When collecting reading material to supplement my son's Civil War history lessons, I had a hard time finding balanced material that showed that the cause of the war was not just about slavery and explained the important aspect of states' rights. I was thrilled to discover The
Orphan and the Beaten Drum, which portrays the South's stance through the eyes of a courageous young drummer boy.
The story is full of adventure, sharing the tale of Roger Mills and his twin sister, Jane, as they join the 6th Alabama Infantry as drummer boy and Daughter of the Regiment, respectively. It begins with the struggles that fall upon their family, as well as the struggles that fall upon the nation. Orphaned and rejected at the age of only 12, the brother and sister escape from an orphanage and begin their journey with the war. The book tells of Jane assisting the company's doctor and of Roger fighting bravely and creatively and crafting his own drum.
I was delighted to see a great deal of details regarding battles and prominent Civil War figures. The book shares the tale of the Mills family, but it is about the battles of the South. The battles are clearly outlined, including strategies, and it would be nice to follow along with a map to trace the journey of the 6th Alabama Infantry. Death and details of wounds are shared throughout the book, but those are to be expected in an intimate account of the life of soldiers. I didn't find any of the descriptions to be terribly graphic or disturbing.
I was also delighted to see Roger motivated by his faith, not as a part of his life, but as the very foundation of his life throughout the book. The character of Roger is an inspiring character as well as an excellent example of integrity. His faith is sincere and is very evident throughout the book.
I found some distracting elements in the book, but they were mild and few. The first quarter of the book seems to have been written in a different style than the rest. It carries a less mature writing tone. When asked if he'd encountered any trouble on a trip, Roger replies, "Funny you'd ask," as a lead-in to the announcement that a family friend is dead. Funny? The strange reply was awkward to read, but not terrible. Later, when his father is dying, Roger delivers a poetically imploring speech to a sleeping doctor. The prose is beautiful but very out of place and pretentious. This awkwardness completely disappeared after the first few chapters, giving the sense that the author was still finding his voice. But find it he did, and it was a pleasure to read!
Roger's faith is very Biblical, but I had some minor concerns over just a few attitudes described. One scenario describes Roger's visit to a new church. Roger has trouble staying awake and hears someone else snoring. Roger blames this on the soft and clear voice of the minister and thinks that this would never happen at his old church, where the terror of God is preached with shouts. I enjoy a rousing sermon, but I have also heard the Holy Spirit speak in a still, small voice; I felt the need to explain to my boys that our preferences don't need to lay fault at anyone's feet and that our lack of appreciation should not be equated to a lack of anointing.
A second scenario involves a fellow drummer who is wounded and is discovered to be a girl who has disguised herself as a boy to escape from the same appalling orphanage from which Roger and Jane also escaped. It is presented as an unquestioned fact that the girl's behavior was shameful. Roger even seems to struggle with deciding if it is proper for Jane to work alongside the drummer girl in the hospital. It is a very brief scene, but the lack of grace for someone in such a similar situation as Roger and his sister seemed out of place with Roger's declared faith.
The last scenario that gave a hint of this concerning attitude was toward the end of the book. Roger tells someone, "I guess I have an uncle, but we never talk much about him." The uncle had sympathies with the North that were presented at the beginning of the book. This balanced presentation impressed me at the beginning, but the uncle is not mentioned again until this portion near the end when he is discussed as a traitor, and it almost comes across as if he is shunned by the children for it. This again seemed out of place with Roger's faith in a gracious God.
All of these concerns are mild and in no way made me dislike the book; I mention them only for parents who might want to know about specific elements when screening for reading material. These short scenes are the only ones that contained this lack of mercy. Overall, I truly found the book to be an asset to our Civil War library. It is gripping and very educational. I look forward to its sequel.
I did find the illustrations to be distracting. They were rather juvenile and prompted me to investigate the age of the illustrator. The illustrator, it turns out, is also the author. And the author is a talented young man by the name of Bryce Chandler, who wrote the book when he was only 19. Even more impressive, Mr. Chandler published his first novel, under his own publishing company, at the age of 16. A lifetime homeschooler, Chandler is a drummer boy re-enactor who, like his character, created his own authentic drum. Chandler is a college student who still finds time to continue writing in the Drummer Boy series and to speak to school and church groups, presenting the life of a drummer boy in authentic dress and discussing the causes for the War Between the States.