Every year dozens of new books about the Civil War are published aimed at younger readers as a target audience. What follows are concise reviews of twelve of these newer publications. In each case the intent is to offer potential purchasers a quick look at the content and value of some of these new offerings. It should never be forgotten that a primary means whereby an interest in the Civil War can be cultivated in youngsters is through introducing them to the many fascinating men, women, and stories that are part and parcel of the conflict. Books serve as a vital tool for understanding and enjoyment available to help younger readers to appreciate the gravity and importance of the Civil War. Hopefully a few of these publications will appeal to readers and serve as jumping off points or enhancements to the reading selections given to youngsters.
Living Through the Civil War
The difficulty in writing a concise, single-volume history of a topic such as the Civil War is that the scope of the endeavor can lead to a watered down end product. In this volume author Bob Rees attempts such a project and ends up producing a fine look back at many aspects of the American Civil War. In Living Through the Civil War readers are offered a concise overview of the major political and military events that made up this pivotal era in American history. Throughout this illustrated book the author offers not only insights into the chronology of the conflict but also human interest aspects as well. While the pages dedicated to re-telling the stories of battles such as Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Antietam are extremely short, Rees offers some wonderful insights via primary source materials into the lives of common soldiers. Periodic spotlights on specific topics such as women in the war, camp life, and the role of African-American troops are all reinforced by extensive quotations from firsthand accounts. In fact, the most stirring pages include the words of soldiers and civilians who contributed to the course of events during the war. Additionally, Rees provides readers a useful listing of resources including books, DVDs, websites, and potential Google searches. This combination of taut narrative, primary source information, and resource options makes this a worthwhile purchase.
BIBLIO: 2012, Capstone, $36.50, Ages 10 Up.
Vehicles of the Civil War
The Civil War was a modern conflict waged with technologically advanced weaponry and fought with outdated tactics fit more for the Napoleonic era. Among the more up-to-date innovations were a number of military vehicles including things such as ironclad fighting vessels, armored trains, and military balloons. It is these vehicular advancements that are featured in this chapter in the illustrated War Vehicles series. As is the case with other books in this well organized set, Vehicles of the Civil War focuses on the most widely used implements of the war. For example, the most widely used “vehicle” of the Civil War was horses. During the Civil War millions of horses and mules were used as part of cavalry detachments, to pull artillery pieces, or simply to transport the impediment and materials of war. It is estimated that over 1.5 million horses and mules perished during a war that was hard on all living things. Among the other vehicles presented in this informative little book are various locomotives, wagons, ambulances, ships, and submarines that the opposing forces used. In the end, over 600,000 human beings lost their lives in a war that pitted family members against one another. Pete Delmar’s concise look at vehicles of this 19th century conflict will appeal to readers interested in either the Civil War or military machines in general.
BIBLIO: 2014, Capstone Press, $27.32, Ages 10 to 14,
The Split History of the Battle of Gettysburg
On July 1-3, 1863 the armies of Generals Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade clashed in a meeting engagement at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At the conclusion of that historic battle, the Union had gained a hard fought victory. Confederate forces were compelled to retreat back to Virginia after suffering over 28,000 casualties. The victorious Union Army was also battered and bloody having experienced 23,000 casualties as well. Gettysburg remains the costliest and most storied single engagement of the entire American Civil War. In this unusually formatted publication, author Stephanie Fitzgerald presents dual perspectives of the battle. The “split history” approach involves telling the story from opposing perspectives while actually flipping the printed format of the book at the midpoint. In this way the reader can begin the narrative from the position of one or the other side and then literally flip the book over to experience the opposing side’s viewpoint. In terms of the writing, this is a standard history of the battle. Written with a journeyman’s hand, the Battle of Gettysburg is recounted in a fairly typical manner with a primary focus on the leadership figures who commanded on those long gone days. In the end the writing and unusual format are reasonably successful but seem somewhat gimmicky in nature. This result makes this history book an adequate if not noteworthy account of the costliest battle of the Civil War.
