A House Divided
By Jonathan Putnam
Courier Review by
Greg M. Romaneck
A House Divided is the fourth volume in Jonathan Putnam’s Lincoln & Speed Mysteries series. As with the earlier books in Putnam’s series, this story focuses on the friendship between Joshua Speed and Abraham Lincoln.
In A House Divided the story begins with Speed, at the behest of Lincoln, searching for evidence of corruption in the Chicago branch of the Illinois State Bank.
Established in 1836, the Illinois Bank was launched in an effort to better regulate financial matters in a state where corruption was not infrequent.
While in Chicago, Speed is unsuccessful in obtaining much information aside from his observations of the dire economic effects of a recent state-wide depression. In Chicago, poverty has struck with the Irish immigrant population most affected. Speed also witnesses the suffering caused by lay-offs and the discontinuation of the large infrastructure project in the form of the Illinois & Michigan Canal.
Unsuccessful in his mission, Speed heads out on what should be a couple days of riding across the Illinois prairie back to Springfield.
Along the way home, Speed encounters a young man named Archibald Trayler, a carpenter with a less than savory reputation. Speed distrusts his companion but really has little choice but to ride with him.
The travelers stop for the night at Archibald’s brother’s home where Speed overhears a conversation that troubles him. In the last day’s ride Speed and Archibald are struck by a terrible ice-storm that nearly kills them.
Only the arrival of Lincoln saves Speeds life as he is half frozen before Lincoln can get him to shelter.
Back in Springfield, Speed once again takes up his duties as a shopkeeper while Lincoln tends to his legal practice and his work as a state legislator.
It is 1840 and Springfield has just been established as the third state capital in Illinois in its twenty-two-year history as a state.
The town is rough-hewn but proudly sports its new domed capital building. Suddenly, news spreads of a suspected murder. A man named Fisher is rumored to have been killed with Archibald Trayler and his brother William the accused perpetrators.
The frantic mayor of Springfield, William “Big Red” May calls for a posse to search for Fisher’s body and apprehend the Trayler brothers. While no real evidence of a murder exists, a frenzy of vigilantism drives the search.
Archibald and William are arrested, nearly lynched, and brought to trial. Abraham Lincoln, who is terribly busy with his work to garner a new supply of gold in order to stabilize the State Bank, is assigned the duty of defending Archibald Trayler. This tangled situation is made worse by a fracture in the Speed-Lincoln friendship over jealousy as both men are interested in courting a lovely woman who has arrived in town.
That woman is Mary Todd, who has taken up residence with her sister Elizabeth Todd-Edwards and her husband Ninian Edwards.
Over time the murder trial plays out in a very unusual way. Despite no body and only hearsay evidence, it appears that the two Trayler brothers will be convicted. Then, proof of innocence arrives in the form of Fisher, who is very much alive.
Springfield residents who were certain a hanging would take place are stunned.
This surprise is made worse when it is found that the precious $50,000 in newly acquired gold reserves have been stolen from the State Bank. Lincoln, Speed, a suspicious banker named Belmont, and Martha Speed, Joshua’s investigative-minded sister, set out to recover the gold. In tracking the robbers, the posse encounters several twists and turns as well as danger. Eventually, the gold is recovered, the criminals are found, and some form of justice occurs.
The story ends with Speed and Lincoln’s friendship restored, Lincoln determined to court Mary Todd, and Speed with an offer to run a bank in Chicago. The stage is set for even more adventures that will bring to bear the unique crime fighting gifts of Joshua Speed and the redoubtable Abraham Lincoln.
As with other books in this series, A House Divided incorporates a combination of fictional storytelling with actual historical personages. Lincoln and Speed were close friends and did live in Springfield in 1840.
The State Bank of Illinois was established in 1836 and sometimes had its gold shipments attacked by robbers when they were sent across country.
Construction on the I&M Canal was temporarily stopped due to a cash shortage but began again with the waterway completed in 1848. The deadly ice storm described in the book did occur in 1836 and killed four people and thousands of animals.
Belmont, the sketchy banker featured in the book did exist and later was a successful businessman in New York for whom one of the three legs in the Triple Crown was named after.
The Trayler brothers did exist and were part of a murder trial very similar to the one described in this book. Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed were two of many young men who courted Mary Todd. The gold robbery of the Springfield branch of the State Bank of Illinois is purely fiction but does add a great deal of adventure to the narrative.
This use of creativity and history is a strength not only in this book but also in Putnam’s entire mystery series. Readers interested in learning more about young Mr. Lincoln and what rural Illinois was like in 1840 will enjoy this addition to Putnam’s fascinating Speed & Lincoln Mysteries series.
Putnam, Jonathan. A House Divided. Crooked Lane Books, New York: New York,
(2019), 320 pp., $26.99 Hardcover, $1.99 Kindle
Final Resting Place
By Jonathan Putnam
Courier Review by
Greg M. Romaneck
In this third chapter in Jonathan Putnam’s Lincoln & Speed Mysteries series, readers once again see the intrepid duo of Abraham Lincoln and his friend, Joshua Speed, work together to solve crimes. In this story, grief plays a huge part of the narrative and is linked to a series of terrible murders.
The story begins with Speed and his sister, Martha, grieving over the death of their eight-year-old sister.
After attending the memorial service and burial of little Ann Speed, the two siblings return to Springfield, Illinois where Joshua runs a successful general merchandise store and Martha is close to several politically powerful men.
When Martha and Joshua arrive in Springfield, they are almost immediately thrust into a dire situation that involves murder, poisoning, political tensions, and the despondency of Mr. Lincoln.
Springfield, itself, is at a boiling point of tension.
The upcoming elections of 1838 are approaching and hard-fisted campaigning is dividing the town as Whigs and Democrats literally fight for victory. Campaign events that pit candidates such as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas against one another as representatives of their respective parties often erupt into violence.
At one event designed as a celebration of Independence Day, two rivals for the position of county land registrar are seen in a terrible argument where threatening language is overheard by several of the attendees.
Then as the fireworks display begins, Jacob Early, one of the two rivals for the registrar position, falls to the floor, shot dead through his forehead. In the hub-bub that follows, the sheriff sweeps away the other combatant named Truett to jail as much to save him from being lynched as to take him into custody.
Within days, the judge overseeing the case appoints Abraham Lincoln, a leading Whig state legislator, to defend Truett who is a member of the rival Democratic Party.
Truett is to be prosecuted by Stephen Douglas, a leader in the Democratic Party who is seeking to defeat the sitting Whig Congressman in the district. While all this legal disturbance is playing out, Lincoln is distracted by several personal interferences.
At the time of Early’s murder, Lincoln is still grieving over the death of his first true love, Ann Rutledge. Ann died of a “brain fever” three years earlier in New Salem, but Lincoln still experiences periods of melancholy that are terrible for him. Lincoln is also trying to establish a new romantic relationship with Margaret Owens, the sister of a local apothecary and a young woman of great intellect.
