Incoming shell! Whenever ten-year-old Lucy McRae heard that distinctive sound, she froze, allowing the explosive to fly on over her. Then she hurried into the safety of the family’s cave.
It was 1863 and Vicksburg, Mississippi, was being bombarded by Union artillery. It was located strategically on the Mississippi River. All along the waterfront, Confederate cannon prevented Union ships from taking control of the river and using it to invade the South. President Lincoln said that for the North to win the war, those cannons must be silenced. He selected General Ulysses Grant to force Vicksburg to surrender.
Grant’s army sieged the city of 5,000, cutting off food supplies and fresh water. Then he rained shells day and night on the Confederate troops defending Vicksburg and on its terrified civilians. But townspeople had no intention of giving up. Most of their men were off fighting, but those remaining were stalwart: there would be no surrender.
Instead, they dug more than 500 caves into the sides of Vicksburg’s many hills, where they took refuge. Everyone lived side by side, rich and poor, masters and slaves. Cooking tents were set up outside the entrances, and during lulls in shelling, residents hastily prepared whatever food they had. Lucy always stayed outside until the moment shelling started again.
The caves were hot, dark, dank, and crowded, and were home to spiders, scorpions, lizards, mosquitoes, and snakes. “It was living like tree roots,” one woman said. People brought in rugs, bedding, books and favorite artwork to make their surroundings more tolerable. Sometimes there were close calls when a shell hit a cave. Once Lucy was buried under a mound of sliding dirt for several minutes. When her frantic mother pulled her out, she gasped for air, her mouth and nose full of dirt.
Although the town was severely damaged by the shelling, because of the caves only a dozen people died in the forty-seven-day siege. Townspeople wanted to hold out, but daily rations of water and food were almost gone, forcing the city’ surrender on July 4, 1863.
The South’s loss of Vicksburg helped the North win the war. But the bravery of townspeople like Lucy, who held fast in the face of overwhelming odds, was never in dispute.
Howard Pyle painting of terrorized people spotting a rocket shell.
Photo of a cave entrance after the siege., Note the unexploded shells.
If you’d like to know more about the Siege of Vicksburg, Andrea Warren tells the whole story of Lucy and other children caught up in that dramatic event in her award-winning book Under Siege! Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg. For more on her books, visit her website at AndreaWarren.com.
Andrea Warren is a member of Authors on Call. Here's a link to her interactive video conference: What Children Experienced in the Civil War: Three Young People at the Siege of Vicksburg. (Note to teachers: you may have to register at CILC to reach this website. It's free and it's a GREAT resource).
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Living in Caves to Survive the Siege of Vicksburg." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 3 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/Living-in-Caves-to-Survive-the-Siege-of-Vicksburg.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Teaching the Power of Wonder
When I was a kid fifty years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt had a bad rap. We learned that way back in the 1900s, he banned Christmas trees from the White House. What a lousy father, I thought.
Down through the years, the story went something like this: Across America in the early 1900s, huge forests were in danger of destruction from a lumbering practice called “clear-cutting.” Lots of newspapers and public leaders asked Americans to stop going to the woods to cut Christmas trees. Now when the Roosevelts and their six kids lived in the White House, they didn’t have a tree. Stockings and presents, but not a tree. So folks assumed that Roosevelt had outlawed Christmas trees, because he was a huge outdoorsman and conservationist.
But, according to people who’ve done their history homework, that’s not the whole truth. It’s possible that First Lady Edith Roosevelt had six kids to think of and didn’t want the extra fuss of a Christmas tree. Christmas trees had become very popular ever since the old German tradition was picked up in the United States, but not everyone chose to have one.
As it turned out, the Roosevelts did have at least one tree, courtesy of their eight-year-old son Archie. On Christmas morning 1902, Archie surprised his family. The president wrote about it in a letter that told of Christmas morning:
A magazine ran the story of Archie’s tree the next year. From then on, it picked up all sorts of embellishments, sort of like playing telephone at a birthday party.
Today, the best explanation of the old story appears on a blog run by the Forest History Society. Visit their website.
And for more cool facts about Christmas trees, check out the website of the folks who know, the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois.
Theodore Roosevelt for Kids brings to life this fascinating man, an American giant whose flaws were there for all the world to see. Twenty-one hands-on activities offer a useful glimpse at Roosevelt’s work and times. Readers will create a Native American toy, explore the effects of erosion, go on a modern big game hunt with a camera, and make felted teddy bears. The text includes a time line, online resources, and reading list for further study. And through it all, readers will appreciate how one man lived a “Bully!” life and made the word his very own.
Kerrie Hollihan is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Did Theodore Roosevelt Ban Christmas Trees?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 22 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/ Did-Theodore-Roosevelt-Ban-Christmas-Trees. Accessed 22 Dec. 2017.
You know that presidential humans have lived in the White House since 1800, but so have MANY presidential pets, especially dogs. From those owned by John and Abigail Adams to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottie, Fala, to Bo and Sunny, the Portuguese Water Spaniels who live with President Obama’s family, there have been lots of presidential pooches. President Clinton’s daughter Chelsea had Socks, the cat, but really, there haven’t been so very many kitty cats in the White House. So how about other kinds of pets?
Well, John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline had Macaroni, the pony. Willie and Tad Lincoln loved to hitch up their pet goats Nanny and Nanko to a cart or even kitchen chairs and go banging and bumping through the White House! Thomas Jefferson had pet mockingbirds. James and Dolley Madison kept a parrot. So did Andrew Jackson, but his cussed and swore horribly! President Taft’s pet cow Pauline and Old Ike, one of Woodrow Wilson’s sheep, used to graze on the White House lawn. Among Calvin Coolidge’s many pets were Rebecca, the raccoon, and a donkey named Enoch.
When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, things really got lively, inside and outside the White House. He and his wife had six children and boy oh boy, did they have pets! Besides plenty of horses, dogs, and a couple of cats, there was a lizard, a pig, a rabbit, a rat, one small bear, five guinea pigs, a macaw, an owl, a one-legged rooster, and Josiah, the badger. Beautiful bratty Alice, the oldest daughter, loved startling people by taking Emily Spinach out of her handbag. (Emily was a green snake, named after a skinny aunt.)
One day, Archie Roosevelt, one of Alice’s little brothers, was sick upstairs. Two of her other brothers, Quentin and Kermit, got their Shetland pony Algonquin into the White House elevator and up they went to visit Archie. As his dad, President Roosevelt would say, Archie was “deee-lighted!” Visiting pets didn’t go over quite so well when little Quentin interrupted an Oval Office meeting and accidentally dropped the four snakes he brought to show his dad!
Oh yes, it can be difficult being the president. Long, long ago, President Harry Truman said that, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Remember that, if you ever get elected. And when you move to the White House, don’t forget to bring your pet!
One of Cheryl Harness's best known picture books is her fantastical, factual Ghosts of the White House. "Do I really believe that dead presidents spook around the White House, talking about when they lived there? NO! But I'm not above using FANTASY to explain HISTORY! Each president represents a chapter in the story of our country!"
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "White House Friends with Fur and Feathers." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 18 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/white-house-friends-with-fur-and-feathers.
We give 'em reading that gets 'em talking!
Learn from many voices....