BIBLIO: 2014, Compass Point Books, $33.32, Ages 10 to 14
A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery
In October 1859 John Brown led a force of twenty-one men into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown was a noted abolitionist firebrand whose lifelong opposition to slavery was more than fervid. Brown’s intention was to seize the Federal Armory located in Harpers Ferry and use those weapons to support a slave uprising that he hoped would occur. Unfortunately, Brown’s planning was amazingly slipshod and resulted in his force being trapped in the engine house that stood near the arsenal building. First local residents and then U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee besieged Brown and his men. Then, after Brown refused to surrender, the Federal troops stormed the engine house and killed or captured all but five of his men who escaped only to be captured at a later date. However, despite Brown’s defeat and eventual execution his actions were a direct contributor to the start of the American Civil War, a conflict that ultimately swept away the institution of slavery he so thoroughly hated. The life and times of John Brown, as well as the rise and fall of slavery in the United States of America, are the subject of this outstanding historical work. Albert Marrin is a fine historian who possesses a particular eye for capturing the essence of past events without losing sight of the human elements involved. Those traits are on ample display in this well written, carefully researched, and reflective look back at a controversial figure in American history. This book is first rate historical writing that will help younger and older readers to understand one of the most impactful series of events in American history and John Brown’s contribution to them.
BIBLIO: 2014, Alfred A. Knopf, $19.99, Ages 10 Up
Civil War Spies
During the Civil War spies served both the Union and Confederate causes. In some cases, the work of these clandestine warriors remains unrecorded by historians. In other instances, spies and their individual contributions have been widely documented and remain a fascinating part of the story of the American Civil War. In this illustrated work author Craig Sodaro recounts the exploits of nine specific Civil War spies. In some cases, such as Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Belle Boyd, and Pauline Cushman, the people Sodaro presents to his readers are fairly well known. In other instances spies such as Archie Rowland, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Spencer Brown, Lottie and Ginnie Moon, and Thomas Conrad will be less familiar to the reading audience. In all cases readers will come away from reading this informative book with a richer understanding of the dangerous work that spies did during the Civil War. Not every one of the featured spies survived the war but all of them made a bravehearted contribution to the respective war efforts. In addition, readers will learn a great deal about the tools of the trade used by spies during the mid-nineteenth century inclusive of codes, disguises, and misdirection. This is a well written book that tells the stories of men and women who risked everything to gain information for causes they deeply believed in.
BIBLIO: 2014, Capstone, $31.32, Ages 9 to 14
American Adventures: The Battles
Trinka Hakes Noble & Lisa Papp
Illustrated by Robert Papp
American history is laced with the amazing stories of the men, women, and children whose daily lives make of the fabric of that saga. In this little book three stories, written by two authors, are presented to tell anecdotal pieces of the military history of the United States. In The Scarlet Stocking Spy young Maddy lives in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. She and her brother play childhood games which expand into actual spying on the British foes. These “games” become quite real and exact a cost Maddy could never have dreamed of. In The Town that Fooled the British the quick thinking of one lad, Henry, helps save both his father and his home town of St. Michaels, Maryland from destruction at the hands of the British Navy during the War of 1812. Finally, in The Last Brother, Gabe, a Union Army bugler from Pennsylvania, discovers during the Battle of Gettysburg that the Civil War is far more complex then he thought when he and his brother enlisted. Told with passion and an eye for historical detail, this trio of tales will serve its readers well. History can be told in an arid, fact-filled way, or as the story of people’s individual and collective lives. These short stories reflect the later approach and leave behind not only facts and figures but also the emotional resonance that history truly contains. In addition, the colorful illustrations of Robert Papp are both lovely and supportive of the narrative in ways that deepen the reader’s experience.
