Beller, Susan Provost 1949
Beller, Susan Provost 1949-
American author of history and nonfiction for children.
The following entry presents an overview of Beller's career through 2004.INTRODUCTION
MEDICAL PRACTICES IN THE CIVIL WAR (1992)
MOSBY AND HIS RANGERS: ADVENTURES OF THE GRAY GHOST (1992)
WOMAN OF INDEPENDENCE: THE LIFE OF ABIGAIL ADAMS (1992)
TO HOLD THIS GROUND: A DESPERATE BATTLE AT GETTYSBURG (1995)
NEVER WERE MEN SO BRAVE: THE IRISH BRIGADE DURING THE CIVIL WAR (1998)
THE CONFEDERATE LADIES OF RICHMOND (1999)
BILLY YANK AND JOHNNY REB: SOLDIERING IN THE CIVIL WAR (2000)
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR: LETTERS FROM THE HOMEFRONT (2002)
THE CIVIL WAR (2003)
YANKEE DOODLE AND THE REDCOATS: SOLDIERING IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR (2003)
Beller has published numerous nonfiction history books for children, covering various aspects of the American Revolutionary and Civil wars. Making extensive use of primary source materials, such as original letters and diaries from the era, Beller relates true stories of the everyday people who participated in both the monumental and lesser-known events in early American history. Her book To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg (1995), a children's history text about the Battle of Gettysburg, was awarded the 1996 Lupine Awards Honor Book Prize of the Maine Library Association and was included on the nonfiction Honor List of the Voice of Youth Advocates.
Beller was born Susan Provost, on April 7, 1949, in Burlington, Vermont, to parents of French-Canadian descent. She graduated with a B.A. from Catholic University of America in 1970. That same year, she married W. Michael Beller, with whom she has three children. Beller attended graduate courses at the University of Maryland during the early 1970s and earned a M.A. in Education from the University of Vermont in 1990. After her first son was born, Beller began collecting genealogical research on her husband's family, which eventually led to work as an instructor of genealogy courses for both children and adults. Her first published work, Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People (1989), an instructional book on genealogy for children, was derived from her course materials. After the publication of Roots for Kids, Beller was invited to numerous speaking engagements at schools and libraries throughout Vermont. During the 1980s and early 1990s, she continued to teach courses in genealogy while working as a school librarian at Christ the King School and later at Bristol Elementary School in Burlington. Since 1993, Beller has divided her time between writing historical nonfiction targeted towards younger audiences and instructing at the University of Vermont.
Beller's historical works generally focus on events in either America's Revolutionary or Civil War. Her first nonfiction history text, Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market (1991), expounds on the true story of two-hundred-fifty cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who were recruited to fight under the command of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge. Though nearly a quarter of the young soldiers were wounded in battle, and ten perished in combat, the cadets represented a significant force in aiding the Confederates to hold back Union troops at the 1864 Battle of New Market. Medical Practices in the Civil War (1992) draws on letters, diaries, and photographs from army doctors and nurses to explore historical developments in the medical field during the 1860s. A historical account of the life of John S. Mosby, Mosby and His Rangers: Adventures of the Gray Ghost (1992) follows the famed guerilla fighter as he leads a group of Confederate soldiers in fighting off Union forces. To Hold This Ground provides a history of the Battle of Gettysburg, devoting alternate chapters to the parallel lives of Colonel William Calvin Oates of the South and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the North. Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War (1998) centers on the Irish immigrants who fought in the Union's Irish Brigade as well as discussing the burgeoning "Young Ireland" movement of the 1840s. In Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War (2000), Beller examines the experiences of ordinary soldiers, focusing her narrative on the letters and diaries of soldiers from the North and the South—"Billy Yank" and "Johnny Reb" were popular nicknames for Union and Confederate soldiers during the war. Similar to Beller's overviews of the Civil War, Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War (2003) presents a wide range of primary source documents, chronologies, and personal diaries to depict the wartime struggles of both Patriot and Loyalist soldiers.
Several of Beller's books concentrate specifically on the experiences of women during both the American Revolution and Civil War. Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams (1992), a biography of the wife of President John Adams, draws from over two thousand letters Abigail wrote to friends and family. Beller organizes the biography into eighteen short chapters, exploring Abigail's various social roles as wife, mother, patriot, and first lady. The foundation of The Confederate Ladies of Richmond (1999) comes from Beller's research into the diaries of over thirty southern women living in Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War, highlighting the day-to-day life of women coping with the impact of the war on the home front. In American Voices from the Revolutionary War (2002) and American Voices from the Civil War (2002), Beller compiled and edited a wealth of primary materials—including correspondence, diaries, and newspaper accounts—that shed new light on the personal dimension of these iconic eras in American history.
