HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg
Author: Alida Sims Malkus
Illustrator: Leonard Vosburgh
Publisher: Dover Publications, reprinted in 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1258099015 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1258099012 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0486492612 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0486492613 (Paperback)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 – 14
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Malkus, Alida Sims. We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg (published in 1955 by Grosset and Dunlap, New York City, NY). It is the summer of 1863, during the American Civil War. Thirteen year old Jonathan Blayne and his twelve year old younger sister Mary Lee are orphans. Their father had been killed in the Texas border fighting, and their Virginia-born mother died of grief shortly afterwards, so they are living with their Grandpa and Grandma Blayne on their farm less than half a mile from Gettysburg, PA, just north of the Chambersburg Turnpike. Something is going on in the area. General Jubal Early’s Confederate soldiers have gone right through town on their way to Harrisburg. Rumors abound that more Southern troops are headed towards Gettysburg and several Northern armies under General John Buford are doing likewise. A large number of people are leaving town, but not the Blaynes. They are not afraid of fighting. Grandpa, now eighty, had fought in the War of 1812, both in Canada and at New Orleans. His father had fought in the American Revolution.
Just before the battle starts, Johnny is asked to take a wagon load of supplies to the Union camp, but then the fighting starts, and on his way back home he is captured by the Rebs. He escapes, but is then mistaken for a drummer boy and goes with a unit of Northerner troops into the battle. Of course, anyone who has read history knows what happened at Gettysburg, but what will happen to Johnny? Will he survive, or will he be killed? And what will happen to Grandpa, Grandma, and Mary Lee? This is the kind of exciting, well-written historical fiction that makes (or used to make) history really come alive for kids. General Robert E. Lee, President Abraham Lincoln, and other historical figures appear. It is too bad that publishers don’t seem to produce action-packed, accurate stories like this anymore. A few common euphemisms (blamed, danged) occur, and one Southern soldier uses the term “Damyanks” but immediately apologizes to Grandma. Aside from a couple of references to tobacco, there is nothing else objectionable.
Be aware that this is a book about war, so there are descriptions of killing and death, but they are stated in matter of fact manner without going into any gory and gruesome detail, so that the violence depicted is not gratuitous. While the Blaynes are obviously supporters of the Union, the book is even-handed in presenting both sides of the conflict. Grandpa Blayne tells the children, “The Southern army that fought here was as brave as the world has ever seen. And some of the finest gentlemen, whose like the world shall not see again, fell here.” The “We Were There” books are a series of historical novels written for children, consisting of 36 titles, and released between 1955 and 1963. The first one was We Were There on the Oregon Trail by William O. Steele (1955). The second was We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was followed by We Were There at the Boston Tea Party by Robert N. Webb (1956). The last of the series was We Were There with Lincoln in the White House by Earl Schenck Miers (1963).