Finally, Lincolns estranged father, Thomas, and annoying step-brother, John Johnston, arrive in Springfield where they embarrass and humiliate the future resident by behaving in crude, and potentially illegal ways.
While Lincoln is going through so many disturbing emotions, things are made worse by an anonymous letter-writer who posts humiliating information in the local Democratic-leaning newspaper.
These anonymous letters attack Lincoln’s character, ethics, and financial responsibility.
The letter writer also sends threatening communications directly to Lincoln, some of which are clearly designed to terrorize him.
While preparing Truett’s defense, Lincoln relies on Joshua and Martha to seek out information, and even the identity, of the anonymous tormentor.
In searching for information, the Speeds uncover unflattering perceptions of Lincoln among Ann Rutledge’s surviving family members as well as shocking information about Stephen Douglas’ character. Then, in a startling turn of events, Miss Owens, Lincolns new girlfriend, dies a horrible death via strychnine poisoning.
When the murder trial commences, Lincoln is handicapped by the election results. While Lincoln was easily reelected to his role as a state legislator, Douglas appears to have defeated the Whig incumbent he ran against.
As apparently a new Federal Congressman, Douglas has great power and patronage, a fact not overlooked by the judge who seems to cater to every objection or action made by the “Little Giant.”
With the odds against him, Lincoln fights his way through the case and earns a surprising verdict of not guilty through his use of interesting forensic approaches.
Unfortunately, once acquitted, Truett turns on Douglas, a former mentor of his, and insults hm so aggressively that challenges are exchanged and a duel is set.
Although illegal, the duel is set to take place on Blood Island, a remote spot in the Sangamon River. With Lincoln serving as Truett’s second, and Joshua Speed along as a bodyguard, the duelists and their supporters arrive on the island.
There, in an interesting twist of fate, the duel evolves into an entirely different confrontation that finally reveals the identity of the anonymous threat to Lincoln’s very existence.
In the end, the intercession of a very surprising savior keeps Lincoln and Speed from deadly consequences and sets the stage for resolution not only of the mysteries woven into this story but also the hopes of Abraham Lincoln for future happiness.
Written with great verve and skill, Final Resting Place tells a story that incorporates both excellent fictional elements with actual historical fact.
Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln did pit their legal prowess against one another in a trial that dealt with Jacob Early’s death allegedly at the hands of Truett.
While Lincoln won that case and was reelected to the State Legislature, Douglas was not as fortunate in the 1838 election.
Originally declared the winner of the congressional race by over 1,000 votes, Douglas eventually lost by 36 votes as more and more Whig ballots were “discovered.” Many characters in this story were actual figures in Springfield society in 1838.
People such as Ninian Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, the local sheriff, the presiding judge, several newspaper editors, and the Speeds all were real people. Margery Owens, Lincoln’s girlfriend who is gruesomely poisoned, was actually Mary Owens, a young woman who Lincoln unsuccessfully courted and who was never poisoned.
Lincoln’s strained relationships with his father and step-brother were quite authentic. This interesting mixture of fact and fiction, linked to Jonathan Putnam’s outstanding ability to craft an interesting historical mystery, makes Final Resting Place an excellent addition to the Lincoln & Speed Mysteries series.
Putnam, Jonathan. Final Resting Place. Crooked Lane Books, New York: New York,
(2018), 286 pp., $26.99 hardcover, $1.99 Kindle
Meade and Lee: After the Battle “Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken:” Eleven
Fateful Days after
Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863
By Thomas J. Ryan and Richard R. Schaus
Courier Review by Katy Berman
How did Robert E. Lee manage to get away? Gettysburg was a stunning Union victory, but President Abraham Lincoln wanted more. He expected his commanding general, George Gordon Meade to pursue and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, and possibly bring the war to a close.
However, as had occurred previously in the conflict, the President was disappointed. Lee’s army escaped over the Potomac River on July 14. The carnage continued for two more years.
“Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken”: Eleven Fateful Days After Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863 by coauthors Thomas J. Ryan and Richard R. Schaus recounts that crucial period from a variety of angles.
Chiefly, it probes the question of why Meade acted the way he did. Did he simply lose his nerve? Was he unreasonably skeptical of Union intelligence?
As a Democrat, did he favor a negotiated peace over a conclusive military victory? On the other hand, were Lincoln’s expectations simply too high?
Research for their work was comprehensive and masterful. The authors utilized all relevant primary and secondary sources, and their narrative is enriched by less familiar memoirs, letters, diaries, and regimental histories.
As the Army of Northern Virginia executes its successful “retrograde movement” (retreat), we hear from Union prisoners and Rebel stragglers, officers and enlisted men, Gettysburg residents and other civilians along the way. Prisoner John L. Collins of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry recalls that on the long march to Virginia, he passed a group of nicely dressed ladies waving handkerchiefs and Confederate flags. Two weeks earlier, he had passed the same ladies waving Union flags at Federal troops.
On July 9, Meade was told by a Southern deserter that his former comrades “are in fine spirits, and the talk among them is they must try it again.” Ominously, the deserter informs the General that Confederate engineers had begun to build a bridge at Falling Water.
At Gettysburg, residents such as Tillie Pierce awoke on July 4 to “a strange and blighted land.”
According to Ryan and Schaus, the town as “one, vast, overcrowded hospital with several thousand men lying with amputated arms or legs in tents, fields, woods, stables, and barns.” There was, however,money to be made. Two enterprising youths bought plugs of tobacco which had been cached in an undiscovered location, cut them into 10-cent pieces and sold those to Union soldiers for a handsome profit.
Civilians living along the roads leading to the Potomac sold provisions, offered intelligence and medical supplies, cared for wounded soldiers, observed skirmishes and hangings. One intrepid young
woman attempted to spy on Brigadier General John Imboden’s men as they guarded Williamsport. She rode horseback past the pickets with a young boy seated in front of her. On their return trip, after almost fooling one Confederate, she was identified as a spy by another. Presumably, she was not hanged, but one would like to know more of her!
The administrations in Washington D.C. and Richmond are, of course, an integral part of the story. One lesson that might be learned is that it was better to be a Confederate than Union general. After his long retreat, Lee appeared before President Jefferson Davis and offered his resignation. It was promptly rejected. Some Southerners did criticize Lee, notably Peter Wellington Alexander of The Savannah Republican. Alexander considered the Pennsylvania campaign a woeful mistake, but he nevertheless maintained his admiration for Lee.
The journalist wrote, “Lee acted, probably under the impression that his troops were able to carry any position however formidable. If such was the case, he committed an error, such however, as the ablest commanders will sometimes fall into.”
For George Meade, it was a different experience entirely. Lincoln congratulated him heartily upon his victory, and then pressed General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to make Meade act more aggressively.
Brigadier General Hermann Haupt, in charge of Union railroads, visited Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in Washington to express concern over Meade’s lack of zeal. Stanton snarled that Meade could be replaced as easily as he was appointed.
Secretary Stanton supported Meade publicly, but later remarked, “Since the world began no man ever lost so great an opportunity of serving his country as was lost by his neglecting to strike his adversary at Williamsport.”