Beller has been widely praised for incorporating primary sources, particularly personal letters and journals, in her historical accounts of the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Critics have admired her skill at placing a human face on historical events by focusing her works on the experiences of specific participants. For instance, Carolyn Phelan, in her review of Cadets at War, has remarked: "The strength of Beller's account lies in her reliance on original sources, which lend a sense of immediacy to historical events." Reviewer David A. Lindsey has additionally described Cadets at War as "a fascinating, readable account of the battle and the boys who took part in it. By including the actual words of the cadets, she helps readers understand the feelings, motivations, and experiences of the battle's youngest participants." Several critics have recommended Beller's histories for their accessibility as supplementary material for teachers or as resources for students writing reports on these subjects. However, Beller has been criticized by some for the uneven quality of her prose and occasionally dry presentation of factual information. She has been further faulted by certain reviewers for failing to adequately contextualize the information she provides in her histories. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review of Cadets at War describes the text as "a carefully detailed account that has more tedious facts than historical flow," adding that the book is "an amalgam of military fervor and romanticizing of war." Despite such opinions, the majority of critics have regarded Beller's texts as convincing portraits of the historical figures and events that surrounded America's emergence as an independent nation.
Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People (nonfiction) 1989
Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market (historical nonfiction) 1991
Medical Practices in the Civil War (historical nonfiction) 1992
Mosby and His Rangers: Adventures of the Gray Ghost (historical nonfiction) 1992
Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams (historical nonfiction) 1992
To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg (historical nonfiction) 1995
Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War (historical nonfiction) 1998
The Confederate Ladies of Richmond (historical nonfiction) 1999
Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War (historical nonfiction) 2000
American Voices from the Civil War (historical nonfiction) 2002
American Voices from the Revolutionary War (historical nonfiction) 2002
The Revolutionary War: Letters from the Homefront (historical nonfiction) 2002
The Civil War (historical nonfiction) 2003
Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War [illustrations by Larry Day] (historical nonfiction) 2003
CADETS AT WAR: THE TRUE STORY OF TEENAGE HEROISM AT THE BATTLE OF NEW MARKET (1991)
David A. Lindsey (review date June 1991)
SOURCE: Lindsey, David A. Review of Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 37, no. 6 (June 1991): 129.
Gr. 7-Up—Lexington, Virginia is the home of Virginia Military Institute (founded in 1839). On May 15, 1864, approximately 250 cadets took part in the Battle of New Market alongside seasoned Confederate soldiers under the command of General John C. Breckinridge. The cadet corps played an important role and suffered a casualty rate of 24% while helping to drive back a superior Union force. Beller [in Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market ] has carefully researched a wide variety of primary-source materials—letters, registers, drawings, reminiscences, artifacts, etc.—in order to give a fascinating, readable account of the battle and the boys who took part in it. By including the actual words of the cadets, she helps readers understand the feelings, motivations, and experiences of the battle's youngest participants. The author also relates what happened before and after the battle, including a view of V.M.I. and the battlefield as they are today. An excellent selection of archival photos, reproductions of letters and registers, battle maps, and present-day photographs complete the coverage. A nice addition to collections already holding Murphy's The Boys' War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk about the Civil War (Clarion, 1990).
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date July-August 1991)
SOURCE: Review of Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market, by Susan Provost Beller. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 44, no. 11 (July-August 1991): 259.
Gr. 5-7—In a carefully detailed account that has more tedious facts than historical flow, Beller describes the battle of New Market, in which young cadets of the Virginia Military Institute took part in 1864 [in Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market ]. They were enlisted because the Union troops outnumbered the Confederate troops—and they helped win the battle for the South. This is primarily a chronological description, but it is frequently interrupted by brief biographies of individual cadets. The writing style is plodding, the book an amalgam of military fervor and romanticizing of war. Illustrated with reprints of old photographs and other contemporary material, the text gives evidence of the author's research but is not likely to have broad appeal. Index, notes, and sources are appended.
Carolyn Phelan (review date August 1991)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 87, no. 22 (August 1991): 214-15.
Gr. 4-8—In 1864, the Confederate army called up a corps of Virginia Military Institute cadets, many in their mid-teens, to fight at the Battle of New Market. Beller describes the boys' experiences and evaluates their part in the battle [in Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market ], looking at the military significance of their fighting and the impact of their sacrifice on the school and its traditions. The strength of Beller's account lies in her reliance on original sources, which lend a sense of immediacy to historical events. Maps, photographs of significant sites, and reproductions of portrait photos appear throughout the book. Pair this with Alphin's Ghost Cadet [BKL My 1 91], a time-travel novel in which a modern boy befriends one of the cadets.
Michael Cabaya (review date November-December 1991)
SOURCE: Cabaya, Michael. Review of Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market, by Susan Provost Beller. Book Report 10, no. 3 (November-December 1991): 55.
During the Civil War, cadets at the Virginia Military Institute stepped from the classroom to the battlefield to engage Union troops at the battle of New Market. Ten students were killed and 45 wounded in defense of the Confederacy. Beller documents an inspiring true story [in Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market ] through school records, diaries, letters and reunion accounts. The sentence structure is awkward, and the chronology is hard to follow at times. Also, captions for some of the illustrations are unclear, and those for illustrations on pages 16 and 17 are reversed. Nevertheless, this fine story has a relevance to teens, the people of Virginia and the history of VMI.