BIBLIO: 2013, Sleeping Bear Press, $9.99, Ages 9 to 14
Blast to the Past: Lincoln’s Legacy
Stacia Deutsch & Rhody Cohon
Illustrated by David Wenzel
For Abigail, Monday mornings are great. She loves school and in particular having Mr. Caruthers as her third grade teacher. Mr. C. makes learning fun and almost always races into class on the first day of the school week a little late and very rumpled. One day Mr. C. starts off his history lesson with an interesting question for the class, “What if Abraham Lincoln quit and never issued the Emancipation Proclamation?” After the class discussion Mr. C. asks Abigail and three of her classmates, Zack, Jacob, and Bo to join him after school. When they meet Mr. C. reveals an amazing fact; he can travel in time and that very morning he tried and failed to convince President Lincoln not to quit. Now, it is up to Abigail and her classmates to go back in time and get Mr. Lincoln to snap out of his doldrums long enough to free the slaves. Armed only with their handheld time travel computer and their wits these plucky third graders set out to keep history flowing in the right direction. Will they be able to convince President Lincoln to stay the course? Can they make sure that freedom reigns in the United States? Will they be able to avert a catastrophic shift in the space time continuum? These and other questions will be answered in this fast paced and highly readable time travel tale. Lincoln’s Legacy kicks off a new series of time travel books that, if this publication is a representative sample, should tickle the fancy of younger readers. Combining historical accuracy, sturdy dialog, and just enough humor, Lincoln’s Legacy is a quick read that should entertain as well as inform its audience.
BIBLIO: 2013, Aladdin, $5.99, Ages 8 to 10
Until the Last Spike: The Journal of Sean Sullivan, A Transcontinental Railroad Worker Nebraska and Points West, 1867
“I can see two railroads rushing toward each other and into history, leaving an army of pick-and-shovel men behind.” With these words Sean Sullivan looked back on the two year long experience of a lifetime that he had working for the Union Pacific during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Sean was fifteen years old when he came west to join his father who was a foreman with the railroad. It was only two years since the bloody Civil War had been settled and many of the men working on this vast project, including Sean’s father, were veterans of that conflict. Sean began his work as a water boy and, over time, held many jobs culminating with his being a skilled “spiker.” While building what was to become one of the most amazing engineering and endurance projects of American history, Sean saw unforgettable sights. Winter blizzards with forty foot deep drifts, plummeting gorges that had to be bridged, buffalo herds that stretched to the horizon, and the vast Western Plains all were part of Sean’s two-year assignment. Along the way Sean also saw the effects of greed, racism, and exploitation as hundreds of men died during the construction of the railroad. In the end Sean and his father survived their great adventure and went on to work for the railroads of America in a variety of capacities but nothing ever quite came up to the two years spent racing west during the construction of one of the most amazing railroads in human history. Taking the form of Sean’s fictional journal, Until the Last Spike is an outstanding work of historical fiction. Originally published in 1999 as part of the Dear America series, this paperback republication will serve its readers well by telling a story that features superior writing that enables history to come alive.
BIBLIO: 2013, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14, $5.99
The Battle of Gettysburg remains one of the most pivotal events in American history. From July 1-3, 1863, the armies of generals Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade fought in a battle that would result in over 50,000 casualties. Across those three days locations such as Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, and Cemetery Ridge all became places where blood was shed and history made. After the crushing repulse of Pickett’s Charge on the last day of the battle, General Lee had to admit defeat. As the Confederates retreated they took with them the last real hope of a military victory in the Civil War. While the war would last nearly two more years, never again would Confederate soldiers really possess the strength to utterly defeat their Federal foes in a strategic manner. The Battle of Gettysburg is the topic of this illustrated work and it is one that is handled in an informative manner. Combining a clear headed narrative with many photos, maps, and striking artwork, this is a fine introduction to a battle that truly changed history.
