March Toward Thunder by Joseph Bruchac

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By Terri Hansen

News From Indian Country

 

In this book, Bruchac gives us a unique perspective of the Civil War as seen by a young Abenaki soldier

 

Fifteen-year-old Louis Nolette’s journey into the heroic battles of the Union Army begins when he meets up with a Union recruiting agent in New York, who wants to enlist him in the northern “Fighting 6th” Irish Brigade. Though young, the Abenaki Indian from Canada finds good reasons to join. The war to free the slaves touched his spirit. “How can one man own another? It seems slavery is what the battle ought be about.”

 

Then there was the promise of good pay; enough to buy his mother a horse to carry her heavy loads on the long walk to town, to buy a piece of land to raise his future family. Money made a good future possible and there was little chance of that; not from the baskets of the black ash trees his mother shared her spirit with. Even her skilled doctoring and birthing didn’t bring much cash, highly sought as she was. “M’Mere, she knows when the need for her is great. She shows up at the door just when some frantic husband, he is about to send for help.”

Those were good reasons, yet it was more than that. A proud uniform would bring to an end those insults, "Dirty Indians!"

 

But the realities of war are not pretty, he learns as he marches to Virginia in the campaigns of 1864. Yet the soldiers in his regiment, not one of them an Indian, become brothers he would give his life for. And along the way he is befriended by Artis, a young Mohawk.

 

Months later, badly wounded at Reams Station, he calls out to his mother before passing out. Days later he wakes in a dirty field hospital. But before his leg can be amputated his beloved M’mere, hearing his whispers through the trees reaches his side, traveling through four states to do so.

 

Back home, his health regained, he realizes looking across their fields bought with his soldiers pay, he never wants to see them turn into killing fields or Rebel camps. So it is, as he reads a letter from Artis, he whispers to the wind, “Be seeing you boys soon.”

 

Celebrated Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac based his story on his own great-grandfather Louis Bowman. Full of historical detail - and a memorable cast of characters - he credits his sister Marge Bruchac for her contributions with her always-dogged, careful research.

 

Before embarking on this book, I wondered how the author would describe the horrors of the Civil War to his intended audience, readers' age 10 up. However, even as many of Louis’ comrades die in some of the war’s major battles: Cold Harbor, the Crater, the Bloody Angle, the Wilderness, for the most part he describes them symbolically rather than graphically, leaving us instead with a rich human context of leadership, brotherhood, and a sense of right and wrong.

 

This novel will engage readers, with lessons about the Civil War. Teachers will appreciate it’s usefulness as a fact filled history of the War Between the States.

 

Dial Books (May 2008)

ISBN 978-0-8037-3188-2

304 p., includes author’s note.

About the Author: Joseph Bruchac grew up in a small town in the foothills of the Adirondacks not far from Saratoga Springs, New York. He was raised by his grandparents, who kept a little general store where Bruchac worked in his free time. He grew up hearing traditional stories and songs told by his grandparents and their friends, and from an early age he knew that he wanted to be a writer. He published his first book of stories in 1975. Bruchac has a Ph.D. from Union Graduate School, and his books have won many awards, including the Parents’ Choice Award, the American Book Award, and the Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multicultural Children’s Literature. Today Bruchac lives in New York in the same house in which he grew up. Besides writing books, Bruchac loves to write and perform songs in a musical group he formed with his sister and two grown sons. Visit him at: www.josephbruchac.com .


 

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