Sherri Forgash Ginsberg (review date May 1993)
SOURCE: Ginsberg, Sherri Forgash. Review of Medical Practices in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Kliatt 27, no. 3 (May 1993): 31.
This book [Medical Practices in the Civil War ]is packed with fascinating information. It is crammed with facts about wounds, medical personnel, disease, instruments, surgery and anesthesia. It also charts the progression of medicine from the beginning of the war to the improvements at the end that impacted on medicine in later wars and in civilian life. It elaborates on how amazing it was that anyone had the strength and energy left to fight, given the terrible conditions and level of disease in the army camps. The book discusses the first service of female doctors and how nurses contributed to the war effort. Also highlighted is the revolutionary change in the planning of military hospitals and how their role affected the care of soldiers. There are lots of b/w photos to enhance and interest readers. Highly recommended.
Cecilia P. Swanson (review date July 1993)
SOURCE: Swanson, Cecilia P. Review of Mosby and His Rangers: Adventures of the Gray Ghost, by Susan Provost Beller. Kliatt 27, no. 4 (July 1993): 34.
The Civil War is a subject that fascinates many. As more is written for younger readers, interest is bound to grow. Middle and junior high school students will find Beller's book [Mosby and His Rangers: Adventures of the Gray Ghost ] interesting and very accessible.
Mosby's Rangers were the stuff of legends. Their harassment of the enemy was intended to disrupt, confuse, and disorganize Northern troops and supply lines. Bold strategies, nighttime raids, lightning-quick strikes, and heroic efforts made the Rangers successful. The organizer of this dashing band was John S. Mosby, an unprepossessing figure whose keen intelligence and cool nerve enabled him to plan attacks and lead men in guerrilla tactics. For two years, Mosby and his partisans participated in raids that confounded Northern troops.
Beller's book will be of interest to Civil War buffs, but will also be useful for students doing reports. An index and photos enhance the book's utility and appeal. The incidents described by the author are often too brief, but they will whet the appetites of readers and may lead to more in-depth study. Beller rates the resources she used during her own research. All in all, the book is an interesting glimpse into this historic period and purchase is recommended.
Patricia Braun (review date 15 May 1992)
SOURCE: Braun, Patricia. Review of Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 88, no. 18 (15 May 1992): 1671.
Gr. 6-10—In a simple, third-person narrative, Beller examines Adams' life in light of her various roles—child, wife, mother, teacher, farmer, patriot, historian, diplomat, first lady, and a president's mother and grandmother [in Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams ]. Though this type of organization causes some repetition, the book draws a clear, admiring picture of Adams, highlighting her strengths as she grew with each new role and depicting her as an unusual, multitalented individual who was a good friend, companion, and wife. A chronology appears at the beginning of the book; photographs are planned.
Valerie Childress (review date September 1992)
SOURCE: Childress, Valerie. Review of Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 38, no. 9 (September 1992): 284.
Gr. 6-9—Here [in Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams ] readers will encounter a multifaceted Adams not usually found in books written for children. Beller's emphasis is on the strong, independent, visionary woman whose role in American history was much more than simply the wife of one president and mother of another. Readers are also presented with a detailed picture of life in the colonies and in a young democracy. Clear writing and Adams's own words make history come alive; much of the dialogue is taken directly from the hundreds of letters she wrote to her family and friends. Each of the 18 short chapters offers the subject in a different role: child, wife, patriot, historian, peacemaker, etc. Numerous black-and-white photographs of her homes and family artifacts will add to readers' understanding of the period. A good choice for information on early American life, this biography paints the hardships and joys of an emerging nation and the metamorphosis of a fascinating woman.
Elaine R. Goldberg (review date September 1992)
SOURCE: Goldberg, Elaine R. Review of Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams, by Susan Provost Beller. Kliatt 26, no. 6 (September 1992): 27-8.
Abigail Adams was a remarkable person. She played many roles well—wife, mother, teacher, farmer, friend, sister, patriot, hostess and historian as well as First Lady. Even if she had not been the wife of the second U.S. president, John Adams, she was noteworthy for the unusual strength and independence she expressed in all aspects of her long life. Most significant of all, Abigail had a true partnership with her husband, achieving a rare intellectual and political camaraderie unusual for her time and perhaps ours. Her friendship and correspondence with Thomas Jefferson was surprisingly open and political as well.
Beller based Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams on 2000 surviving letters from a voluminous correspondence and quotes them here and there, giving a sense of Abigail's language and spirit. Abigail's detailed letters to John and to her family and friends are important historical records that capture the social and political details of her time. She provides eyewitness accounts of Revolutionary battles. The letters also reveal Abigail's visionary advocacy for education and opportunities for women. Beller clearly has a reverence and appreciation for Adams that she wants to share with young readers.
Joyce Graham and Susan Murphy (review date December-January 1992-1993)
SOURCE: Graham, Joyce, and Susan Murphy. "Books for Adolescents." Journal of Reading 36, no. 4 (December-January 1992-1993): 330.
