Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Journal of James Edmond Pease: A Civil War Union Soldier, Virginia 1863

The Journal of James Edmond Pease: A Civil War Union Soldier, Virginia 1863

Jim Murphy
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 1998   ISBN: 978-0590438148

James does not think that he is the right person to be given the job of keeping the company journal. After all he is not the most educated person in the group and certainly Corporal Bell is better at spelling. However, Lieutenant Toms does not give him a choice and reluctantly James does as he is told. So James does his best to keep “an accurate and honest account” of G Company of the 122nd Regiment, New York Volunteers, from Onondaga County in New York State. The Company are in central Virginia and because their Lieutenant is out of favor they are given very boring jobs to do – usually they have to protect the back of the supply train and they never see any action, a state of affairs which many of the men find very frustrating.

James passes the time by writing descriptions of the men in his group and by writing accounts of what takes place each day. Then, at last, G Company is sent into action and James gets a real taste for what war is like. His account makes it clear that the dominant feelings he experiences are fear, confusion, and horror. James sees his comrades die and he realizes how madness can take over in the heat of battle. He himself experiences this emotion – much to his embarrassment. Later still James is involved in a battle which goes horribly wrong for his side and he is for a while lost and on his own until he gets help from a most unexpected quarter.

Jim Murphy has created a truly charming main character in this very special work of historical fiction. James is delightfully naïve, modest, young, and honest with his feelings. James’ voice in his account paints a vivid portrait of himself and his world, helping the reader to see how chaotic Civil War battles were and how hard it was for the average soldier to understand what was going on. It is only after he has been a soldier for many months that James comes to appreciate one of the causes that he is fighting for.