78 pages 2 hours read

Richard Peck

The River Between Us

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2003

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Historical Context: Pre-Civil War Southern Illinois

Prior to the Civil War and continuing to the present day, many Southern Illinoisans have called themselves Egyptians and referred to their area as Little Egypt. One theory holds that this reference derives from the region’s location along the Mississippi River and alludes to ancient Egypt’s practice of enslaving people. Though Illinois is remembered as a Union state, most of Southern Illinois sympathized with the Confederate states before the first spring of the war. However, as the war progressed, volunteers from Illinois formed two full infantries for the Union Army.

The River Between Us follows the first year of the Civil War and incorporates numerous historical locations and battles. Grand Tower is a small town on the banks of the Mississippi. Cairo, Illinois, was one of the largest cities in Illinois at the time and served as a strategic command post of Union General U. S. Grant. The Battle of Belmont (Missouri), in which Noah lost his arm, was the first engagement on the Mississippi River and provided Grant his first experience as a commander. Although Belmont was a skirmish, it resulted in hundreds of casualties. Soldiers from Southern Illinois fought on both the Union and Confederate sides in this battle.