Another new book in the Lives Well Led series is Woman of Independence: The Life of Abigail Adams, which portrays Abigail Adams as a positive role model for young women. Adams devoted her life to balancing the multitude of roles in which she found herself—wife, mother, teacher, farmer, patriot, correspondent, diplomat, Vice President's wife, First Lady, and President's mother. She performed all these roles with grace and style. Letters between Abigail and her husband John and excerpts from her correspondence with Thomas Jefferson as she attempted to mend the differences between her husband and Jefferson are included.
Richard E. Nicholls (review date 12 November 1995)
SOURCE: Nicholls, Richard E. "A More Perfect Union." New York Times Book Review (12 November 1995): 28.
[In the following review, Nicholls compliments Beller's "swiftly paced narrative" in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg.]
The future of America was decided on a hilltop in Pennsylvania on July 2, 1863. And in a speech of only 272 words, delivered several months later at a nearby cemetery, the idea that would reshape the nation was given its indelible shape.
The battle of Gettysburg, which raged from July 1 to July 3, was the Civil War's strategic turning point, and the contest for control of a hill on the Union's left flank the pivotal moment in the battle. And, of course, Abraham Lincoln's speech at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg on Nov. 19 is one of this country's seminal documents.
In To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, Susan Provost Beller, the author of several other books on the Civil War for young readers, focuses on the experiences of two remarkable individuals at Gettysburg, and on the crucial part they played in the struggle. Joshua Chamberlain and William Oates were opposites in all ways but one: their grim determination to defend to the death the principles that they believed made war unavoidable.
Chamberlain, born in Maine in 1828, was a professor at Bowdoin College, married and the father of two children. The idea that the conflict would turn him into a celebrated military hero would have struck Chamberlain (who had elected to go to a theological seminary rather than attend West Point) as absurd. Oates, born in 1835 the son of a poor farmer in Alabama, was a more raffish figure. As a young man he had lived a wild life on the frontier, brawling, gambling, womanizing. He eventually settled down sufficiently to join the bar.
Chamberlain had an unwavering belief that the nation had to be preserved. Oates felt that the Southern states had a "God-given right to govern themselves" that outweighed any loyalty to a national government. When they met at Gettysburg, Chamberlain was the commanding officer of the 20th Maine and Oates headed the 15th Alabama. Both regiments had been seasoned by combat. Both officers were regarded by their superiors as cool, aggressive commanders.
Gen. Robert E. Lee had brought his Confederate forces north looking for an opportunity to demolish the Union Army and drive the Federal Government to sue for peace. It was only by chance that his troops collided with the Union Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Little Round Top, an unprepossessing hill, became the left flank of the Union position, but through a series of mistakes it was left unguarded. Chamberlain's 20th Maine was sent to defend it when the oversight was discovered on July 2. The 15th Alabama was ordered to seize it. Had they succeeded, General Lee would have been able to turn the Union line and very likely deliver a devastating, even fatal, blow to the Northern cause.
For a few moments, the fate of the battle, and the war, came down to two regiments firing at each other at point-blank range, on a blistering hot day, on a hill thick with trees and undergrowth. Oates led his men in five charges. The 20th Maine repulsed each one. Soldiers on both sides collapsed, Chamberlain later wrote, "like grass before the scythe." The engagement often broke up amid the rough terrain into small groups of cursing, sobbing men, stabbing and clubbing one another. Chamberlain's men had exhausted their ammunition, and Oates's troops were advancing yet again when Chamberlain gave one of the war's most audacious commands: at a time when many officers might have ordered a retreat, and knowing that another assault might break them, he led his exhausted force downhill in a bayonet charge. The 15th Alabama, shocked at the sight, reluctantly gave way and then fled. Their dead and wounded carpeted the hill.
Oates had arrived with 400 men. Only 223 made it back to Confederate lines. The 20th Maine had begun the day with 358 men. When it was over, 131 were dead or wounded. The 20th Maine didn't win the battle of Gettysburg, or the war, but it did insure that on July 2 the Union would not lose.
Mrs. Beller has done a very deft job of interweaving convincing portraits of Chamberlain and Oates with a swiftly paced narrative of their fight. In carefully documenting this one extraordinary moment in the war, she has created a useful, moving work.
Fifty thousand men were killed or wounded at Gettysburg. A national cemetery for the dead was swiftly created and Edward Everett, the era's most celebrated orator, was recruited to give a speech at its formal dedication in November 1863. The official program indicated that the President of the United States would also offer a few remarks. In fact Abraham Lincoln viewed the event as a crucial opportunity.
He had been anxious to find an occasion when he could summarize what he saw as the larger importance of the war, to explain to Americans why the awful suffering they were enduring was necessary. In a speech lasting less than five minutes "he gave the battle a higher meaning," as Garry Wills observes in his foreword to The Gettysburg Address, an edition of the speech featuring illustrations by Michael McCurdy. He also gave it a new meaning. Most people in the North felt that they were fighting the war to preserve the Constitution. But Lincoln's deepest conviction was that the United States was not a gathering of states bound by laws but a nation. And at the heart of the nation was the principle that all men were created equal. His call to renewed struggle, to insure "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth," was so stirring, so absolutely convincing, that as Mr. Wills notes, the war "means to us today what Lincoln said it must mean at that dark time of mourning for the dead."
