March Toward The Thunder by Joseph Bruchac 2008
IQ "Of course, I do not need it as a reminder of what war is about. I have seen too often that it is not conquering armies, but boys like yourself toiling in the rain and darkness with no thought of pride or glory or reward, their faces bathed in tears and their hands in blood." Clara Barton, pg. 279
"Get down!" Oh wait, hello 2009. *blinks and looks around*. You mean, it's not 1864 and I'm not fighting on the side of the Union in the Civil War? How odd. That is the effect March Toward The Thunder will have on you. I got so caught up in every single moment, I tore through the book at a rapid pace. I honestly, completely forgot that I don't live in 1864, I'm not a soldier and I'm not Abenaki or Irish. This book is also a good example of a book that is not very quotable but still wonderful.
March Toward The Thunder is the story of Private Louis Nolette. Lous is a fifteen year old Canadian Abenaki Union soldier. He joins the Fighting 69th which was known as the Irish Brigade. The Irish Brigade is legendary for their extraordinary courage. This book does a wonderful job of introducing readers to the Civil War. It's not chock-full of tedious facts, but instead full of riveting events concerning the effects the Civil War had on people, the battles, the daily life of a soldier and stereotypes. You will not get bored in reading this book.
I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable Civil War buff, but I learned so much I didn't know. It just goes to show you can ALWAYS learn more. I was attracted to this book because I realized that I'd never heard or learned anything about the roles Native Americans played in the Civil War (Black Angels was the first time I read anything about the role of Native Americans in the Civil, in which Betty Strong Foot is a double agent who doesn't care as to which side wins the war). I wanted to know whose side where they on? Why did they fight for the side they did? This book obviously can't speak to the reasons as to why every single Native American soldier fought, but I think it did a good job of explaining some of the motives.In the book, Louis joins the 69th Regiment because he believes that slavery is wrong, he wants respect from White Americans and he needs the money. I knew a little bit about the Irish Brigade's reputation, and it was an absolute delight reading about them. The regiment had a feeling of family and I could hear the lilting voice of Irish accents and see all these white boys sitting around a fire making fun of the lone Indian (whom they nicknamed 'Chief'), but all out of good-natured teasing. They all had great nicknames (Songbird, Joker, Bad Luck Bill, etc) and there was a real sense of family. They were also so brave and ferocious. The book offered an excellent portrait of how hard life was not as a soldier (little food, awful uniforms, terrible living conditions, etc). I learned about the types of soldiers everyone hated and envied (cavalrymen) and all the terms that the army uses.
Also, I loved how Louis either met the most famous people from the Civil War or was in the thick of many battles. He meets Abraham Lincoln, Clara Baron, General Ely S. Parker (the first Seneca, [well really the first and only high-ranking Native American], Union general AND chief of his people. Sadly, he's someone that is not taught about in history class). He fights in the battles of Cold Harbor, the Wilderness and is at The Crater.
The book also portrays how tough life was for Native American and African American soldiers. The Native American soldiers were either thought of as African American or made fun of sometimes in a light-hearted manner, sometimes in a mean-spirited manner. The incompetence of generals on both sides as well as their cruelty made me cringe. All the characters were three-dimensional. You could see everyone, hear them and sympathize with their plight. There were surprises that were very well concealed.
When I finished this book, I had a much greater appreciation for the sacrifices of all soldiers, especially those who fought in the Civil War. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the brave men and women who have fought and are currently fighting to protect America's wonderful people and freedom. I also had even more respect for Native American soldiers and Irish soldiers. As Louis said, "I may come out of this more Irish than Abenaki." I think I came out of this book, feeling more Irish AND Abenaki. I highly recommend this book, it's not too violent so it's a good start into the Civil War for younger, middle-school readers. However, it's also an excellent read for high school students because you can still learn about events and people you may not learn about in history class and you can use it later on (I certainly will be sharing my new-found knowledge since my U.S. History class is almost at the Civil War). A Must Read, even if you don't like historical fiction. Joseph Bruchac, you have a new fan. I can't wait to start CodeTalker!