In March of 864, Meade was hauled before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to answer charges made by his disgruntled and disobedient Major General, Daniel E. Sickles.
Senator Benjamin Wade could not find reason to deprive the general of his command but was severely critical of Meade’s timidity in pursuit of Lee.
It is to the credit of Ryan and Schaus that the fairness of their presentation of evidence enables the reader to make up his own mind about Meade.
The General was cautious perhaps, but not timid. On July 4, he had 25,000 casualties to either bury or care for. Three of his seven corps commanders were either dead or seriously wounded. Days later, Meade sensed that an attack upon Lee, whose army was entrenched with its back to the Potomac, would not succeed. This was confirmed by Generals Howard,
Sedgewick, and Humphreys when they viewed the abandoned Confederate earthworks on July 14.
“Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken,” contains a forward by the late Ted Alexander, former historian of Antietam Battlefield, founder of the Chambersburg Civil War Series, and author of numerous books and articles about the Civil War. Mr. Alexander, who himself penned an article about Lee’s retreat for North and South Magazine in 1999, praises Ryan and Schaus for having written “the most important book on the operational and intelligence level of the retreat from Gettysburg that exists today.”
They have also written a book full of human interest which has made the Gettysburg retreat more fascinating even than the battle itself.
Civil War Books for Younger Readers: 12 Books for Diverse Readers
By Greg M. Romaneck
While there are quite a number of Civil War themed books for younger readers, it sometimes can be a struggle to find works that do a good job of tackling issues linked to diversity. What follows are short summaries and reviews of a dozen books that address some of the experiences of African American and Native American people who lived during the Civil War era.
In these books, topics such as slavery, the Underground Railroad, the fate of Native American civilians and soldiers, and how Black people fought for their own freedom are all addressed in meaningful ways.
Some of the selections are picture books appropriate for younger children, while others can be enjoyed by young people of all ages.
Hopefully, these books can be of interest to all readers in any way concerned about the wellbeing of others.
The Civil War was a complex event that affected, and continues to affect, all of American society.
By providing children the gift of knowledge we enhance their ability not only to understand the American past, but also its present and future.
Hopefully these twelve books will of interest and use to the children who encounter them.
Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan’s Anishinaabe Sharpshooters
By Sally M. Walker
During the Civil War a number of storied regiments, artillery batteries, and cavalry troops made reputations that lasted through the ages.
But no unit had a more unique composition than Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Recruited in the northern counties of Michigan and its Upper Peninsula, Company K was one of the few completely Native American formations to serve in the Civil War.
Made up of men from the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Pottawatomie tribes, these hearty Northwoods-men joined the Union Army for a variety of reasons and their story is well told in this latest publication penned by award winning historian Sally Walker.
In the past, Walker has done a tremendous job of recounting fascinating Civil War stories such as the launch of the Confederate submarine, the C.S.S Hunley or the terrible sinking of the Union transport vessel Sultana.
As in those superior books, Walker again does justice to her subject while simultaneously revealing a little known page in Civil War history.
The term Anishinaabe was a native word describing the affiliated tribes that lived in that portion of the Upper Midwest.
These men chose to volunteer their service in the Union Army in order to defend not only their narrow personal needs but also broader causes linked to liberty and justice. To qualify for membership with Company K, each recruit had to demonstrate amazing marksmanship.
Once enlisted as a sharpshooter, men in Company K fulfilled a variety of duties. As Walker ably reveals, Company K was initially utilized to guard Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas near Chicago. Once placed on combat duty in the spring of 1864, the men of Company K took part in some of the bloodiest fighting in American history.
At places such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg, the native soldiers of Company K suffered all the bloody loses that warfare exacts.
By war’s end, a number of Company K’s members had died in battle, perished from disease, suffered wounds, or been imprisoned by their foes.
When they returned home, the men of Company K could hold their heads up with pride not only for their wartime service, but also for the way in which they defended the tribal values they lived by.
Once again Sally Walker has pulled back the curtain on an overlooked part of the Civil War and told the story of the people who made history.
2019, Henry Holt & Company, Ages 10 up, $19.99,
A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl
By Patricia McKissack
Clotee is a slave living on a plantation near Belmont, Virginia just before the start of the Civil War. A youngster about twelve years old, Clotee is driven to learn to read and write.
As a house slave she is assigned to fanning the mistress and, when he is tutored, her son, William.
By listening and carefully watching the tutorials Clotee has learned the basics of literacy.
To have any sort of education is a dangerous proviso for a slave.
Owners forbade slaves any type of education for fear that a little learning could upset the applecart of bondage.
Thus, Clotee must conceal her knowledge. She tries to write in her diary as often as possible. In order to maintain her secret Clotee must often find new hiding places for her book. If she is found out by either her owners or another slave bent upon currying favor with the master or mistress she will be severely punished.
Clotee also yearns for freedom a word that she struggles to fully understand.
As a house slave Clotee is in close contact with her owners. She strives to not hate them despite their petty and overt cruelties to their slaves.
For Clotee the fact that people can own other people is a damning reality for the southern way of life. Clotee hears vague rumors of abolitionists and the Underground Railroad but these factors seem like dim myths when she looks around at Belmont.
Amazingly, Clotee finds that there are people who oppose slavery and make every effort to help slaves to escape.
This realization forces Clotee to come to a decision about what she wants to risk.
The results of Clotee’s decision affect those around her and the rest of her life. This excellent chapter in the Dear America series takes a close look at life on a southern plantation. The ins and outs of the “peculiar institution” of slavery are presented in a lucid manner. Clotee comes across as a believable and resilient person. This is a fine book and one that will provide outstanding information regarding antebellum life.
1997, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95, ISBN: 0-590-25988-1
William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad
By Don Tate
William Sill was born in New Jersey, the child of a couple who had escaped from slavery in order to find a life of freedom in the North.
As a child, William heard the story of his parent’s separate escapes from slavery and of his two older brothers who his mother had to leave behind.
As William grew up, he longed for an education and he ability to read or write. Over time, William did become literate and left his family home to seek his fortune in Philadelphia. Once on his own, William struggled to find work, establish a home, and simply earn enough money to feed himself.
Then, William got a job as a clerk working for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery society. Over time, William proved himself an adept helper who took on more and more responsibilities.
Slowly but surely, William Sill became an asset to the Anti-Slavery Society where he rose to the position of manager. In his new supervisory role, William assisted freedom-seeking African Americans who had escaped from slavery.
William worked to find homes, jobs, and financial assistance for many of these freedom-seeking folks.
William also maintained a register within which he recorded the names, physical characteristics, and missing family members so that a history of his work existed. One day, a man arrived who had questions about family members who has escaped from slavery decades ago.
To William’s great surprise, this man was his older brother, Peter, a child his mother had to leave behind in order to escape with her two daughters.
Then, in 1850, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law made it a crime for anyone, even northerners who opposed slavery, to assist freedom-seeking people in their journey to liberation.
William had to hide his register as it was a record of his “crimes” and a roadmap to discovering hundreds of escaped slaves.