Mr. McCurdy, who has provided illustrations for a number of works on American history, has created a series of drawings that powerfully suggest the drama and poignancy of Lincoln's words. His black-and-white artwork, reminiscent of period woodcuts in its bold lines and stark areas of dark and light, includes scenes both of the battle and its aftermath and of Lincoln delivering the address. And in several drawings, of black men and women walking north to freedom and of black and white citizens setting to work to rebuild the country, he catches something of the liberating sense of hope in Lincoln's words and of the concept behind them of a reunited nation moving irresistibly forward.
"In great deeds something abides," Joshua Chamberlain later remarked in a speech given at Gettysburg. In great words the same is true. Both are memorably celebrated in these two new books.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date December 1995)
SOURCE: Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 49, no. 4 (December 1995): 119.
In an approach reminiscent of Jim Murphy's The Long Road to Gettysburg, Beller [in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg ] follows the experiences of two antagonists engaged in the hostilities at Gettysburg. She examines the struggle from the commanders' points of view: Confederate Colonel Oates relates how following his personal strategy to attack Big Round Top, instead of launching the doomed offensive at Little Round Top, would have won the Confederates Gettsyburg, and Union Colonel Chamberlin presides over the Appomattox surrender rites. The book, however, conveys little sense of any action concurrent with the Little Round Top portion of the battle (Pickett's Charge, for example, is relegated to a single paragraph). Her prose is peppered with military history clichés—"days of glory," "change his life forever," "moment in history," death as "the final battle." Period photos are less attractively presented than in The Long Road, and maps, although clear, are somewhat cramped. Readers who need "one good book" on Gettysburg will prefer Murphy's title, but those seeking a supplemental view will find enlightening material here.
Elizabeth M. Reardon (review date December 1995)
SOURCE: Reardon, Elizabeth M. Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 41, no. 12 (December 1995): 132.
Gr. 7-Up—Anyone who has read about the battle—or seen the movie Gettysburg—knows the dramatic story of how the 20th Maine regiment held off the 15th Alabama in a skirmish at Little Round Top. Beller [in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg ] has brought together the stories of the men who fought on both sides and their commanders, Colonel William Calvin Oates and the legendary Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Although she doesn't reveal any startling new information, she does introduce some of the common soldiers who fought and their observations on the battle. This book is particularly valuable because it tells the story of the Confederate brigade, about which little has been written. The text is a bit dry at times, but the black-and-white photographs and illustrations—especially the maps of the battles—really enhance the book. The best description of this historical episode can be found in Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (Ballantine, 1987), but To Hold This Ground would be a good follow-up.
Gail Irwin (review date March-April 1996)
SOURCE: Irwin, Gail. Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. Book Report 14, no. 5 (March-April 1996): 44.
Beller examines the battle for Little Round Top and the two colonels who faced each other on that fateful July day [in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg ]. William Calvin Oates fought for the confederacy, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain commanded the 20th Maine. While this book tells the story of the battle that day, it focuses on the two men and the role they played not only in this battle but in the history of this country after the war was over. Both men went on to lead public lives, becoming governors of their respective states. Both men wanted to be senators but failed. Although all of the information can be found elsewhere, I would recommend this well written and easily understood book for young readers researching the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lynne B. Hawkins (review date April 1996)
SOURCE: Hawkins, Lynne B. Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. Voice of Youth Advocates 19, no. 1 (April 1996): 46.
One of several crucial actions of the Battle of Gettysburg was the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Infantry, led by Joshua Chamberlain, against the attack of the 15th Alabama under the command of William Oates. Beller gives a quick overview of the Civil War up to July 2, 1863, [in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, ] to set the stage for recounting the valiant fight by both regiments for the rise of ground which, finally, held the Union's left flank. She focuses alternate chapters on each regiment, telling their histories, giving brief biographies of their commanders, and describing the battle as opportunities were taken and lost.
Primary sources are not only the resources of the author, but are woven into the narrative. The excitement and anxiety of the battle are revealed through the words of the men who fought it. Although the young historian may not be able to access many of the documents Beller used to research the battle, he/she might appreciate the liberal use of quotations and of contemporary and modern photographs, and be inspired to dig into such documents as are available to them in various compilations of wartime writings.
This book's single flaw is that in distilling a tremendous amount of research into a brief history, it demands that the reader pay attention to every word in order to follow the action. It is worth that attention, for this little history of half a day's fighting in a three day battle of a four year war gives a sense of the horror of all of that or any war: the ideals and strategies come down to powder, shot and bayonet against flesh and blood.
Horn Book Guide (review date spring 1996)
SOURCE: Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. Horn Book Guide 7, no. 1 (spring 1996): 153.
[This] balanced, dramatic account of the Battle of Gettysburg [To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg ] focuses on two units and their leaders who fought in the decisive battle of Little Round Top. Numerous quotations from diaries and letters as well as many historical and present-day black-and-white photographs add depth and realism.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 December 1997)
SOURCE: Review of Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Kirkus Reviews 65, no. 23 (1 December 1997): 1773.
