Before the Creeks Ran Red

Overview

A tattered flag above Fort Sumter . . . riots in the streets . . . Union troops occupying private homes and harassing citizens . . . The months before the first major battle of the Civil War were marked by confusion, deep emotion, and bitter divisions between families, neighbors, and friends. Timothy Donovan, a bugler at Fort Sumter; Joseph Schwartz, a scholarship student from a working-class family in Baltimore; and Gregory Howard, son of a wealthy man in Alexandria, Virginia, all find their loyalties challenged...

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Overview

A tattered flag above Fort Sumter . . . riots in the streets . . . Union troops occupying private homes and harassing citizens . . . The months before the first major battle of the Civil War were marked by confusion, deep emotion, and bitter divisions between families, neighbors, and friends. Timothy Donovan, a bugler at Fort Sumter; Joseph Schwartz, a scholarship student from a working-class family in Baltimore; and Gregory Howard, son of a wealthy man in Alexandria, Virginia, all find their loyalties challenged by the gathering storm. For Timothy, the threat of bombardment by rebel troops, coupled with a near-starvation diet in a garrison that is under siege, forces him to question what it really means to lay down one's life for one's flag. Joseph's family is fiercely Unionist, but his privileged classmates — including his one real friend — are staunchly in favor of secession. And Gregory's Unionist father has disinherited Gregory's older brother, who, like the rest of the family, remains loyal to the South.

Shades of Gray author Carolyn Reeder shows the complexities of life in a time of fear, excitement, and overwhelming change in these three interlinked stories about the months before the first major battle of the Civil War.

Through the eyes of three different boys, three linked novellas explore the tumultuous times beginning with the secession of South Carolina and leading up to the first major battle of the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Carolyn Reeder, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for her Civil War novel Shades of Gray, now focuses on the months between South Carolina's secession and the war's first major battle in Before the Creeks Ran Red. The story unfolds in three novellas told from the perspective of a diverse trio of boys from South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. The three don't know one another, but their separate stories make for mounting drama and help explain the reasons behind the conflict. A historical postscript answers the question "How much of this book is true?"
Children's Literature
Not much historical fictional is set in the time period preceding the Civil War. This book, which consists of three stories narrated by young men embroiled in the oncoming conflict, is an attempt to fill that void. The first story relates an account of Timothy Donovan, bugler with the United States Army, which is under siege at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the site of the first battle of the war. Joseph Schwartz's story details the days of unrest within the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Joseph is a young scholar from the poor side of the tracks, who finds himself in the precarious position of being a Unionist in a class filled with Secessionists. The third and best story relates the tenuous circumstances of the Howard family of Alexandria, Virginia. Gregory Howard sides with his siblings and mother, all staunch Secessionists. Greg's father believes in preserving the Union at all costs, even if it means disowning his son when he joins the Confederate army. In all three anecdotes, surprisingly brief space is given to the issue of slavery. Rather—and this may well be the historically accurate view—economical and political issues, especially the issue of States to decide their fate independent of Federal interference, are portrayed as the underlying causes of the bloody conflict. 2003, HarperCollins,
— Christopher Moning
From The Critics
Author Carolyn Reeder offers three tightly-focused snapshots of teen boys trying to understand the purposes of the impending Civil War, and their own individual beliefs about the Union and the Confederacy. The first story, set at Fort Moultrie and then Sumter, S.C., features orphan Timothy Donovan, a bugler, who matures through dangerous situations and both positive and negative treatment from adult soldiers. The second account moves the reader to Baltimore and presents Joseph Schwartz, a poor student, on scholarship in an academy with boys from wealthy families. Joseph must come to terms with his loyalties through fights and mob scenes between the unionists and the rebels. Gregory Howard in the third story, unlike the other two previous boys, is of a privileged Virginia family. Still, he also grapples with local events and conflicts leading up to the war. In a style bound to be appealing to middle schoolers, Reeder creates her youthful characters in turmoil in ways that will reflect the lives of today's youth, while accurately portraying a brief historical period not often addressed in depth in Civil War literature. The author's unusual structure of this novel and her use of dialogue, interior monologue, sparse description, and authentic dialects will surely engage young readers. 2003, HarperCollins Publishers, 370 pp., Ages young adult.
—Marjorie M. Kaise
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-The tense months between December, 1860 and July, 1861 are portrayed in three related stories about three 14-year-olds caught up in the beginnings of the Civil War. Orphan Timothy Donovan counts himself lucky to have traded a dreary apprenticeship for the trim blue uniform of a U.S. Army bugler, but his comfortable post in Charleston becomes deadly when South Carolina secedes and turns rebel guns against the harbor forts. In Maryland, Joseph Schwartz, gifted son of German immigrants, is doing well as a scholarship boy at an exclusive Baltimore school. His biggest problem is hiding his working-class status from the wealthy students, until war fever and peer pressure force him to decide whether he truly believes in the Union. For Gregory Howard, national tensions are mirrored painfully within his loving family in Alexandria, VA. His father stubbornly remains a loyal Unionist while Gregory, his mother, and siblings welcome secession and despise the Federal troops occupying their city. Each story includes convincing period details, and the three protagonists emerge as credible individuals struggling to be true to themselves in times of fear and uncertainty. The author includes two short sections of historical notes that will be useful for classroom discussion and for readers curious about how much of the book is factual.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
O’Dell Award-winner Reeder (Shades of Gray, 1990) returns to the Civil War era with three connected stories of boys coming of age as their county is about to do the same. Timothy Donovan is at Fort Sumter as the secessionist fervor mounts across the harbor. Being a bugler for the First United States Artillery is preferable to being a printer’s apprentice, as he was back in New York. But now, with war brewing, Timothy isn’t so sure of what he’s gotten himself into. "But I don’t want to die! I never swore to defend the flag with my bugle." Soon after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Joseph Schwartz finds himself amid the conflicts in a Baltimore of divided loyalties. Joseph is a Unionist, but being too public in expressing loyalty to either side can make one a target of violence. As his mother says, "I think there is no safe place in these troubled times." When the Maryland legislature votes against secession, Timothy’s life seems a bit more secure; at least his father’s job on the docks will be safe and family life will not be so disrupted. Gregory Howard lives in Alexandria, Virginia, where Federal warships are now a "brooding presence." Gregory sympathizes with the Confederacy and sees the conflict as a second War for Independence. Reeder weaves a large amount of history and politics into her story and effectively shows how the march toward war gained momentum. However, the history is told at the expense of the story, the separate stories hindering the development of characters to care about or a plot to get absorbed in. An offering that will appeal mostly to Civil War buffs. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066236155
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Pages: 370
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Reeder, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Shades of Gray (Simon & Schuster), is an avid history buff with a longtime interest in the Civil War. Her other historical novels for young people include Across the Lines, Grandpa's Mountain, Moonshiner's Son, and Captain Kate.

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