My Vicksburg, by Ann Rinaldi; Harcourt
Children’s Books: New York, 2009; $16
Fourteen-year-old Claire Louise Corbet has always lived a life of medicine because her brother and papa are both doctors. Now more than ever there are hospitals, sickness and injuries around her. Claire Louise is living in the Civil War battle of Vicksburg. During the battle, most families of Vicksburg are living in dugout cave homes. Claire Louise’s cave serves as a home for Mama, herself, and her little brother James, while her older brother and papa are serving in the army. The fighting is so heavy that people can only leave their caves or houses during the Yankees’ breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. To occupy these days, everyone, including Claire Louise, must find something to do.
My favorite part of the story, even though it is not the main theme, is Claire Louise’s work at the hospital. This might be because I want to be a doctor, or it might be because my uncle and grandfather are doctors. Either way, I think the hospital part of My Vicksburg is very impressive.
After visiting the hospital with her brother, Claire Louise decides that she would like to contribute her time to helping the wounded soldiers. Claire Louise decides to visit the hospital twice a week and write letters for the injured Brave Boys, as her mama calls them.
When Claire Louise goes to the hospital she walks across town to the makeshift tent. The environment at the hospital is very different from her regular life. Many men are wounded, amputated, bleeding, and sad. Some are even dead. The nurses sometimes move these dead soldiers to keep the wounded men’s spirits high. The first time she goes to the hospital, Claire Louise is scared by all the injuries.
Claire Louise decides to keep coming despite her fright because she is dedicated to the help she is providing. At the hospital people are glad to see her. The sight of a young girl rouses hope in many soldiers. Sometimes Claire Louise does favors along with her task of letter writing. At one point in the story, she brings sweet potatoes to a soldier because he is hungry.
Claire Louise’s main duty is to write down the words of the wounded. Many letters are written to wives, mothers, and children, saying that all will be well and that they loved their family very, very much. One soldier, dying of typhoid, asked Claire Louise to record his words to his wife. He then loudly recited an epic love letter, saddening both nurses and other soldiers.
Although this story took place long ago, I think it has many similarities with 2010. People still want to help out just like Claire Louise did. In our time with the Iraq War we could use some of the lessons Claire Louise learned. Because our war is so far away, many people feel there is nothing we can do to help. Yes, it is true young girls can’t visit army hospitals, but we can write to those serving, say thank you, or connect ourselves other ways. The soldiers will appreciate anything anyone does.
By the age of fourteen Claire Louise had undergone conflict in her country, her city, even in her family. This is a story about facing conflicts, growing up, and learning lessons. Claire Louise lived 150 years ago but there are things we can relate to today. Whether you are interested in historical fiction, working out conflicts, medicine, or the Civil War, you can find something worthwhile in My Vicksburg.