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The Home Guard

In a letter to folks back home near the start of the Civil War, a Union soldier described Beaufort, South Carolina as “one of the handsomest places in the United States.” Handsome it was, but no longer in the U.S. after Fort Sumter in April 1861. Carter Barnwell, age twelve, is a dreamy-eyed boy of the Carolina Lowcountry until the Battle of Port Royal Sound brought thousands of Union troops to his hometown, forcing his mother to evacuate and leaving him responsible for his aging grandmother. Together, Carter and his grandmother flee to the family hunting lodge on Cane Island.


Carter has only vague notions of the causes for the war, but he has lived his entire life in the South and known only its people. His cousin, Gabriel Heyward, recruits him to spy, and with Carter’s older brother in Virginia fighting for the Confederacy, Carter is eager to do his part for the war effort. The risk of arrest is one he accepts, knowing his freedom and grandmother’s life depend on his not getting caught. 


When a Pennsylvania missionary and her pretty young daughter arrive at the plantation adjoining the hunting lodge, the war takes a turn for which Carter is totally unprepared. He has never seen a girl like blue-eyed Sonja, who treats him like a kid brother until he proves his worth by teaching her skills she will need in the waters and marshes of the Carolina coast. Gradually, she warms to him, but that warmth is threatened by both a Union rival and her resolute abolitionist convictions. Carter, maturing beyond his years by war, must reach adult decisions that will profoundly affect his life and the lives of those he cares most about.

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