Soldier Song: A True Story of Civil War by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Gilbert Fordreminds me of why I love (and need) non-fiction narratives. I wish it wasn't true, but my tastes in reading didn't mature and I need incentives like marvelous illustrations, superb writing and 32 page length books in order to make it through most non-fiction. Soldier Song: A True Story of Civil War delivers on all these marvelous qualities while also revealing a little know piece of history and that is also a reflection of what is best about humanity, especially in the midst of some of our worst moments.
With engaging text, Levy sets the stage, cluing readers into the details of the Civil War and the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Hoping to gain a "bold military victory over the rebels" a month before the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect in January of 1863, President Lincoln sends tens of thousands of troops to the Rappahannock River where they will cross and hopefully capture Fredericksburg, Virginia. While Levy keeps details of the devastating battle to a minimum, she is precise with her worlds and the losses are not forgotten. She uses excerpts from actual letters written by soldiers on both sides of the battle to help tell her story and crafts her story around a popular song of the time that somehow united both sides one crisp, cold night.
Setting the scene with details of the cold, hard, sometimes muddy ground where the soldiers on both sides of the war - and river - set up camp, Levy brings to life the long, dull time that could stretch between battles. She shares how, and which, songs called soldiers to different tasks and how the Union and Confederate sides had alternative lyrics for the song, "Dixie," something which I never knew. The song that brought the two sides together one cold winter night was, "Home, Sweet Home," a song I think I first heard in an old cartoon. The sides traded verses, the troops silent and listening, reminded of "all they hoped to see again." When the song ended, both sides cheered.
Levy ends her book in June of 1865, the war over, with a story aboard a riverboat bound for St. Louis, Missouri where soldiers from both sides are, once again, united in song. The backmatter adds more fascinating details about the Battle of Fredericksburg to the story. I especially liked the "Notable People at Fredericksburg" section and was surprised by the number of historical figures - poets, writers, artists and even Abner Doubleday, who went on to invent baseball - were there! Levy also includes a two page spread detailing the song itself, a timeline of the Civil War and a great bibliography with a "further reading" section.
Source: Review Copy