September 14, 2011

History by Threes: The Civil War

In this History By Threes post, we're going to deep-dive into the Civil War. Here are three of my favorite Civil War titles.

My Name Is Mary Sutter is a novel by Robin Oliveira. The titular character, Mary Sutter, is a talented midwife in 1860s Albany, New York. Mary is smart, stubborn, and determined to become a surgeon. As the Civil War breaks out she sees her opportunity, and leaves behind her siblings (and recently widowed mother) to go to Washington DC to serve as a nurse in the understaffed Union hospitals. She hopes that by proving her skill as a nurse she will be able to convince a doctor to train her as a surgeon. This book offers a gripping perspective on a less-familiar side of the Civil War: the dearth of doctors and primitive medical conditions that wounded soldiers had to suffer through. Mary's voice is real and engrossing, and the pages fly by. I would warn squeamish readers, however, that there are graphically detailed scenes of childbirth and amputation. I listened to this on audiobook, and I highly recommend the audio version, it's really well done.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that went on during Abraham Lincoln's presidency. The book opens with the 1860 presidential election, discussing the nomination schemes of men such as William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. When, to everyone's surprise, the almost unknown Abraham Lincoln gets the nomination, and eventually wins the election, he proves his greatness by choosing all of those men--his former rivals--to serve in his cabinet.

The rest of Team of Rivals follows Lincoln's presidency and his interactions with his cabinet through the various phases of the Peninsular, his son's illness and tragic death, his wife's growing strangeness, and his own determination to pass the Emancipation Proclamation. Goodwin also offers surprisingly prescient parallels to today--when another Illinois lawyer with little previous experience sits in the White House in a time of war. The book is almost heartrending in its inevitable march toward Lincoln's assassination--and I can't help but wonder how different Reconstruction might have been if Lincoln had been able to heal the nation as he wished. I really can't overemphasize how much I liked this book!

Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt, is a child's perspective on the agony of war. Jethro Creighton is nine years old when the Civil War begins. By the time it ends, five Aprils later, he will be a teenager, and he will have lost both his innocence and some family members.

Jethro is the youngest of a large family. He and his brothers, cousins, and father all work the farm together. Within months of war breaking out Jethro is the only "man" working the farm, and Jethro's dreams of more education are in the past. He and his sister learn their lessons together in the evening by reading the newspaper. Their history is the history of the war, their geography the battle maps that the papers publish. Written in a Southern Illinois dialect, this book is haunting fiction and also excellent history. It offers specifics of many battles, as Jethro's brothers write to him about the battles they've been in, and gives the reader a glimpse of how hard life was for an average, mostly uneducated, farming family in the 1860s.

We read this book in fifth grade, and I remember loving it. I just re-read it a few weeks ago, and I was still impressed by how good it is. Although it's geared at older children it's enjoyable as an adult--Jethro's voice is both believable and poignant, and I actually teared up several times. I think it might almost be more tragic as an adult because you can see the sadness in how Jethro lost his youth too quickly. As a kid I just remember being amazed by how he worked all day!

To win a copy of Across Five Aprils for yourself, leave a comment telling me your favorite book about the Civil War. 

Or, if you don't have one, tell me what book has recently made you cry?

Update: the giveaway is closed: the winner was commenter #9, Molly! Congratulations Molly!

All book images/titles are Amazon affiliate links. If you use the link to buy the book on Amazon, I will get a small referral fee. Thanks for supporting Quirky Bookworm

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other History by Threes posts too!
Tudor England
Colonial New England