As time passed, William came to see the coming of the Civil War and Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. After the Civil War which freed 4,000,000 African Americans from slavery, William published his register as a history of the Underground Railroad.
Although William, and other African American leaders in the Underground Railroad, were overlooked as contributors to this freedom movement, his memory lives on in books such as his excellent illustrated biography.
Written as a substantive picture book, Don Tate’s talents as a writer and artist are self-evident. The story of William Sill and his work in the Underground Railroad is an inspirational tale that is eminently worthy of commemoration.
Don Tate’s book and illustrations bring this brave man’s life to the attention of modern readers and is a book well worth reading and sharing.
2020, Peachtree Publishing Co., Inc., Ages 10 to 14, $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-56145-935-3
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
By Deborah Hopkinson
Paintings by James Ransome
Sweet Clara is not even twelve years old when she is sent out into the fields to pick cotton for her masters.
In the first few days in the field, Sweet Clara struggles to cope with the heat, hard work, and her inability to pick cotton very well.
Several fellow slaves advise her to get rest and prepare for what could be the type of backbreaking labor that would fill her life.
One kindly woman who Sweet Clara calls “Aunt” Rachel takes Clara under her wing and begins to teach her how to sew.
Clara is a quick learner and the day comes when Aunt Rachel brings her to the plantation house where she begins to sew for the mistress.
As time passes, Clara becomes a valued seamstress whose stitches are close together and perfectly tight. Then, Clara begins to hear about the paterollers who guard the roads and hunt down escaping slaves.
Clara makes the acquaintance of a boy named Jack who wants to flee North to freedom. Jack bemoans the fact that he has no map to help guide him when he tries to escape.
Clara does not know what a map is but when Jack explains its purpose, she begins to think about how she could make one.
Clara decides that if she can gather small scraps of fabric from her sewing in the plantation house, she can work on a quilt that includes landmarks from the surrounding area.
Clara listens to conversations of both White people and fellow slaves.
In this way Sweet Clara begins to understand the lay of the land in the surrounding area. Then, with a map embedded in Clara’s “freedom quilt,” she decides to join Jack when he flees.
Jack and Clara leave their master’s place, head north, stop by a nearby plantation where Clara’s mother and her sister are held, and convinces her family members to join them.
Eventually, Clara and her companions reach and cross the Ohio River and enter into the North where they can be free. Back at her old residence, Clara’s “freedom quilt” remained behind to both warm Aunt Rachel and serve as a guide for other slaves who wanted to make a run for freedom.
Based on a true story, Deborah Hopkinson’s lovely writing, linked to the beautiful artwork of James Ransome, produce a tale well worth attending to. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt tells a story of bravery in the face of oppression, and is a chapter in the history of American slavery that is well worth remembering.
1993, Alfred A. Knopf, Ages 10 to 14, $16.99, ISBN: 0-679-82311-5
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her
People to Freedom
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
For years the life of Harriet Tubman was marred by near constant sorrow. Born into slavery in 1820 on a plantation near Bucktown, Maryland, Harriet was originally named Araminta, or Minty as a favored nickname.
As a young girl, Harriet was beaten and mistreated by her masters. In one instance, Harriet was struck in the head with an iron, a blow that left her with headaches, fainting spells, and bouts of dizziness for the rest of her life.
Harriet was forced into a marriage to a man she did not love. Then, when it became clear to Harriet that she was going to be sold south, she decided it was time to flee for her freedom.
It is Harriet Tubman’s flight for freedom that is the subject of this excellent picture book. In Moses, readers will encounter a powerful narrative written by Carole Boston Weatherford combined with poignant drawings by Kadir Nelson. In this book, readers will watch as Harriet follows the stars north to what she hopes will be a life of freedom.
Harriet’s journey is perilous indeed as she is pursued by slavecatchers and their bloodhounds. Harriet is forced to sleep in the woods, cower in a hole in a potato field for days, wade in freezing rivers to avoid detection by the hounds, and suffer alone in forests.
With the help of several Good Samaritans, Harriet is able to reach freedom in Philadelphia.
But even when Harriet is in the North, she feels that her work is incomplete.
Over time, Harriet learns about the Underground Railroad and finally convinces some of her abolitionist friends to support her journeys south to free other slaves. Nineteen times Harriet would risk everything to go back south.
In those journeys Harriet Tubman freed approximately 300 people and earned her nickname of Moses.
Always a believer in God as her guide in life and on the freedom trail, Harriet Tubman is an amazing American hero. Harriet’s race for freedom and subsequent Underground Railroad work are well represented in this powerful picture book.
The story of Harriet Tubman and her bravehearted efforts to free others is one that readers of this fine book can certainly prosper from.
2006, Hyperion Books for Children, Ages 4 to 8, $18.99, ISBN: 0-786-85175-9
Frederick Douglass: The Last Days of Slavery
Illustrated by Cedric Lucas
As a young boy, Frederick Douglass had never met his father. Frederick’s mother had only visited him a few times, and each of those trips had required that she walk miles in cold weather to see him.
Later, while Frederick was being raised by his grandmother, he was told that he would never see his mother again as she had been sold to another plantation owner, many miles away.
As a child, Frederick came to realize that, as a slave, he would never have any control over his life. As Frederick began to labor in the fields, he understood that his life would be an endless chain of work, suffering, and punishment.
When Frederick began to show signs of intelligence, literacy, and independence, he was put under the supervision of a “slave breaker” named Covey.
Under Covey’s control, Frederick’s life became a misery. Covey beat Frederick Douglass for the slightest transgressions, and sometimes just to make a point.
Frederick ran away after one of those beatings only to return to face the probability of a terrible whipping. When Covey began to beat him, Frederick grabbed the whip and wrestled with Covey.
Frederick and the “slave breaker” fought for quite some time until it became clear to Covey that he could not subdue the young slave.
Covey admitted defeat and never brought up the fact to anyone that he had been beaten by Frederick.
However, Frederick knew that Covey would get his revenge if he stayed on the plantation. Looking up at the North Star, Frederick realized he had to flee, find his freedom, and restart his life. Based upon the real-life experiences of Frederick Douglass, this picture book tells the powerful story of his decision to flee for his freedom. In 1838, Frederick Douglass did run away and commence a phase of his life that would lead to his becoming one of the most powerful anti-slavery voices in the United States. Written in a dignified manner and beautifully illustrated, this picture book does a fine job of introducing younger readers to the critical decision that Frederick Douglass made to achieve his freedom.
1995, Lee & Low Books, Inc., Ages 7 to 10, $18.40, 1-880000-17-2
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, $16.00. ISBN: 0-590-54210-9
Till Victory is Won: Black Soldeirs in the Civil War
When the Civil War erupted in 1861 the fate of African-Americans was unclear. While the war held slavery as an inherent causative factor very few people were in any way sympathetic to the plight of Blacks.
In the South, slavery was the Peculiar Institution upon which society was grounded. Any notion that Black men could be converted into soldiers was scoffed at and considered treasonable.
