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Lucy’s Cave: A Story Of Vicksburg, 1863

  • Written by Karen B. Winnick
  • Illustrated by Karen B. Winnick
  • Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, 2008
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590781944, hardcover
  • Ages and Grades: 8 - 12; Kindergarten - 6

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The Best Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education Children’s Book Committee, 2008

Based on a real young girl’s experiences and remembrances of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863, Lucy and her family are forced to leave their home and live in one of the caves dug out of the hills around the city.

Download a pdf with interdisciplinary activities and bibliography, created by Sandy Schuckett, retired librarian.

What drew you to Lucy’s story?
When I learned through readings about the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi during the siege I was intrigued. People left their homes and lived together in caves for 47 days. I read first hand accounts by Lucy McRae and Willie Lord among others. It made me think about how a sense of community was crucial to their survival.

How did your research for this book differ from research for your other books on the Civil War period?
As with my other books, I did a great deal of reading—books, newspapers of the era, websites. I studied maps, old photographs, etc. But similar to my Revolutionary War story about Sybil Luddington, SYBIL’S NIGHT RIDE, I visited the setting of my story before finishing it. I went to the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg and met with Gordon Cotton, the director at the time. There were many artifacts on display which gave a good sense of the life lived under siege. I toured the city—Lucy’s house called Planter’s Hall (a private family lives there so I couldn’t go inside), Reverend Lord’s church (since rebuilt) and the location of the caves which are sealed off. I stayed at a small inn overlooking the Mississippi River. I could imagine the Union gunboats floating there. My visit gave me a real sense of what Vicksburg might have been like during the Civil War era.

Did you visit the Military Park at Vicksburg?
Yes, I did. This was the site of clashes between the Union and Confederate forces. For me, it filled in the rest of the story. But for LUCY’S CAVE, I was concerned mainly with the story of the civilians during the siege.

Where there interesting facts about Lucy that you had to exclude from the story?
Mostly those facts took place before and after the action of my story. Lucy’s two brothers survived the Civil War. One, her brother Allen, stood guard at the tent of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. When Allen was discharged he was given a letter, a horse and a gold piece worth twenty dollars. He rode from Virginia to Vicksburg on the horse with the coin inside his boot.

When Lucy was grown she married John Walton and moved to Lewisburg, West Virginia to be with him. After his death she married Henry Bell. She had one daughter, also named Lucy. She died in 1930 and is buried in Lewisburg. For many years her home in Vicksburg, Planter’s Hall, was a museum. Today it’s a private residence.

“Filled with details of living under siege that will fascinate young readers.”—Library Media Connection

“During the Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi came under attack by Union army gunboats from the Mississippi River. The siege lasted forty-seven days, during which many families and their slaves fled to the hills around the city and took refuge in a series of caves and tunnels. This book is based on the published remembrances of Lucy McRae, who experienced the Vicksburg siege and the cave shelter as an eleven-year old child. Told from a child’s point of view, the fearful sounds and vibrations of shell explosions help Lucy to accept the necessity of living in this dark and damp enclosure. She has more trouble accepting the gestures of friendship from annoying Liddy Lord until a bad accident shows her the importance of friends and community.”

“With its carefully-researched text and oil paintings in the style of Civil War era artists, Lucy’s Cave is historical fiction for kids at its finest. The book also embraces important lessons in economics related to scarcity and needs. Families who may have lived prosperously before were now eating lumpy cornmeal gruel for dinner, sleeping on wooden planks with pieces of carpet, hauling buckets of water for subsistence and buckets of human waste for disposal, cooking on a communal fire, kneading bread made from animal feed, and living endless days in a dimly lit cavern. Lucy’s Cave makes a valuable addition to any collection of children’s books with substantive content intertwined with an appealing story.”—Yana V. Rodgers, Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children