Ransom, still wearing his red musician’s cap, struggles to survive in a hellish place. Watching his friends die one by one as starvation and disease run rampant young Ransom comes to question how people can behave as they do. Ransom is also struck by the cruelty of the guards, some of whom are no older than himself. Eventually, Ransom’s experiences at Andersonville shape his life in the most basic way. Based upon the actual experiences of Ransom J. Powell, a drummer boy in the 10th who did, indeed, experience prison life at Andersonville, this novel is a striking book. The realities of Civil War life in a prison leap off the pages and challenge readers to look at the issues of cruelty that are inherent in warfare. Through young Ransom J. Powell we come to see what war does to people and how they survive it. 1991, Puffin, Ages 10 & Up, $6.99.
13. Numbering All the Bones
Eulinda is a young girl living on a southern plantation in Georgia. Her brother is away from home fighting during the Civil War.
Eulinda worries about her brother, Neddy, and wonders every day if he will return to their home safe and sound. Of course, Eulinda, who is a slave, does not root for the local side in the conflict. As a slave she longs for freedom and prays that the Union army, which Neddy has run away to join, will triumph. The Hamptons, who own Eulinda and her family, happen to live near an infamous Confederate prison camp known as Andersonville.
Local residents are fully aware of the terrible suffering that occurs in that hellhole but nothing seems to motivate them to express their concern about the treatment of their fellow human beings who their government holds in captivity. Through a chain of events Eulinda discovers that Neddy is a prisoner at Andersonville. Despite the intervention of Mr. Hampton, who also happens to be Eulinda’s biological father, efforts that are made to free Neddy result in failure.
Later, when the war ends, Eulinda is called upon to assist a great northern woman, Clara Barton, as she attempts to catalog the many Union men who died at Andersonville.
Through these grim efforts Eulinda finds both strength and her future. In Numbering All the Bones noted children’s author Ann Rinaldi turns her attention to a rather grim topic. Andersonville, and indeed the global treatment of prisoners during the Civil War, was one of the greatest blots upon the American historical record.
In this carefully researched novel Ann Rinaldi brings not only the fictional world of Eulinda Hampton to life but also the tragic events that occurred in and around Andersonville. 2002, Scholastic, $5.45, Ages 10 to 14, ISBN: 0-439-46083-2
14. At Gettysburg, Or What A Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle
Tillie Pierce Alleman
Tillie Pierce Alleman was forty years old, married, and a mother when she sat down to record her memories of the Gettysburg battle.
On those first three days of July in 1863 Tillie was a fifteen-year-old girl living in the quiet college town known as Gettysburg. Rumors of war were abounding as a Confederate invasion of the North was in full force.
As General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia swept toward Gettysburg Tillie and her family prepared for the worst. Her two brothers were in the Union army and one would eventually fight in his hometown in opposition to the Rebels. Mr. Pierce was a staunch unionist and the family feared retribution when the Confederates came.
For Tillie, the battle was a life changing experience. Charged with escorting a neighbor’s wife home Tillie ended up in the middle of the conflagration. She stayed at a home that became a battlefield hospital and thus saw the worst that war could offer. Tillie was under artillery and sniper fire during those dark days. She befriended a wounded Union general who died while she slept nearby.
She offered water and refreshments to Union soldiers who marched by the home en route to combat. After the battle had ended Tillie traveled over the torn and bloodied fields where the dead and wounded lay. Later, her family hosted relatives of the men who were still in hospitals nearby or who were looking for missing loved ones.
Twenty-five years after those experiences Tillie Pierce looked back across her past and remembered what war was. As she recorded in this moving first-hand account of the turning point of the Civil War,
“The horrors of war are only fully known to those who have seen and heard them. It was my lot to see and hear only part, but it was sufficient.” This is a wonderfully written primary source that will bring the true meaning of the Civil War to readers. 1994, Butternut and Blue, Ages 12 & Up, $13.35. ISBN: 1-879664-20-8
15. Billy Yank & Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War
Susan Provost Beller
The fate of common soldiers is one of the most fascinating subjects for Civil War scholarship. Over the years a great deal of attention has been paid to battles and leaders.
