The Soldier Boy

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Adams, William Taylor. [As Oliver Optic] The Soldier Boy; or, Tom Somers in the Army: A Story of the Great Rebellion. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1864 reprint of New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1863. Out of print.

Tom Somers is a red-blooded young boy in a Massachusetts seaside village. When Fort Sumter falls, he runs afoul of a prominent local Copperhead (who by chance also holds the mortgage on all of Tom's father's property). Internecine strife at home whets Tom's appetite for combat, and he joins an infantry regiment. Tom fights at the first battle of Manassas, is taken prisoner, and escapes back to his unit across a dangerous swath of Secessionist territory. In later action on the Peninsula, he acquits himself valiantly thanks to a lucky pair of socks knitted by a Boston maiden. At novel's close he is commissioned lieutenant.

Adams was a prolific and hugely popular juvenile series author; the Civil War would become his richest vein of material. This is the first of his war novels, written when the conflict had run only half its course. It is arch and wryly metafictional: think of a junior Yankee version of Trollope, perhaps; the plot is full of stock elements but is brisk and energetic. The Soldier Boy is a glibly racist text, prejudiced against Negroes and "white trash" alike. The Yankee lad is its racial ideal: full of shrewdness, pluck, and testosterone.


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