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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
The Boys' War

Murphy, Jim. 1990. THE BOYS' WAR. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0899198937.

Through photographs, letters home, diaries, and historical accounts, Jim Murphy weaves a frank and moving story of what it was like to be a boy soldier during the Civil War. After revealing in the first chapters that most boys joined to alleviate boredome and have "an exciting adventure" (p.8), Murphy details what being a soldier during these harrowing times really meant to a young man. Each chapter reveals almost chronologically what each soldier would have experienced during his enlistment. War preparations, the realities of battle, hunger, living conditions, and the way war changes a soldier are some of the topics that are examined in the chapters of The Boys' War.

The highlights of this well-researched book are the personal accounts excerpted from actual writings of boys that bring to life the situations Murphy is retelling. In chapter five, which is entitled "A Long and Hungry War," a letter from R. O. B. Morrow states "We are now permitted to get something to eat. I ran into a store, got hold of a tin wash pan, drew it full of molasses, got a box of good Yankee crackers, sat down on the ground in a vacant lot, dipped the crackers into the molasses, and ate the best meal I ever had." (p.49) Murphy is able to build a foundation through his research and then give the reader an authentic view through the soldiers' eyes using their own words from long ago.

Black and white photographs further expand the reader's view into the life of a boy soldier in the Civil War. The pictures correspond to the theme of each chapter and add more details to Murphy's text. Scenes such as camp life, portraits of the boys in full military regalia and lack thereof, and photos of the dead on the battlefields mesh well with Murphy's text.

Murphy not only focuses on the tangible facts of a soldier's life. He also spends time discussing the way the war changed a boy and his life after the war had concluded. Chapters seven and nine deal extensively with these issues. An afterword comments further on how history has treated the boys of the Civil War. A select bibliography and index are also included.

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