In the North, attitudes towards African-Americans were often no better than in the Confederacy. When Black men offered their services as soldiers they were turned away, rebuffed, and insulted.
However, as the war dragged on and came to be one of emancipation, the use of Black soldiers became a reality.
Eventually, nearly 200,000 Black men took up arms to fight for a Union victory.
Their blood was shed at places like Miliken’s Bend, Port Hudson, Petersburg, and Battery Wagner. African-American soldiers and sailors received a total of twenty-five Medals of Honor for bravery under fire.
Yet, despite their willingness to fight, African-American soldiers were abused during their terms of service.
Their pay was lower than Whites and often they were assigned a disproportionate amount of fatigue duty. Black men could not serve as officers. If captured, Blacks faced summary execution, torture, or bondage.
In many instances, White officers and men jeered at their Black comrades. Still, through their bravery, African-American soldiers carved out a level of respect that would not have been afforded to them if they had not been given the opportunity to serve.
The story of these African-American freedom fighters is well told in this illustrated history. Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of the reasons why Blacks fought, their wartime experiences, and the results of their efforts.
This is a fine book and one that touches on and often overlooked element of the Civil War.
1994, Lodestar Books, Ages 10 & Up, $16.99, IDBN: 0-525-67412-8
Undying Glory: The Story of the
Massachusetts 54th Regiment
Immortalized in the movie Glory the accomplishments of the 54th Massachusetts span the ages. One of the first organized combat units made up solely of African-American men the 54th met its ultimate moment when it was called upon to launch an assault upon the Confederate position at Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor.
With that ill-fated charge the men of the 54th cemented the impression that African-Americans could more than hold their own in combat.
Led by the youthful Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the lads of the 54th lost fully 50% of their men in that one attack. By facing death and wounding head on and still persisting the men of that immortal regiment taught a lesson to the American nation that Black men were capable of bravery, courage, resilience, and valor.
At Battery Wagner, and subsequently at places such as Miliken’s Bend, The Crater, Port Hudson, and Petersburg, African-American soldiers re-taught that lesson and under girded its message with their blood. The story of the formation, training, and work of the 54th Massachusetts is told in this historical work.
Written with great care and based upon sound research this book is an excellent vehicle for furthering an understanding of the men of the 54th as well as the African-American experience in the Union Army. The sacrifices of the men of the 54th did not end racism and intolerance. Those pathetic qualities still plague the national spirit. However, those brave deeds did make it more difficult for others to point at Black people and say they were not up to the measure of their White counterparts.
By teaching this vital lesson the men of the 54th did a great service for their brethren, their nation, and themselves. That story is worth studying and this book is a good starting point. 1991, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $15.95. ISBN: 0-590-44171-X
The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl
In 1864 Union armies were moving into Virginia and Georgia. 1864 was to be one of the bloodiest single years of the entire Civil War.
While these great and terrible events were transpiring in the east blue coated soldiers also took part in a series of battles against the Native Americans who lived along the western frontiers.
One of the saddest chapters of the Indian Wars remains the forced relocation of the Navajo people from their traditional homeland in the southwest.
This volume in the Dear America series addresses just those events. Sarah Nita is twelve years old when the blue coats come to her village in northeastern Arizona.
The soldiers chop down the peach trees, burn the family hogans, and kill those who resist. Sarah Nita’s family is taken captive and disappears while she and her sister escape to a nearby village.
The soldiers also overwhelm this Navajo town and Sarah and her people begin the “Long Walk” that will lead them to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Sarah walks over 400 miles through snow and desert heat.
Many Navajo die on the way but Sarah and her sister survive. At Fort Sumner Sarah’s people eke out a miserable life. They miss the beauty of their mountains as they slowly starve. In the end Sarah Nita meets people she loves at Fort Sumner. In 1868 the remaining Navajo are allowed to walk back to their greatly reduced homeland so long as they pledge to stop raiding settlers and that they will send their children to white man’s schools. Sarah Nita’s story, told in diary form, is a moving chapter in this fine series.
It tells a story of a sequence of events that the Federal army undertook while fighting the Civil War. The tale of the Navajo relocation in 1864 is a little-known chapter in American history and one that should be better understood. This excellent book helps to illuminate the life and experiences of the Navajo through the fictional figure of Sarah Nita, the girl who chased away sorrow.
1999, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95. ISBN: 0-590-97216-2
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 sixteen-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 even though some of them are fighting for causes that are, upon closer examination, unsupportable. 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 struggles with the question of why the war was necessary at all. Laced with interesting values questions, a novel perspective on Native American soldiers in the Civil War, and an exciting narrative, Rifles for Watie serves its readers well and is an adventurous tale with believable characters.
1987, Harper Trophy, Ages 10 & Up, $7.99, ISBN: 0-06-447030-X
Henry’s Freedom Box
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry Brown was a little boy born into slavery. Henry was fortunate enough to be owned by a master who was reasonably decent.
However, even though Henry was able to live with his brothers and sisters, his mother took him aside one day and warned him, “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind?
They are torn from the trees just like slave children are torn from their families.” Sadly, Henry learned the truth behind his mother’s lesson when he was given away as a gift to one of the master’s sons.
Henry would never see his family again and had to adjust to much crueler circumstances. As time passed, Henry fell in love, asked for permission to wed a young woman, married her, and began to raise his three children.
Then, a tragedy struck Henry when his wife and children were sold. Once again, Henry lost his family and was powerless to do anything about it.
From that point on, Henry tried to develop some sort of plan to attain his freedom. Eventually, Henry came up with a remarkable and dangerous strategy to escape from slavery.
With the assistance of a White man who opposed slavery, Henry concocted a unique plan. His accomplice placed Henry in a wooden crate, addressed it to an abolitionist friend in Philadelphia, and literally mailed him North. After twenty-seven hours enclosed in his crate, Henry finally made it to Pennsylvania and freedom. From that moment on, Henry earned a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
It is the story of Henry “Box” Brown, his travails as a slave, and his novel escape that are addressed in this beautifully illustrated picture book. Written by the very talented Ellen Levine, and illustrated in a lush fashion by Kadir Nelson, Henry’s Freedom Box takes younger readers into the life of a man determined to achieve his freedom.
In this fine book, the narrative of Henry Brown’s life is well told and amplified by the striking artwork that populates every page. Readers should come away from this book with a deeper understanding not only of Henry “Box” Brown’s struggle for freedom, but also the plight of slaves in general.
2007, Scholastic, Ages 4 to 10, $1799, ISBN: 978-04-3977733-9
The Dear America Series: Civil War books for Younger
By Greg M. Romaneck
In the 1990s, Scholastic Inc., published a series of children’s books each of which took the form of a teenager recording their observations of daily life at different times in American history. The series was called Dear America and it featured stories about young people growing up in colonial days, during the American Revolution, as part of westward expansion, during World War II, and many other pivotal periods in American history. Each book took the form of a diary with an epilog that put the child’s writings in a historical context as well as a series of illustrations that provided visual context as well. A number of the selections from the Dear America series dealt with the Civil War, the antebellum period, slavery, and the immediate post-war era. The writers featured in the Dear America series included a number of outstanding and award-winning authors, each of whom did some excellent work in these books. Wat follows are summaries and reviews of a dozen Civil War-themed selections from this excellent series. Aimed at upper elementary through middle school aged readers. The Dear America series remains an example of how history can come alive when it is depicted by talented writers addressing topics of interest to younger readers.