Beller returns again to the Civil War [in Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War ], focusing on the heroic exploits and origins of the Union army's 535-member Irish Brigade. From Antietam—the battle that claimed the largest number of American soldiers' lives in a single day—the narrative shifts to Ireland, where the author points to the reason for the wave of emigration: starvation at home. Vibrant prose conveys a sense of urgency in the depiction of the poverty and religious persecution suffered by the Irish Catholics, especially during the years of the potato famine. The links of cause and effect that create history are neatly forged: It's no accident that the Irish chose the U.S., a land that had thrown off British rule, for shelter. Many of the Irish enlisted in the Union army so that they might one day use their military skills back home. The book is unflinching in its accounts of the deaths and injuries of so many of the Irish Americans defending this country; their legacy, which will be unfamiliar to most readers, receives an intelligent and thorough treatment.
Starr E. Smith (review date February 1998)
SOURCE: Smith, Starr E. Review of Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 44, no. 2 (February 1998): 112.
Gr. 5-Up—[Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War is t]he story of the Irish Brigade, one of the most colorful and feared Northern units in the American Civil War. Supported by a generous number of period photographs and reproductions and skillfully selected excerpts from primary sources, the book documents the Brigade's origins among the "Young Ireland" movement of the 1840s, follows it through bloody military glory (at Antietam alone, the Irish Brigade suffered more than 500 casualties), and touches on the postwar fates of the survivors. Details of the author's historical research in Ireland and the U.S. abound throughout, but never slow the narrative, which is skillfully organized, fast paced, and compelling. Especially fascinating are Beller's vivid portraits of some of the Brigade's amazing characters. Among these were Commander Thomas Francis Meagher, who lived through deadly danger both as an Irish rebel and a Union officer to become acting governor of the Montana Territory before his death in 1867. Equally memorable, Father William Corby became possibly the most famous chaplain in the war after his inspiring blessing on July 2, 1863, caused Catholics and non-Catholics alike to fall to their knees on the Gettysburg battleground. This book is a fine example of historical exposition for young people, and is a worthy follow-up to the author's To Hold This Ground (McElderry, 1995).
Randy Meyer (review date 15 February 1998)
SOURCE: Meyer, Randy. Review of Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 94, no. 12 (15 February 1998): 993.
Gr. 7-12—A story of patriotism and valor, this Civil War account traces the fate of the Irish Brigade [in Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War ]. Beller focuses largely on battles, military leaders, and strategy, though she occasionally goes beyond textbook treatment to examine the lives of individuals on the front lines, pointing out that many of the brigade's soldiers were newer immigrants who enlisted with Union forces because they knew that prosperity required a strong, unified nation, not because they abhorred slavery. Beller sometimes glosses over what may now be considered politically incorrect and offers readers little chance to understand the political attitudes of the period. Instead, she takes readers from Manassas to Antietam to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, where the body counts escalated as quickly as the rhetoric leaders used to inspire the men to glory. Some surprising, moving images are scattered among battle details, such as the blessing of hundreds of troops at Gettysburg and the celebration of St. Patrick's Day with mass, a picnic, and a steeplechase. Recommended for more comprehensive collections.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date March 1998)
SOURCE: Review of Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 51, no. 7 (March 1998): 236.
Acclaimed for their fearlessness by Civil War allies and enemies alike, the Irish Brigade engaged in one doomed action after another and, with their ranks decimated, returned to fight again with fresh recruits. Beller traces the formation and deployment of these regiments [in Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War ] from their roots in the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 through demobilization in 1865, and her spirited description of their valor and defeat at Antietam and Fredericksburg should rivet military history buffs. Too often, though, she raises serious issues—whether the brigade was driven by bravery or recklessness, whether it was purposely assigned to hopeless missions—only to drop them without scrutiny. What's left is a tantalizing but thready celebration of some of the Union's most colorful soldiers. Source notes and an index are included.
Elizabeth S. Watson (review date May-June 1998)
SOURCE: Watson, Elizabeth S. Review of Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 3 (May-June 1998): 354.
From the first few chapters that sketch the pertinent history of Ireland to the dramatic descriptions of battles such as Antietam and Fredericksburg, this book [Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War ] presents an intense focus on one Union fighting unit. Like the "Glory" brigade made up of black Union soldiers, the Irish brigade was formed from one ethnic group, led by Thomas Francis Meagher, who was a principal in the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848. As the war progressed, the men of the Irish Brigade suffered heavy losses but became known for their courage and spirited fighting style. The text clearly conveys the collective soul of the brigade and details the heroics of its major leaders. Illustrated with both vintage and modern photographs, sketches, and maps, the book is simply and effectively designed. A useful and affecting addition to Civil War collections.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 December 1999)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of The Confederate Ladies of Richmond, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 96, no. 8 (15 December 1999): 779.
