One of the most fascinating, historically significant moments of the American Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression. . . or the War for Southern Independence . . . ahem, where was I?) was a naval engagement in 1862. It was a turning point in the war, because the attempt by the small Confederate navy to break the Union blockade with a radical new ship design was ultimately unsuccessful. The engagement was a four hour contest between two ships. Neither was able to sink the other, despite each firing broadside after broadside at each other from point-blank range. Each ship was an “ironclad.” They were the first two ironclads and their encounter changed navies around the world forever.
The noted children’s author Avi (he won the Newbery Medal last year) has written a remarkable historical novel. The protagonist is a thirteen-year-old boy in New York, whose father has been killed in the war. To help support his family, Tom takes a job working in a New York shipyard for an inventor that most people think is crazy, John Ericsson. Ericsson’s “floating battery” is being built with great speed, and great secrecy because the Union government has heard frightening rumors of a Confederate armored vessel that will be unsinkable and unstoppable.
The character of Tom is drawn sympathetically for us, and his story puts him at the center of the action – especially when he signs on to the crew and sails with the Monitor when it is finished and launched. Through his eyes, we get an eyewitness/participant’s account of the epic battle.
A perfect book for students from age 10 and up. The maps, photographs, engravings, and newspaper headlines vividly illustrate the action. Highly recommended. Available through Greenleaf by clicking to the 19th Century – Slavery & Civil War Section here.