The Journal of James Edmond Pease: A Civil War Union
James Edmond Pease was 16 years old when he enlisted in Company G of the 122nd New York. Fleeing from a life of seemingly unending toil on his parent’s farm James comes to find that the Union army is a place that offers both frightful challenges and opportunities.
As part of the Army of the Potomac, the 122nd finds itself taking part in some of the fiercest fighting of the entire war. James is selected after Gettysburg to become the company diarist charged with capturing the experiences of his fellow soldiers.
His company commander is bent upon writing a unit history after the war ends and he relies upon James to take down the sometimes overlooked details of military life. James struggles with this task but comes to love writing. His entries capture the biographies of many of his unit comrades as well as their day-to-day life. James is considered something of a Jonah and often is at the center of misfortune in the company. However, he is a good soldier and rises in the ranks to become a sergeant. In battle and in camp James displays excellent leadership skills. These talents receive their gravest test during the Wilderness Battle in May 1864. In that terrible struggle James is wounded and trapped behind enemy lines. With the help of a unique backwoods family James attempts to find his way back to his unit. Set against the backdrop of the war in the Eastern Theater in 1863-64 this chapter in the Dear America series is well written, exciting, and informative. Through the writings of the fictional James Edmond Pease the daily lives of common Union soldiers are ably presented. Laced with excellent information regarding life in camp, drill, and soldier’s complaints this is a fine look at what Civil War soldiering was all about. This is an excellent book that will be enjoyed by younger and older readers.
1998, Scholastic, $14.95, Ages 10 & Up, ISBN: 0-590-43814-X.
When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson
For Southern civilians the war often meant loss, separation, and invasion. Young Emma Simpson resides with her mother while her father serves in the Army of Northern Virginia.
It is 1864 and the Simpson family is hosting Emma’s aunt and her teenage cousin. The Gordonsville home of the Simpsons stands in the pathway of the Union advance that spring as General Grant sets out to push on to a Federal victory. Emma, through her diary entries, shares what life in Virginia in the Civil War’s latter stages was like. Emma shares, through her diary, her fears for both her father and her nation.
She also writes to a young man whom she cares about deeply but who is away with General Lee’s army. Life on the home front is filled with sadness for Emma. Neighbors are faced with the death and maiming of their loved ones. Emma’s own home is stricken when her aunt’s husband falls upon a distant battlefield.
The scourge of illness, caused perhaps by fear and deprivation, comes to the Simpson home and takes two family members as victims. To worsen the family’s lot, Union soldiers sweep into the area. The Simpson home becomes a Federal headquarters and the family is squeezed into a few upper story rooms.
Pillaging and cruelty abound as the Yankee invaders make like miserable for Emma and her family.
At one point Emma records her depression over the course of wartime life when she writes, “I never realized how happy I was until this war besieged our land.” From within her family network Emma is a constant victim of the seemingly cruel criticism of her cousin. Eventually, Emma perseveres through a supremely trying time and establishes an adult life. However, the cost that the Civil War levied upon so many people is captured in this outstanding work of fiction.
Through Emma Simpson’s diary account, we come in touch with life on the home front in a portion of the United States that suffered invasion. This well-crafted book is yet another outstanding chapter in the Dear America series.
1996, Scholastic, $9.95, Ages 10 & Up, ISBN: 0-590-22862-5
My Brother’s Keeper: Virginia’s Diary – Gettysburg,
Mary Pope Osborne
With her father and brother away from home attempting to hide the family’s horses from invading Confederates young Virginia Dickens is asked to keep up her sibling’s diary in his absence.
These are exciting times in Gettysburg as Rebel troops are known to be in the area.
Virginia is staying with Reverend McCully and his family while she waits for the return of her father and brother. Her brother’s diary becomes an outlet for her fears, thoughts, and tensions as the war sweeps through her hometown. Within a few days of her kinfolk’s departure Confederate troops do enter Gettysburg. They demand payment and supplies and threaten to burn the town down. Luckily, they do not follow through with their threats and leave.
Union cavalry descend upon the area and Virginia senses that a large-scale battle is in the offing. Of course, her thoughts prove correct and Gettysburg becomes a virtual slaughter pen. The three-day battle, its horrific aftermath, and the eventual coming of President Lincoln to address a few remarks to a crowd huddled in the newly opened National Cemetery are but the most impressive elements of Virginia’s diary.
In those pages she also captures what the war looked like, how it smelled, and what emotions it brought out for one little girl.
Ironically, Virginia was named after her mother’s native state. At times Virginia ponders over what her deceased mother would have thought about the Civil War if she were alive as she was a loyal Southerner.
Also included in the pages of Virginia’s diary are her fears concerning the fate of her father and Jed, her brother.
Their return is delayed beyond expectations and Virginia fears the worst. Another engaging element found in Virginia’s writing are the natural doubts about herself and her personal strength of character that she periodically ruminates about. All in all, this novel in diary form affords readers an insightful look at one girl’s perspective on the Gettysburg battle. This is a concise and carefully written book that will inform and entertain its readers.
2000, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14, $14.95. ISBN: 0-439-15307-7
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
The conclusion of the Civil War marked a rite of passage for African-Americans that was stunning to say the least.
Blacks who for generations had been held in bondage were suddenly freed.
Yet, what did “freedom” actually mean and how was emancipation operationalized on a local level? In this chapter in the Dear America series, we are introduced to Patsy, a house slave lives on the Mars Bluff plantation home of her master and mistress.
Located in South Carolina, Mars Bluff has been a bonded home for Patsy her entire life. Unbeknownst to her owners, Patsy has learned to read. Patsy has kept this talent hidden for fear of retribution.
Now that she is free Patsy continues to conceal her literacy as she ponders about what life will be like without being owned.
Life on the plantation changes after the Civil War but in incremental ways. Union troops arrive and explain the alterations that being contract laborers as opposed to slaves mean.
The former master and mistress are perplexed by the social changes that have been wrought by the Confederacy’s defeat.
Men and women who once owed their very lives to the owners now are free to stay on the plantation or not. While life in the main house continues in a somewhat familiar mode the basic fact that choices now exist gradually dawns on Patsy.
She assumes a role as a rudimentary teacher of the former slave children.
Eventually, this vocation becomes a fundamental part of Patsy’s life. Through her work as a teacher Patsy helps others overcome their enforced ignorance as well as setting her own soul free through service.
This novel in diary form touches some often overlooked themes of post-war life. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched this is a book that helps put the Civil War’s conclusion into an interesting context.
Slavery ended in 1865 across the United States. Yet, the issues that slavery created in American society persist into our own age. This captivating book places readers in touch with the efforts of one African-American girl to establish a new life of freedom.
