Bull Run


by Paul Fleischman
Woodcuts by David Frampton

Fleischman’s Bull Run is a skillfully crafted piece of historical fiction that employs the technique of multiple perspectives. Fleishman tells about the events before, during, and after the Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. Sixteen different points of view are included, providing the reader glimpses from all sides of the war, different genders, various occupations and roles in the war, and staggered levels of involvement in the actual fighting.  Each perspective is shared only a handful of times, in brief page-and-a-half snapshots.

Fleischman uses characteristic  linguistic features of the various dialects and regions to help differentiate characters. For instance,  a Southern horse enthusiast named Shem Suggs is portrayed speaking way we would image a poor, white southern at this time would sound (“Their horses trusted me straightaway, as if they’d known me from before. I’d feed ’em and wash ’em and brush ’em and we’d talk.”)  However, I was pleased that Fleischman did not stereotypically (and often inaccurately) represent African Americans, as often happens in literature. His portrayal of Gideon Adams, an African American in Ohio, is portrayed as talking in a well-educated manner (“How we yearned to strike a blow in battle!”).

Frampton’s wood cut prints are included at the beginning of each vignette. Each character has a stamp sized print that includes their initials and some symbolism relating to their character. For example, Nathaniel Epp’s print includes the letters N and E on either side, along with the image of a camera. This reminds the reader at the beginning of each vignette about who this character is, and that can be particularly helpful since we are going back and forth between sixteen perspectives.

By choosing this multi-perspective approach of a historical event, Fleischman brings life and humanity to war. In my opinion, all too often textbooks present war seem as so distant, so remote. The faces of the common people affected by war and the stories of the under-dogs are forgotten. Only battle names and dates, causalities and victories are really ever taken into account. By providing children with pieces of high-quality historical fiction that they are studying in their history curriculums, we can enrich student’s understand AND interest in these events. In adding more “faces” to these times of war, perhaps we can also instill in students a value for human life, and an understanding that war isn’t something that should be glorified and celebrated. Bull Run reminds us of each and every life that war affects, and the ways that we are all a lot more similar than we are different.


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