Caroline's Battle

Published in 2012; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrators Lisa and Robert Papps (they're married)


Caroline's father has only just gotten home when a militiaman rides through town announcing that the British are attacking. There's no wind at the moment, so there's at least some time to gather people to defend Sackets Harbor--important because the Navy men are patrolling far away. Caroline's father volunteers to help, after securing a promise that his family will stay safe. The Hathaways pack immediately, as Mrs. Hathaway's husband gave her strict instruction to head inland if a battle were imminent. They'll stay with some friends on a farm a ways away, and offer for the Abbott women to come along. Mrs. Abbott politely refuses, saying she needs to stay to protect her property. Caroline's grandmother says they can stay safe in the cellar, and adds that they'll await the Hathaway's return when everything calms down.

Once Caroline's father leaves, her mother gets ready to head to the shipyard. Caroline is surprised. Her father had specifically said to leave defending the shipyard to the workers. But her mother explains that she's only retrieving the ship plans and other things so the British can't find them. Caroline helps her carry things back home, where her grandmother says she can take it from here; she's had experience hiding things from the British. Caroline and her mother go back to the shipyard just in time to see the workers being summoned to defend the naval shipyard, leaving the pair alone.

Caroline's mother packs up the last of the documents and sends Caroline home. She'll be staying at the shipyard, not willing to leave it defenseless. Caroline's grandmother remarks that it could a long time that her mother is alone there, and asks Caroline to make one more trip, to deliver food and blankets to her mother. Her grandmother sets a hearty meal before Caroline, and packs a basket for Caroline's mother (her daughter). When Caroline is done eating, the basket is full. Her grandmother lifts some of the food to show Caroline that a pistol is nestled at the bottom of the basket, strictly instructing Caroline to get the basket into her mother's hands. She also tells Caroline that she's lived through battles before and can do so alone, if Caroline feels it's right to stay with her mother. Nervous but determined, Caroline heads out once more for the shipyard.

At the shipyard, time passes slowly. Caroline almost wishes the wind would pick up so she wouldn't have to wait and wonder. After a while, a soldier comes by. He tells Mrs. Abbott that if the British start to overtake Sackets Harbor, they need to destroy any supplies that could aid the British. That means burning the shipyard. Caroline can't believe it, but her mother resolutely agrees. It's the lesser of two evils. Together, Caroline and her mother start a bonfire in case they need it, and pile wood shavings against the buildings, to act as kindling. They take turns watching through the night. At one point, Caroline sees a shadowy figure. She wakes her mother, who warns whoever it is that she's armed. A voice calls out that two soldiers are looking for a dry place to sleep, but Caroline's mother cuts the voice off and fires into the air. They scurry away, and she explains to Caroline that if the soldier are Americans, they've deserted their posts, and if they're British, it was a ruse. 

Cannon fire announces dawn. The British fleet has landed near town. Caroline's mother goes up to the room where the sails are made to watch for the signal to burn the shipyard. Shots ring out all around. Some American soldiers run past, telling Caroline that they're retreating. Caroline's mother sees the naval storehouses lit on fire, the signal that the British have won. She alerts Caroline, who gets a torch to start burning buildings, and heads to the gunboat to destroy that. Caroline lights up the empty building that used to hold the boat she had to sink. Just as Caroline is lighting another pile of wood shavings, the soldier who first instructed the Abbotts might need to burn everything runs in. He tells them to stop, that the British are retreating and the storehouses were set fire by mistake. He helps her douse the flames. Caroline's mother heard just in time to avoid damaging the gunboat.

The battle is over, but Caroline and her mother stay for a time. Some of the militiamen are rowdy, and they want to see how the workers are. Mr. Tate eventually shows up, along with some others. Some have cuts and bruises, but all the workers are safe. Caroline's father comes shortly after, and is impressed with the resolve his wife and daughter showed--and happy they didn't need to follow through with destroying the shipyard. 

Two weeks later, the gunboat is finished (it took about a year). The Abbotts and the Hathaways, including Rhonda's father, are on hand to watch it launch. Caroline feels a swell of pride seeing it in the water. She helped defend that boat, and now it's going to defend America. 

Looking Back

The historical section is about the Battle of Sackets Harbor, a real event that took place in late May 1813. The British were defeated then, but other cities fared worse. Washington, D.C. itself was ransacked, the White House was burned to the ground. First Lady Dolly Madison rescued many historical artifacts before leaving it. It was a very demoralizing defeat, but the US wasn't ready to give up independence after not even four decades. One battle over Baltimore Harbor inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner," when a captured Francis Scott Key saw a gigantic American flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, nieces, and servant. It was waving over the harbor, showing that despite the brutal assault, the Americans had held the land. He wrote the famous poem which was later set to music, and declared the national anthem in 1931. The giant flag--thirty feet by forty-two feet--is in the Smithsonian.


This book is dedicated to "Constance Barone, Dianne Graves, James Spurr, and Stephen Wallace; and for everyone who has worked to preserve and interpret Sackets Harbor's rich heritage, with thanks."

Caroline's grandmother sends the pistol unloaded, with the ammunition separate. Smart woman.Caroline has never handled a firearm, and it's bouncing around in the basket, so that was definitely a safe move.

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