1997, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95. ISBN: 0-590-84913-1
Freedom’s Wings: Corey’s Diary-Kentucky to Ohio, 1857
Sharon Dennis Wyeth
The My America series is a follow up to the eminently successful Dear America publications.
These series of fictional diaries take the reader back to historic days in America’s past.
The narrator is generally a child aged 9-12. In this case we are introduced to Corey Birdsong, a nine-year-old boy living on a Kentucky plantation with his mother and father.
The Birdsong’s are slaves owned by the Hart family. Corey’s father has taught him to read and write. He has also passed on to his son a love of birds and their calls.
The Birdsongs have named themselves in honor of the beauty they see and hear when they observe the various birds that live near their home.
Corey keeps a secret diary that he hides from the eyes of his owners.
The Harts are harsh owners and do not hesitate to use corporal methods of “disciplining” their slaves.
When Master Hart decides to sell Corey’s father to a relative Mr. Birdsong chooses to flee north to Ohio. While his father is successful in his escape Corey is saddened by his absence.
Through a chain of circumstances Corey convinces his mother to take advantage of the Underground Railroad to head north as well. The fact that Corey’s mother is pregnant complicates their journey but they do eventually reach Ohio.
Once across the Ohio River Corey and his mother are separated due to changing circumstances.
Will Corey find his father and true freedom? Will he ever see his mother again? Does he have a new baby brother or sister? In order to answer these questions, you will need to read this thoughtful book.
Written by a talented artist this book does a fine job of describing the nature of slavery in the antebellum South as well as the Underground Railroad.
Also, the reader is introduced to Corey Birdsong, a resilient character who once bravely mused, “The massers own our body. But our mind belongs to ourselves.”
2001, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14, $14.95, ISBN: 0-439-14100-1
The Journal of Sean Sullivan, A Transcontinental Railroad Worker: Nebraska and Points West, 1867
In 1869 the Union and Central Pacific track crews met at Promontory Point, Utah. This juncture of the two competing railroad giants resulted in the completion of the transcontinental railroad that spanned the enormity of the American West.
In many ways the completion of this Herculean task seems as complicated as landing astronauts on the moon.
In this chapter of the Dear America series readers will meet Sean Sullivan, a young man who took part in this great adventure. Sean is a young teen when he travels west from his home in Chicago to work with his widowed father.
Sean and his pa are Irish and they join a track crew that is primarily of their ethnic stock.
Sean’s father is a veteran of the Civil War where he served with General Sherman. Pa often speaks of his wartime experiences and in a way uses Sean as a counselor.
The war continues to weigh heavily on pa and many other members of the railroad work crew.
In fact, the majority of the men Sean works with fought during the war. In some ways Sean comes to see that for many of these men the road west was paved by their war experiences.
Sean settles into a world of hard work, high risk, bawdy life, and violence. Through his eyes we see the life that many Civil War veterans turned to after the conflict ended.
This is simply a wonderful book and one of the better ones in this excellent series of historical diaries. Readers will come away with a truer understanding of what the Civil War did to people’s spirits and the work they turned to after its conclusion.
1999, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95. ISBN: 0-439-04994-6
A Confederate Girl: The Diary of Carrie Berry, 1864
Christy Steele & Anne Todd
On August 3, 1864 Carrie Berry celebrated her tenth birthday. She lived in Atlanta and decided to keep a diary of her experiences, thoughts, and dreams. 1864 was a time when southerners living in and around Atlanta were very fearful because the Union army of General William Tecumseh Sherman was besieging the city. Carrie, and her family, were in danger as Union artillery shells fell in their neighborhood on a daily basis. By September Atlanta’s defending Confederate troops were forced to retreat. The Yankees occupied the city and their peaceful demeanor initially comforted Carrie. On Friday, September 2 Carrie described the Union troops this way, “They were orderly and behaved very well.” Unfortunately, war is cruel and the Federal soldiers were destined to destroy much of Carrie’s hometown. By November the Federal troops were preparing to leave Atlanta as General Sherman embarked upon his famous March to the Sea. In departure the Yankees torched much of Atlanta. Carrie recorded the following thoughts on November 15, “This has ben (sic) a dreadful day. Things have been burning all around us. We dread tonight as we do not know what moment they will set our house on fire.” Luckily for Carrie her home was spared the flames and she and her family survived the war relatively unscathed. In the past the diary entries of Carrie Berry have served historians as a valuable primary source document. In this abridgement younger readers will be able to get a taste of what it was like to be in the path of General Sherman’s army. This well edited version of Carrie Berry’s diary will reinforce the fact that the Civil War was a costly one waged on American soil and with American victims.
2000, Blue Earth Books, Ages 9 to 14, $14.95. ISBN: 0-7368-0343-2
A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin
Amelia Martin lives with her parents on Fenwick Island on the southeast coast of Delaware. There she helps her father fulfill his duties as a lighthouse keeper. Intrigued with the sea Amelia relishes her role as a guardian of the light.
She loves the crash of the surf and the feel of the sea breeze. However, Amelia’s parents are not happily married. Her father is an abolitionist while her mother supports the “peculiar institution”. This elemental difference of opinion colors their entire relationship. This family division is mirrored in Amelia’s country as the shadow of Civil War begins to pass across the land.
The firing on Fort Sumter leads to a great schism in Amelia’s community. Not only are Amelia’s parents split on this topic but so too are her neighbors. While some of Amelia’s friends go off to war in blue uniforms many of her longtime friends and acquaintances refuse to speak to one another due to political differences. Amelia’s beloved friend, Daniel, joins a Federal regiment and writes her from camp. Amelia fears for his safety and prays for his return home.
Left at home to fend off the depression of her family’s discord and the rending of her nation Amelia throws herself into her work as an assistant to her father. The lighthouse becomes Amelia’s solace as there she can do productive and lifesaving work.
This intriguing book is based upon the real-life experiences of Ida Lewis a young woman who took charge of her father’s Delaware lighthouse during the Civil War due to his illness and subsequently saved twenty-two lives through her work. Written in diary form and part of the “Dear America” series the tale of Amelia Martin is one that strikes a chord of realism. It is refreshing to read about the life and work of a fictional character that mirrors the actual accomplishments of a unique person of the Civil War era.
1999, Scholastic, Ages 10 & Up, $14.95. ISBN: 0-590-56733-0
After the Rain:
Virginia’s Civil War Diary
Mary Pope Osborn
Readers may have met Virginia Dicken in an earlier My America book entitled My Brother’s Keeper. At that time Virginia and her family were living in Gettysburg. Having survived the Battle of Gettysburg, Virginia now finds herself moving to Washington City.
It is 1864 and President Lincoln is facing a difficult reelection battle.
Virginia’s father and sister-in-law accompany her as the family tries to establish itself in the Union capitol.
Times are hard for Virginia’s family as work is difficult to come by. Virginia’s father, a professional musician, cannot find a job and must turn to wood chopping to earn a meager living. Virginia’s sister-in-law is pregnant and the family anxiously awaits the birth.
