Reluctant Witnesses

Reluctant Witnesses: Children's Voices From The Civil War - Emmy E. Werner

*3.75 Stars*

* Quality of Writing - 7: Solid but not exemplary
* Pace - 7: Solid but did set down (for multiple reasons)
* Plot Development - 8: Very decent/only felt I lost thesis 1-2
* Characters - 7: Some I lost chapter to chapter; lots to keep up
* Enjoyability - 7.5: Not a light-hearted book/thought provoking
* Insightfulness - 10: A part of of the historical narrative that few look at/ using mostly primary sources
* Ease of Reading - 6/10 (middle ground of 8): hard to read but well written and not verbose
* Photos/Illustrations - 7: few but largely helpful to the text but poor quality
Final Score: 61.5/80 = 78%

*The Gush*
This was a well written, well thought out book about a part of Civil War history that few if any lay people think about. I even majored in history and much of the civilian point of view, never mind the boy soldiers, was new to me. The author chose to introduce the reader directly to the people involved by using most primary sources.

Primary sources are texts, etc from people who actually experienced the events. Direct quotes from diaries, letters, recordings nowadays, as well as artifacts from the time period count as this. Secondary sources come from people after the event writing about it. Newspapers and magazines are the most well known of these. Books also fall into this category. Tertiary sources are 'generalized surveys of a specific subject'. Encyclopedias, textbooks, etc.
A link to a good explanation of each of the different sources and how they should be used.

One of the best aspects of this book is the author's fairness to both sides in nearly every chapter. Both the North and South get a voice, many of them recounting kindness visited upon them from people on the opposite side. This helped to remind the reader that these were people, many of them good, who were facing harsh situations but did not let them consume them. The strength of these people was staggering, particularly when their ages are remembered; children and young adults confronting and standing against horrors that many adults found insurmountable.

Make no mistake, this is not an easy book to read. It is a short book in page length but many chapters will force you to stop and digest what you've read. The chapters concerning Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Atlanta, and particularly Andersonville were chapters where the book and I had to have periods of separation. This is a good book, a necessary book; it is not an easy book.

The epilogue of the book goes further. The author draws parallels between the circumstances of the children and young adults talked about during this book and what people have experienced in the years that have followed. Everything from child soldiers in modern warfare, Holocaust survivors, civilians experiencing modern warfare from WWII and on; the author shows how what you have just read gives insight into what people are going through today. The American Civil War was in many was the first modern war and how it affected the civilians is eerily similar to the wars that followed it.

*The Rant*
Very little I can say here. This is a solid book about a section of history few people even think about, never mind learn about. This, however, is NOT a children's book or even for most young adults. My father waited until I was an adult to suggest this book to me and I agree waiting. The things talked about are disturbing and every reader should know that going in. There is much good in this book but it is good shining through horribly situations. Ones that actually occurred.

This is a must read for Civil War historians, amateur and otherwise, as well as people interested in social history and civilian causalities in war - something the modern world seems to constantly experience. These words from the past resonate today loudly.



Reading Progress (from GR)


05/14/2013 page 37   19.0% "I love the amount of primary sources in this book."
05/14/2013 page 51   26.0% "Chapter 3: In some ways a hard chapter seeing how young people suffered through slavery and also suffered to gain permanent freedom. One of the hardest things to read concerned African-Americans who were in the border states which the Emancipation Proclamation did not touch. They were still slaves and several were treated worse as their owners feared their 'property' would be 'lost' next."
05/14/2013 page 59   30.0% "Chapter 4: I'd never even thought that the South would have taken the time to throw out their texts pre-Secession and write their own. Though teaching children math with how many Yanks 10 Confederates can kill is...ghoulish. The 'history' text written in 1863 was really intriguing as well. I love how the South was completely blameless-those evil Abolitionists and voting their friend Lincoln. Truth is so...fluid, no?"
05/14/2013 page 77   40.0% "Chapter 5: Seeing the Battle of Gettysburg from the point of view of the young civilians was eye opening. They'd had such normal lives that were blew apart by the devastation of war they witnessed first hand. Yet they and their families were kind to both sides and gave aid where they could."
05/15/2013 page 93   48.0% "I had never read about the siege of Vicksburg from the view of the civilians who experienced it. I have to try to find some of these journals, because just the excerpts were unbelievable. What these women and children lived through is mind-boggling."
05/15/2013 page 105   54.0% "Andersonville

I have no words."
05/16/2013 page 117   60.0% "Atlanta burning is familiar to all who've watched Gone With the Wind, but reading true accounts of people who experienced it was amazing. It's sad to think of all that death and destruction."
05/16/2013 page 133   69.0% "Chapter 9: The author does a good job of showing both sides of Sherman's March to the Sea. The people of Georgia and South Carolina have their say, but so too do people who experienced and/or showed kindness to the 'enemy'."