Gr. 5-8—Beller offers a different perspective on the Civil War [in The Confederate Ladies of Richmond ], seeing it through the eyes of the ladies of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. She first sets the prewar stage, describing this prosperous, cultured city. She then explains how events over the next five years changed both Richmond and its society, as reflected in the writings of its upper-class women. Excerpts from letters and diaries give voice to the ladies' pride in sewing tents and running hospitals, their resourcefulness in the face of deprivation, grief at the death of loved ones, humiliation at the fall of their city, and shock at the death of Lincoln. Illustrated with many period photographs and engravings and well documented with source notes, this book offers an unusual focus on the war, looking less at those who planned the strategies, led the armies, and fought the battles, and more at those who sewed the uniforms, tended the wounded, and went to the funerals.
Renee Steinberg (review date January 2000)
SOURCE: Steinberg, Renee. Review of The Confederate Ladies of Richmond, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 46, no. 1 (January 2000): 138.
Gr. 6-9—This selection [The Confederate Ladies of Richmond ] recounts the plight faced during the Civil War by the people living in the Confederacy's capital city. Without making political judgments and through careful research, Beller gradually relates the horrors of the time. She focuses on the female population of Richmond and, through excerpts from their journals, readers get a vivid picture of their gradual transformation from society ladies dwelling on propriety to women fighting for their beliefs. With determination and pragmatism, the women take on the care of those engaged in combat and try desperately to live normally despite the siege of the city. The author gives a human face to this tragic period of history and demonstrates that the suffering reached everyone involved. In addition to presenting a unique part of Civil War history, she highlights the importance of primary-source research. Karen Zeinert's Those Courageous Women of the Civil War (Millbrook, 1998) also deals with the role of women during this struggle, but does not focus on a single area. A useful resource on the period as well as an excellent nonfiction read.
Horn Book Guide (review date spring 2000)
SOURCE: Review of The Confederate Ladies of Richmond, by Susan Provost Beller. Horn Book Guide 11, no. 1 (spring 2000): 167.
The upper-class female diarists and letter writers who recorded life in Civil War Richmond until its fall to the Yankees wrote engagingly about harsh war-time shortages and long stints nursing wounded soldiers. However, Beller [in The Confederate Ladies of Richmond ] introduces their often fragmentary quotes gracelessly and loses their voices behind poorly delivered background information. Black-and-white drawings and photos illustrate.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 15 October 2000)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 97, no. 4 (15 October 2000): 432.
Gr. 5-8—This well-documented book [Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War ] describes the lives of ordinary soldiers during the Civil War. In the prologue, Beller introduces readers to the colorful terms that appear in the title: "Billy Yank, as the Union soldier was commonly referred to, and Johnny Reb, the nickname given to Confederate soldiers." The terms are overused; near the end of the book, they appear four times within five sentences. Still, she presents a good deal of solid information in an interesting manner. Quotations from letters and journals offer authentic voices as well as basic facts about the everyday lives of these fighting folk, with chapters on topics such as life in camp, food, disease, marching, letters home, prisoners of war, the wounded, and the end of the war. Good black-and-white reproductions, mainly of photographs from the 1860s, appear throughout the book. The appendixes include a map, a chronology of the Civil War, detailed source notes, and lists of books and Internet resources.
Eldon Younce (review date December 2000)
SOURCE: Younce, Eldon. Review of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 46, no. 12 (December 2000): 154.
Gr. 5-8—[In Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, ] Beller describes the average soldier's life in the military during the American Civil War. A personal narrative from a Union and a Confederate soldier is included to describe camp life, diseases, and conditions for the wounded and prisoners of war. A few women who secretly served as soldiers or in support capacities are briefly discussed. Vintage photos appear on almost every page, and captions add some additional information. The volume concludes with a map of the major battles; extensive source notes; and a listing of further information including books, CD-ROMs, and Internet resources. A good choice for showing a soldier's life during this period of history.
Kevin Beach (review date February 2001)
SOURCE: Beach, Kevin. Review of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Voice of Youth Advocates 23, no. 6 (February 2001): 439.
[In Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, t]he author focuses here on firsthand accounts in two young men's diaries from the Civil War era to illustrate life during that tragic time. One was a Union soldier, the other a Confederate. Together they represent a generation of "Yanks" and "Rebs." Chapters describe their experiences of enlistment, basic training, daily life, food and hygiene, going to battle, and ultimately being wounded or captured. These two diaries, which resonate with fear and disillusionment, are fleshed out with excerpts from other men's diaries and archival photographs.
The author includes many sobering facts of her own as well, such as that more men died from disease than from war injuries. One of the most poignant chapters discusses the hurried handling of death and burial; another touching chapter contains an eyewitness description of the final surrender at Appamatox Courthouse at which enemies awkwardly became fellow countrymen again.
Information on blacks, women, and Native Americans who contributed to the war effort is presented along with an epilogue that discusses the war's long-term effects into the twentieth century. Source notes indicate more than one hundred citations from primary source materials. Author and researcher of several other Civil War books, Beller has produced a readable and graphically attractive book that most importantly puts a human face on one of the most significant events in American history. This title is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school reading levels as a complement to the history curriculum.
