Commentary for Soldier’s Heart

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Commentary for “Soldier’s Heart” Author, Gary Paulsen

The book Soldier’s Heart, is based on a true story about a fifteen-year-old boy in Minnesota named, Charley Goddard, who lies about his age to join the First Volunteers of Minnesota to fight in the Civil War. Some of the events and time sequences are not completely factual, but the essential elements of the books story are true.

Charley Goddard is a fifteen-year-old boy growing up in the farming community of Winona, Minnesota, in 1861, just prior to what will become the Civil War. The whole are is talking about what they think will be a “shooting war.” The atmosphere at the town meetings discussing the possibility is festive, with flags, and drums, and patriotic speeches.

As a volunteer army is beginning to form, Charley decides he wants to be a part of it. Everyone assumes that it will be an easy, victorious battle, most likely over in a month or two, if it happens at all. Charley lies about his age and joins the volunteers in what he thinks will be a fun experience that will make him a man. The pay is eleven dollars a month, much more than he makes working on the farm.

Charley trains and learns to be a soldier. Upon leaving the camp, the mean are treated as heroes even before they leave town, accompanied by much cheering and flag waving. Charley feels great, and spirits are high. However, not long after, he finds himself in his first battle. The Union soldiers lose badly. He is caught in the middle of violent suffering and death, and he cannot believe what is happening so suddenly all around him. When the battle is over, hundreds of his comrades had been killed, and Charley and the other survivors are stunned. It is eventually named the Battle of Bull Run.

A camp is created near Washington and eventually reaches ninety thousand men. Charley becomes part of the day to day routine of the camp. He and others forage the farms in the area for food and eventually build log houses to live in...
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