However, the vast majority of men who donned blue or gray uniforms during the war were not “big bugs.” Instead, the common folk who became the foot soldiers, cavalrymen, or artillerists spent a significant portion of their lives in the army simply trying to cope with deprivation.
Fatigue, sacrifice, illness, loss, and loneliness marked the life of a Civil War soldier.
All too much of their time was spent in either monotonous or exhausting activities that left them deflated.
Men who went off to war in search of glory, heroism, or themselves swiftly came to realize that much of soldiering was excruciatingly boring.
When the opportunity for combat came about men then learned how truly horrible war was. George Barton, a Union soldier, wrote home to his family after the Wilderness battle, “There is so much suffering here that it is good to know that there are some dear ones at home safe and free from pain. We have had some fearful fighting and have lost a great many men in killed, wounded and missing…May you never see the sights I have seen for the last week.” It is the story of men such as George Barton that is wonderfully told in this outstanding Civil War book.
Susan Provost Beller has turned her great writing talents to the subject of the life of everyday soldiers.
This is a grand book crafted with care by a talented writer. Readers will find this a helpful account of the typical life experiences of the millions of men who made up the opposing Civil War armies. 2000, Twenty-First Century Books, Ages 10 & Up $19.95, ISBN: 0-7613-1869-0
16. When This Cruel War is Over: The Civil War Home Front
It is a sad truth that there are far fewer historical works dedicated to profiling the life of the millions of civilians who lived through the Civil War rather than the generals, soldiers, and battles of the conflict.
During the Civil War approximately three million men served in the armed services of the two combatants. This large number of Americans represented a small minority of the nation’s citizens at the time of the war. Yet, most historians who focus their attention upon that era ignore or pay short shrift to the lot of those Americans who made up the home front.
In Duane Damon’s When This Cruel War is Over readers will be treated to a global overview of the civilian experience during the Civil War. Damon takes readers on a literary journey through some of the representative experiences of the war.
As the author points out the individual wartime experience of people living behind the lines varied greatly. For example, a Georgian woman who lived in the path of General Sherman had a vastly different experience than a Northern lady who strove to raise funds for the Sanitary Commission.
Through tracing several potential pathways of civilian experience Damon provides readers with a slice of life that has great value. Topics addressed include fund raising, medical professions, the refugee experience, factory work, grieving, and a number of other genres. This is a well developed book that provides readers an excellent introduction to the civilian experience during the Civil War. 1996, Lerner, Ages 10 & Up, $19.95. ISBN: 0-8225-1731-0
17. Picturing Lincoln
On February 9, 1864, Abraham Lincoln and his ten-year-old son, Tad, journeyed to Matthew Brady’s studio on Pennsylvania Avenue. During that session photographer Anthony Berger was to take seven likenesses of the President.
Several of these images have become the ones that hundreds of millions of people associate with Abraham Lincoln.
Every time we look at a penny or handle a five-dollar bill we gaze at an image struck on that cold and blustery day in 1864. Lincoln was photographed approximately 130 times in his lifetime at 66 sittings by 36 different photographers. However, among this body of photos a few are far more recognizable than others. The Berger photos that in 1909 and 1914 respectively were transfixed upon the U.S. penny and five dollar bill are two of the five most widely renowned Lincoln photos described in this attractive book. Also included are two portraits that were widely used as presidential campaign literature to broaden the appeal of the little known man from Illinois. The fifth image discussed is perhaps the most touching. On that same cold day in February 1864, Lincoln sat for a shot of himself and Tad gazing at a photo album. This simple yet moving likeness of the man who was both a national leader and a father sitting in repose with his young boy has struck a responsive chord with many viewers. Lincoln rests in that natural photo as any father might who is sharing a calm moment with their child. This glimpse into the family life of President Lincoln enlightens the domestic element of a man who we sometimes forget was not only a politician but also a husband, father, grieving parent, and everyday man. Through an analysis and description of some of the most frequently used Lincoln photos we come to have a deeper understanding of the sixteenth President. This book also provides a wealth of other Lincoln images as well as a fascinating discussion of the history of photography and related woodcuts. This is a handsomely made and touching book for anyone with an interest in the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and his family. 2000, Clarion Books, Ages 9 & Up, $16.00.