Horn Book Guide (review date spring 2001)
SOURCE: Review of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. Horn Book Guide 12, no. 1 (spring 2001): 155.
Using archival photos from the Civil War and excerpts from memoirs, diaries, and letters of Union and Confederate soldiers, Beller [in Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War ] has written an accessible and poignant narrative about what life was like for soldiers in the war: dealing with boredom, overcoming disease (two-thirds of all war deaths were disease related), and adapting to the horrific prisoner-of-war conditions. A map and chronology are appended.
Debra Ennen (review date March-April 2002)
SOURCE: Ennen, Debra. Review of The Revolutionary War: Letters from the Homefront, by Susan Provost Beller. Book Report 20, no. 5 (March-April 2002): 66.
Each volume in the series [The Revolutionary War: Letters from the Homefront ] presents a major war, allowing the reader to visualize the humanistic aspects of these wars through the eyes of those who stayed behind, as well as through the eyes of the individual soldier. Each volume simply outlines the background issues behind the war. The main information is provided in the form of letters, newspaper articles, personal accounts, and other civilian papers such as ration cards and telegrams. The pages are creatively presented as old-fashioned stationery with page numbers styled as postage stamps. Color is used extensively to delineate primary materials from the explanatory material surrounding it. These volumes are replete with maps, pictures, illustrations, and reprints with captions. At the end of each volume is a timeline of the war, glossary, index of text and illustrations, "To Find Out More" section, which includes Web sites and a bibliography of extended materials, and "Notes on Quotes" section, which explains the many quotes utilized by the authors. This attractive series adds a needed dimension to the study of the major wars. Highly Recommended.
Patricia Ann Owens (review date April 2003)
SOURCE: Owens, Patricia Ann. Review of The Civil War, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 49, no. 4 (April 2003): 172.
Gr. 5-8—Introductory chapters [in The Civil War ] explain primary sources and how they serve as clues to understand the past. Succeeding chapters present the words of soldiers, civilians, journalists, politicians, and common folk that participated in or witnessed the events of the Civil War and the conquest of the American West. Civil War addresses the issue of slavery, the life of a soldier, battles, women, medicine, Reconstruction, and more. West outlines the concept of frontier and discusses explorers, mountain men, miners, overland trails, women and children, life and jobs, and the fate of Native Americans. In both books, each chapter has a short introduction followed by the documents and one to three textbook-like questions ("Why was there so much marching to be done?" "Why were the travelers so worn out?" "Why did the Mormons rejoice on seeing the newcomers?"). These colorful volumes have attractive layouts and include maps, reproductions, and archival photographs. Excellent introductions to historical research.
Eva Mitnick (review date 15 May 2003)
SOURCE: Mitnick, Eva. Review of Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War, by Susan Provost Beller. Booklist 99, no. 18 (15 May 2003): 1657.
Gr. 5-8—This overview of the Revolutionary War [Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War ], with emphasis on the lives of the soldiers on both sides of the conflict, covers the major battles in chronological order and also deals with subjects such as disease and the plight of prisoners of war. The book's strengths are its clean, appealing layout and the many excerpts from primary sources, including diaries and letters. Less inviting is the narrative's dry tone. Liberally sprinkled throughout are black-and-white illustrations, mostly original; other artwork appears to be paintings of the period. Unfortunately, the captions do not reveal this information. Browsers will probably pass this by, but report writers will find it useful. A bibliography, a chronology, and extensive source notes are appended.
Jennifer Ralston (review date January 2004)
SOURCE: Ralston, Jennifer. Review of Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 140.
Gr. 5-8—Primary source material, such as letters and diaries, brings the lives of both the Patriot and Loyalist soldiers into focus in this well-documented, well-researched overview of the Revolutionary War [Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War ]. The author provides a history of the battles in chronological order and uses quotes from soldiers to illustrate and personalize the history.
The various chapters focus on life in the camp, disease, medical practices, and the foreign soldiers who came to the aid of both the Americans and the British. The roles of Native Americans and African Americans in the struggle for independence are briefly mentioned. Although the primary material is often very interesting, the text is somewhat dry. Original pen-and-ink drawings and reproductions of period paintings appear throughout. End matter includes extensive chapter notes. This book will prove useful for reports, and the numerous quotes provide a human connection with the past. Students interested in more information on the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War may want to read Clinton Cox's Come All You Brave Soldiers (Scholastic, 1999).
Hofmann, Mary R. Review of Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War, by Susan Provost Beller. Library Media Connection 22, no. 2 (October 2003): 76.
Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War.
Review of Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War, by Susan Provost Beller. School Library Journal 50, no. 10 (October 2004): 31.
Presents a brief summary of the materials included in Yankee Doodle and the Redcoats: Soldiering in the Revolutionary War.
Westmore, Jean. Review of To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg, by Susan Provost Beller. Buffalo News (25 February 1996): G6.
Praises Beller's "simple, straight-forward account" of the American Civil War in To Hold This Ground: A Desperate Battle at Gettysburg.
Additional coverage of Beller's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 151; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 109; Literature Resource Center ; and Something about the Author, Vols. 84, 128.