March Toward the Thunder

Written by Joseph Bruchac
Review by Pamela Ortega

Prolific author Joseph Bruchac tells the story of a 15-year-old Canadian Abenaki Indian boy who enlists in the Union Army in 1864 to obtain the bonus paid to enlistees and to prove his worth as a human being. Fatherless, young Louis Nolette and his mother, Marie, an Abenaki healer, support themselves as basket weavers, and Louis wants the bonus so his mother can buy land for them.

By 1864, Civil War recruiters were hard-pressed to maintain the supply of soldiers, and this gave Louis the opportunity to enlist with the “Fighting 69th” Irish Brigade of New York. In the Brigade’s march to Virginia and subsequent battles there, Louis was accepted by and soon found much in common with his Irish fellow soldiers, both cultures having experienced loss of homeland and both struggling to make their place in the world. Though fighting bravely, Louis avoids harm in most of the often-mismanaged battles that summer, although the brigade suffers horrendous losses.

The book is somber but avoids being too dark because of the thoughtful musings and unique perspective of Louis and the occasional flashes of humor from the soldiers. Its surprising conclusion also saves the book from being just a “war is hell” tome. The book is carefully researched, and the author skillfully introduces many historical facts (women soldiers, black brigades) and figures, such as Lincoln and Clara Barton, in his narrative. I recommend it.