18. Bull Run
The battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, was the initial general engagement in the East. As such, it was an eye opener for both the men who fought there and the general public. In all too many cases going to war in 1861was not taken as seriously as it should have been. The cavalier attitude that mankind has toward war makes it all too easy to go off to it.
Men and women in 1861 fell prey to the age-old lie that battle is glorious, to fight is to be brave, and everyone else may be a victim but not yourself.
In this well written and fast paced story we are introduced to sixteen different people—all of whom are touched by Bull Run. An equal number of Northern and Southern participants are presented to us through their own words.
Short chapters reflect one individual’s experience at a given moment. Starting with the volunteering for service and saying farewell to a loved one, the story eventually swings into the actual fight at Bull Run. The initial naïve view of what was to occur is captured via the vane hopes of young men and women.
Ultimately, the clash of battle betrays these false images in a way that only its cruelty and destruction could hope to.
This is a touching and historically accurate book written in a manner that will move the reader. The author is able to communicate his characters and the time their actual counterparts existed in a way that is true to life.
At various points in the book a young German immigrant is tested in battle, a Minnesota farm girl receives terrible news about her brother, a Georgia boy sees war for what it really is, and a doctor tends to the maimed. All of these characters jump off the page and enrich the reader. This is simply a first-rate effort by a writer who took the time to capture the reality of the Civil War and did so with great feeling.
1995, Harper Trophy, Ages 9 & Up, $6.50. ISBN 0-06-440588-5
19. Ghost Soldier
Elaine Marie Alphin
Alexander is a young teen who has very real problems. Over three years ago his mother left his father and he still yearns to have her back.
To make matters worse, Alexander’s father has taken him from their home in Indiana for a vacation to Durham, North Carolina.
Once there, Alexander discovers that his father is thinking of marrying and moving to Durham for a new job and family. Alexander and his potential new family visit The Petersburg National Battlefield Park and there he encounters a Civil War ghost named Richeson Chamblee. Richeson was a fifteen-year-old Rebel soldier when he was killed in the forlorn Confederate assault on Fort Stedman.
Richeson latches on to Alexander as a possible helpmate as he tries to find out what happened to his family after his death.
Through trying to help Richeson Alexander discovers a great deal about Civil War history, historical research, and himself. In the end, Alexander is able to be of assistance not only to Richeson but also to others.
In his adventure Alexander also finds that life, parents, and families are complicated. This charming ghost story offers readers a touching look at a uniquely personnel aspect of Civil War history. Elaine Alphin offers readers not only a compelling story but also one that leaves you thinking about the nature of history.
This is a well-crafted novel and one that readers will finish having a desire to know more about its central characters. 2001, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 10 and Up, $15.65, ISBN: 0-8050-6158-4.
20. The River Between Us
The coming of a riverboat with two unusual passengers changes the course of fifteen-year-old Tilly Pruitt’s life. Living in Grand Tower, Illinois, Tilly is a resident of a sleepy town in the part of her home state known as “Egypt.”
Southern Illinois is rural and many, if not most, of its residents have family ties to states that were to become parts of the Confederacy. In this quiet locale come two young girls. One is a woman of color while the other appears to be a society lady from distant New Orleans.
This unlikely pair impacts Tilly and her family’s existence in ways none of the Pruitt’s could imagine. For Tilly, the coming of the Civil War was nothing but a tragedy. She and her sister Cass fear for the safety of their brother, Noah. Noah is intent upon joining the Union army, which he eventually does.
Serving in the 31st Illinois Noah sees action at Belmont under the command of General Grant. There Noah comes to learn the cruel realities of war. Meanwhile, back home in Grand Tower, the relationship between Tilly and the two visitors from New Orleans widens and deepens. In the end, the true nature of these two southern immigrants is far different than either Tilly or the readers of this outstanding historical novel can predict.
In The River Between Us Newberry Award winning author Richard Peck pains a vivid picture of rural Illinois during the Civil War. Peck also draws his readers into a plot line that contains nearly as many twists and turns as the Mississippi River setting he has chosen. This is a wonderful story filled with believable characters who struggle to find a place in the sun at a time when history was working against individual happiness.
As such, The River Between Us teaches its readers a great deal about not only history but also the divisions that continue to exist amongst segments of American culture. 2003, Dial Books, Ages 12 & Up, $6.99, ISBN: 0-8037-2735-6.