BIBLIO: 2013, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 10, $9.95
Civil War Witness: Matthew Brady’s Photos Reveal the Horrors of War
The renowned Civil War photographer Matthew Brady once wrote, “The camera is the eye of history.” In many ways Brady’s words were both true and prophetic. In 1861 when the America Civil War broke out, the art of photography was in its relative infancy. Only a few years earlier the first photos were taken using equipment that is far surpassed in the modern era by any person possessing a camera ready cell phone. At the dawn of the war Brady became a leader in the efforts to record the people, places, and things that were part of the bloodiest conflict in American history. During the war years Brady combined his determination and artistic mindset to either directly, or through the good work of his many hired photographers, to chronicle the war in a manner hitherto unheard of in history. By war’s end, Brady and his minions had taken over 6,000 photographs of soldiers, battlefields, commanders, common folk, and the dead. To Brady’s surprise, this vast accumulation of images never did result in his earning a living. Brady died a poor, lonely, and unhealthy man, reliant upon the charity of others. However, as Don Nardo details in this fascinating look back at a great photographer, Brady’s legacy was an amazing one. Anyone who has studied the Civil War, watched Ken Burns’ seminal documentary, or simply had a passing interest in this conflict will have gazed upon some of Brady’s work. Through the use of a new technology in the form of photography, Matthew Brady not only honed his craft but also left behind a visual legacy of a time period that shaped American history in a fundamental way. This legacy is well handled in Don Nardo’s well written and amply illustrated look back at one of the fathers of modern photography.
BIBLIO: 2013, Compass Point Books, $33.99, Ages 10 Up
Ocean of Fire; The Burning of Columbia, 1865
T. Neill Anderson
In February of 1865 the residents of Columbia, South Carolina were facing a dire situation. The Union army of General William Tecumseh Sherman was marching toward their city with destructive intent. Sherman’s troops had already taken Atlanta, burned that city to the ground, and marched into South Carolina leaving a swath of burnt ground behind them along the way. In the face of such facts Columbia’s inhabitants feared for the survival of their homes and their very lives. Once Sherman arrived a great conflagration did occur and approximately half the city was reduced to ashes. To this very day the causes of the burning of Columbia remain controversial. Some writers blame Sherman for specifically ordering the firing of the town. Others point toward fires set by retreating Confederate forces. Still other scholars point toward a combination of drunken Union soldiers, ill discipline in the Federal army, and fires started by Confederate troops that naturally spread. Whatever the causation, Columbia burned and its people suffered. In Ocean of Fire T. Neil Anderson tells the story of the burning of Columbia via historical fiction. Anderson populates his novel with actual figures who lived through, and later wrote about, their experiences during the firing of Columbia. Anderson then takes those actual Columbians and attempts to tell the story of the historical events with his own slant on things. The end result is a rather tedious affair that presents his audience with shallowly drafted characters who behave in ways that can barely hold the reader’s interest. The burning of Columbia was an event filled with drama and pathos. Sadly, despite rich material to work with, this telling of Columbia’s devastation is one that lacks focus, energy, and substance.
BIBLIO: 2014, MTM Publishing, Inc., $16.95, Ages 12 Up
Divided We Fall
C. Alexander London
Andrew is a twelve-year-old boy who deeply believes in loyalty. Andrew is loyal to his family, his hound dog named Dash, and the Confederate States of America. Living in Meridian, Mississippi, Andrew is too young to go off and fight for the Confederacy like his older brother, Julius, has already done. Instead he and Dash help the home guard patrol the area searching for deserters and generally enforcing what they viewed as the law. While working with the home guard Andrew comes to question the correctness of taxing poor farmers, shooting deserters, and generally oppressing the local population. Then word comes to Andrew’s family that Julius is missing in action. With Yankee soldiers marching through the surrounding countryside, Andrew takes Dash and goes in search of his brother. When the two brothers meet Andrew is surprised by what he learns from Julius about the true nature of war. This lesson is reinforced by subsequent battlefield experiences that reveal to Andrew that fighting is not what he thought it would be and that all life is fleeting. As part of the Dog Tags series Divided We Fall concentrates on the impact warfare has on young people. As with other books in the series, canine companions play a leading role in the narrative. Through sometimes grimly realistic descriptions of combat readers are given a fair picture of what it means to be a soldier. While there are several plot artifices that are at best coincidental, Divided We Fall tells an interesting story and one that will cause its readers to reflect on their own beliefs.
BIBLIO: 2013, Scholastic, $5.99, Ages 10 to 14
-By Greg M. Romaneck