When Virginia’s father is injured, she is forced to take a job as a domestic servant for fifty cents per day. Filled with frustration and envy the sole solace for Virginia rests in the fact that Mr. Lincoln, who she worships, is reelected. The Civil War appears to be winding down and the Dicken family, like so many others across the North, look forward to a victorious conclusion to the war.
When news comes of General Lee’s surrender the Dickens are thrilled. Sadly, only a few days later the assassination of President Lincoln throws a damper upon that joy.
The birth of Virginia’s nephew revitalizes the Dickens and leaves Virginia with the odd sensation that everything always changes. Near the end of this touching tale Virginia muses, “One day a great man dies. The next, a tiny baby is born. One day there’s rain. The next, the sun shines brightly.” This perspective comforts Virginia and affords readers an insight into the reality of change.
In this book a highly skilled writer has yet again offered readers young and old a story worth knowing. Mary Pope Osborn has a great feel for character development and storytelling. This book, and its predecessor, are both strong stories that readers will enjoy and remember.
2001, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14, $14.95. ISBN: 0-439-36904-5
Flying Free: Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary
Sharon Dennis Wyeth
In Freedom’s Wings author Sharon Dennis Wyeth introduced readers to young Corey Birdsong. In that book Corey and his family escaped from slavery at the hands of their master in Kentucky. The Birdsong family, inclusive of Corey’s parents and his younger sister Star, fled across the border to Canada.
There, in Amherstburg, Ontario the Birdsongs hope to begin a new life of freedom.
It is the experiences of Corey’s family in Canada that make up the bulk of this chapter in the Scholastic Press My America series.
Corey’s diary entries cover a variety of topics including the decent way in which Canadians greet the Birdsongs and other escaped slaves.
In Canada Corey’s family can strive to earn a living and buy land. However, they must constantly beware of slave catchers who sometimes cross over from Michigan or Ohio and drag escapees back to the United States & servitude. Indeed, at one particularly dramatic moment in Corey’s tale such a fate threatens young Star.
Another interesting development is news that reaches Corey that his friend, Mingo, from back in Kentucky, has also fled the old plantation.
Mingo tries to make his way to Canada and his friend. At a critical moment Corey is called upon to either help Mingo or leave him to his own devices. His choice has major consequences for Corey as this excellent novel in diary form concludes.
As was the case with Freedom’s Wings this is a fine work of historical fiction. Readers who enjoyed Ms. Wyeth’s earlier book about Corey and his family will also treasure this one.
2002, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14, $14.95. ISBN: 0-439-36908-8
The Journal of Rufus Rowe: A Witness to the Battle of Fredericksburg
In 1862 sixteen-year-old Rufus Rowe set out to find his way in the world. Rufus flees from his home in Virginia where his stepfather treats him with disdain.
Despite his love for his mother Rufus is determined to leave that abusive man behind him as he tries to find a new home.
After some wandering Rufus arrives in Fredericksburg, a historic and beautiful community on the Rappahannock River.
In Fredericksburg Rufus does succeed in securing a job and a place to live in a plantation house at the top of a gently rising hill.
There, at Brompton House on Marye’s Heights, young Rufus Rowe believes he will reestablish both his life and his happiness.
Little could he imagine the terror that was to descend upon his new home only a few short weeks later.
For, on a cold and gray day in December, the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of the blundering General Ambrose Burnside was to cross the Rappahannock and attack the very heights upon which Rufus was now living.
In what was to become the Battle of Fredericksburg Union artillery smashed the quiet town to bits while Federal infantrymen vainly attacked the Confederate defensive positions. Rufus records his experiences in a journal so that he will remember them in the future.
Yet, he does so fully realizing that, “Witnessing things you don’t want to remember is the price of being curious.”
In the end, Rufus comes away from the battlefield with memories that will be part of his experience from that day forward.
Rufus also makes friends with a wide range of people inclusive of a young girl, a redoubtable slave, and a Rebel soldier.
Throughout these wartime experiences young Rufus Rowe never loses both his Southern and realistic perspective. Ultimately, the Confederacy is defeated despite victories such as the one completed at Fredericksburg.
For Rufus Rowe the defeat of his nation by the Yankees is a hard blow but one he is resilient enough to survive.
Rufus makes peace with his mother and stepfather and, through this act or reunification within his family, mirrors the national reunion that followed four years of bloody civil war.
In presenting this simple story author Sid Hite does justice to the typically high quality of the Dear America series of which this volume is a part.
Readers will come away with a feeling of attachment to the fictional Rufus Rowe as well as a better understanding of one of the grimmest battles of the American Civil War.
2003, Scholastic, Ages 10 to 14, $10.95, ISBN: 0-439-35364-5
So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, MA 1847
For Mary Driscoll, life in her home town of Skibbereen, in Ireland’s County Cork, had taken a deadly turn.
Two years earlier, in 1845, a terrible blight had struck the local potato crop.
With the primary food source destroyed, many people across Mary’s homeland were struggling to survive. Receiving little to no help from the British government, thousands of Irish farmers were being evicted from their rented landholdings. In a nation of roughly nine million residents, within two years of the Potato Famine, about one million Irish people had perished from starvation while a further two million had emigrated to North America. Mary Driscoll, at the age of fourteen, was one such Irish immigrant. With her passage booked and paid for by her parents, Mary set off for Boston where her elder sister was already working as a house servant for one of the textile mill officials in Lowell, Massachusetts.
To get to Boston, Mary had to spend nearly two months onboard a rickety sailing ship.
En route to America, Mary saw people die of fever, struggle to find water, barely keep themselves fed, and generally suffer throughout the voyage.
Taken under the wing of a kind emigrant family, Mary finally arrived in Boston where she successfully underwent the immigration intake process and was admitted to a new country.
Mary’s aunt and sister picked her up and brought her to Lowell, a Massachusetts town on the Merrimack River which was becoming one of the leading manufacturing centers in what was emerging as the American Industrial Revolution.
At Lowell, Mary secured a job working in one of the large textile mills that were churning out fabric and making vast profits for their owners. As a “mill girl,” Mary had to endure long hours of backbreaking labor in dangerous and harsh conditions. Like the other “mill girls,” Mary had to inhale particulate fabric fibers, work in hot conditions without access to water, and take care that the machines did not damage her. Living in cramped tenement conditions, Mary saw the prejudice meted out to Irish immigrants by their less-than-welcoming American neighbors. Over time, Mary made a good friend, saved money to book her parent’s passage to America, and tried to cope with the crushing demands of factory work. Sadly, like so many Irish immigrants who hoped America would be a Garden of Eden, Mary Driscoll’s experiences were laced with sadness and difficulties. After learning that her parents had perished in the Great Famine, Mary became despondent but struggled to cope with life in a world she was unprepared for. In the epilog, readers will learn about Mary’s fate in America as well as information about the Irish immigrant experience leading up to the Civil War.
1997, Scholastic, Ages 10 and Up, $14.95, ISBN: 0-590-92667-5