James Edmond Pease is sixteen years old when he starts his journal about his experiences during the Civil War. He escaped the poor treatment of an aunt and uncle who became his guardians when his parents died. His journal gives detailed and honest descriptions of the day to day life of a Civil War soldier. He writes of his interactions with his fellow soldiers as well as graphic descriptions of battles and their deadly consequences. As the Civil War progresses and James Edmond Pease grows up his journal shows him maturing through his experiences as a soldier. He learns many lessons that will carry him through life during this critical time in American history.
Jim Murphy wrote, “The Civil War also changed the boys who fought in it. It robbed them of their childhoods.” This is underlying theme of the book. James Edmond Pease was just a child when he became a Civil War soldier. He had already endured the loss of his parents and even though he volunteered to become a soldier so he could get a decent meal he was still forced to grow up too quickly. As a soldier, Pease was forced to see many things that children should not have to be exposed to. His journal provides graphic and gory details about battle wounds. He describes the consequences of cannons and guns with honest and blunt descriptions. Sadly, these descriptions are written by a child who has seen too much death and injury to portray any amount of shock about what he has seen.
James Edmond Pease is on his own in the beginning of the story. This is something else that young children should not have to experience. He joins the military as a shy and scared young boy with no family or friends to support him. As he grows up during the Civil War, he meets many soldiers who eventually become his friends and support system. These friends help James grow up during a time of incredible difficulty and sadness. James progresses from the scared young boy to a confident young man through his experiences in the Civil War. However, he is still robbed of his childhood because he should be experiencing the joys of friendship by engaging in activities other than shooting and killing.
Finally, James Edmond Pease is forced to grow up too quickly through his interactions with difficult people he came into contact with. Children usually have parents or other adults in their lives to help guide them through these types of interactions. Since James didn’t have this type of support he was forced to figure out how to deal with them on his own. Specifically, his dealings with Shelp showed how brave James really was despite his lack of a familial support system. He quickly learned the best ways to deal with Shelp and this showed an incredible amount of maturity despite James’s young age.
I Almost Died – A Poem about the Civil War
Hissing of lead
My arms and legs are tiring.
A comrade falls.
For me death almost calls.
But no, my comrade only tripped and fell.
I was still madder than I could tell.
I leaped over the fallen man
I gathered my wits and ran
Straight into the smoke of a recently fired gun
Not to stop until the battle was done.
Murphy, Jim. (1998). My Name is America, The Journal off James Edmond Pease. New York: