Posts Tagged ‘my vicksburg’

“Landon,” I asked softly, “what’s wrong with Robert?”

“Took a minie ball in the shoulder at the Big Black River.”

I knew he was lying.

“But why is he so…”

“So what?”

“Like he’s carrying such a burden inside him?”

“You mean suspicious, mistrusting, and fearful?”


“He’s no coward.  Let’s get that straight now.  He does have a burden.  But I can’t tell what it is.  Patient-doctor relationship.”

“Oh, Landon.”

One more poke, this one harder.  “That’s all.  No more questions.  My God, look at those caves on that hillside.  What in the name of all that’s holy have they done to my Vicksburg?”

(from My Vicksburg, pages 38-39)

Claire Louise Corbet is a 13-year-old girl living a relatively carefree existence in Vicksburg, Mississippi, when the Civil War comes to her doorstep.  Ann Rinaldi brings the 47-day siege of Vicksburg, which took place from May 18-July 4, 1863, to life through Claire Louise’s eyes in My Vicksburg.  The Civil War not only divided a nation, but it also divided families.  Claire Louise’s father is a doctor and a major in the Confederate army, and tensions arise when her older brother, Landon, also a doctor, joins the Union army.  Landon’s decision strains the father-son relationship, and it also prompts his girlfriend, Sarah, to chop her hair short, have an identifying mole removed, and join the Confederate army as a man.

When the Union begins shelling Vicksburg, her father goes off to treat the wounded, and Claire Louise, her mother, and little brother, James, take refuge in a cave that her father had carved out for them in the hillside.  Unlike other, less prestigious families, the Corbet’s cave has running water and many of the comforts of home.  Yet the people are only able to move about freely when the Union soldiers cease shelling at regular intervals to take their meals.

In My Vicksburg, Claire Louise learns just how divisive war can be when her brother comes home with a wounded Confederate soldier.  Robert is pained not just from his injury but also from a burden he carries — a burden that has left Landon unsure of what to do.  Should he tend to Robert, then allow him to go free?  Or should he turn him over to the authorities as a prisoner, which would save Landon’s career and reputation but mean almost certain death for Robert?  Claire Louise befriends the young man and decides that she must take matters into her own hands, even if it means jeopardizing her relationship with her brother.

Rinaldi has become my go-to author for Civil War fiction because even though her novels are geared toward younger readers, I find them informative and exciting.  Her heroines are always strong and full of spunk, and they are always conflicted, flawed, and most importantly, real.  Claire Louise, as the only daughter, is unsure of her place in the family and unsure of her father’s feelings for her.  She wants to do something for the war effort, something big that she can tell her grandchildren about someday, so she braves the bloodiness and sickness in a local hospital to pen letters for wounded soldiers.  She has a fierce love for her older brother, but is willing to put their relationship on the line to stand up for what she believes in her soul is right.

However, I think Rinaldi tends to gloss over the issue of slavery, at least in My Vicksburg.  Maybe she tackles it in another novel, and maybe she didn’t want to broach the subject in this book, but I think it does a disservice to her younger readers to only portray white characters who treat their slaves respectably.  I’m sure there may have been whites who didn’t mistreat their slaves, but they were still slave owners.  Yet at the same time, I understand that Rinaldi is telling the story from the point of a young girl whose family owns slaves and that this is how she perceives things.  Nevertheless, in My Vicksburg, the house slaves are called “servants,” but from references about how her father bought them, it’s obvious they are slaves, though younger readers might not pick up on that and think they are just hired help.  They also are portrayed as being happy to help, with one particular slave asking permission to take on a paying job in order to earn money to help Robert.  I don’t know whether such a thing happened during that time, but it just didn’t seem authentic to me.

Still, My Vicksburg shows the hardships that the people endured during the siege, mainly how the Union won the town by essentially starving its people, and even while devising ways for the Corbets to be well fed, Rinaldi emphasizes how their neighbors weren’t so lucky.  She also shows how the war pitted loved ones against one another and forced people of all ages to make difficult decisions.  Moreover, Rinaldi doesn’t sugarcoat the trials and horrors of war, understanding that younger readers can handle such truths.  Given that I know so little about the Civil War, I love how, even as an adult, I can identify with her characters and learn about the war in manageable chunks so as not to be overwhelmed.  Rinaldi includes an author’s note at the end to separate fact from fiction, which always give me a push to do more research.  You can bet I’ll be reading more of Rinaldi’s work in the near future.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon
Amelia’s War

Disclosure: I borrowed My Vicksburg from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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