The Littlest Rebel

I first became aware of this story when I made a flea market purchase of a Little Big Book (Saalfield Publishing Company’s version of Whitman’s Big Little Books). The volume had numerous photos from the 1935 Shirley Temple movie, but almost none of the illustrations had any connection with the book’s plot line.

After reading my abridged version of The Littlest Rebel I watched the movie, then downloaded and read the complete 1914 novel, which was an adaption of a 1911 stage play.

The play was written by Edward H. Peple, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1869. Since Peple began life in the former Confederate capital just five years after the Civil War ended I assume he grew up hearing stories about the days of the Confederacy. Though he writes of a family loyal to the Southern Cause, he portrays most Union Army officers and enlisted men in a sympathetic light.

The film version begins right when war is being declared and, since it is a Shirley Temple movie, the first scene is of singing and dancing at young Virgie Cary’s birthday party. The festivities ended abruptly when Virgie’s father learned of the attack at Fort Sumter, and he goes off to fight for his country.

The book, however, begins in 1864, three years into the war, when seven-year-old Virginia Cary is one of the few remaining residents on the family’s plantation near Richmond. There are only Virgie and her mother, plus two remaining slaves – a foolish girl named Sally Ann, and loyal Uncle Billy. Most of the livestock had been taken by both the Union and Confederate armies, and there was little remaining food of any kind.

Virgie’s father, Captain Herbert Cary, a scout in the Confederate Army, comes home for a ten minute visit to hug his family and change horses. Moments after he leaves Union cavalrymen, led by Colonel Morrison, came in search of Captain Cary.

Morrison told Mrs. Cary they had to search the house, but he assured her no harm would come to her property. Unfortunately, after the search was concluded, drunken Sergeant Dudley – who’d been an overseer on the plantation until Captain Cary had horsewhipped and fired him for mistreating slaves – set fire to the upstairs rooms.

Sergeant Dudley staggered out of the burning house and rushed away. He was ordered to halt, and when he did not Morrison shot and killed him.

In the next chapter young Virgie was the only one living on what was left of the plantation. Her mother had died, Sally Ann ran off, and Uncle Billy had gone to Richmond in search of food, but the Union Army blocked his return. Virgie was barefooted, dressed in rags, and staying in an overseer’s cabin. She was surviving on berries and parched-acorn coffee.

Her father, wounded and on foot, comes to her with a pass from General Lee to get her safely through the military lines. But Colonel Morrison and his men returned in search of Captain Cary. The colonel was separated from his men when he discovered the captain’s hiding place, and the captain asked him to get Virgie to Richmond, and not let her know he was to be executed.

Colonel Morrison decided to allow Captain Cary to get his daughter to safety, and requested that he travel as a father and not as a scout, and to forget anything he might see while slipping through the Union lines. He wrote his own pass on the back of the one from General Lee, and left with his troops.

During the Carys walk to Richmond they met up with Union soldiers. Corporal Dudley, the brother of the man Colonel Morrison shot after the man torched the Cary home, came into possession of the double pass. It was proof that Morrison helped a suspected spy escape, and the corporal went after revenge.

Both Captain Cary and Colonel Morrison were put under arrest, and the colonel was court-martialed and found guilty of treason. Both officers received the death sentence.

In the Shirley Temple movie Virgie and Uncle Billy set out for Washington and asked President Lincoln to pardon the captain and the colonel. But in the novel author Edward H. Peple knew who had the real power during the war. The officer who’d served as Colonel Morrison’s court-martial counsel went to see General Grant and asked for a pardon.

General Grant referred to himself as a war machine. He focused on what needed to be done to defeat the enemy, and if a defective cog was found within the machinery of war it was replaced for the purpose of reuniting the country. Grant was not swayed by sob stories. But when a barefoot girl in a ragged dress defeated the sentries and rushed into the general’s headquarters he was presented with a witness to the crucial question of whether Captain Cary was merely an enemy scout, or if he truly had been a spy.

I found The Littlest Rebel a compelling book, though it is not politically correct. There were viewpoints on slavery that made me want to reach into certain paragraphs and bang heads against a wall. But the story is about a little girl who looses all except her Daddy, and her love for the Southern Cause and General Lee. She remained determined to make the best of her ordeals, and be a brave “soldier.”

The war was coming to an end, both of Virgie’s parents had known the South would be defeated, but both believed the fighting had to continue. Virgie met some good “damn Yankees” and her seven-year-old intellect pondered how they would need to follow commands from their own general, whom she assumed they loved as much as she loved General Lee.

The book is melodramatic, with the purplest of purple prose about love and honor, and fighting for a doomed cause. I found some sections cringe-worthy, but was often near tears as I read about flawed people I grew to care about.

If you would like to read The Littlest Rebel it can be downloaded free of charge at:

Captain January

I watched both movies based on this short book – the 1924 silent film starring Baby Peggy, and the 1936 musical version with Shirley Temple. Since the films had the same basic ending I was sure I knew how the book would conclude. Not even close.

Before you meet seventy-year-old Captain Januarius Judkins (a/k/a Captain January a/k/a Daddy Captain) and ten-year-old Star Bright I’ll tell you a little about the author.

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was born in Boston on February 27, 1850. Her father was Samuel Gridley Howe, who helped establish the Perkins Institute, the first school for the blind in the United States. Mrs. Richard’s mother was Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After marrying her next-door neighbor Mrs. Richards would become the mother of seven children. She began writing and selling children’s poetry and novels, as well as biographies. In 1917 Mrs. Richards and her sister, Maud Howe Elliot won the Pulitizer Prize for Julia Ward Howe, a biography about their mother.

The author had more than 90 books published. Captain January was first printed in 1890.

The reader learns about Captain January’s background from the stories he tells to Star Bright. He’d run off to sea as a young boy and in time worked his way up to being ship’s captain. His last vessel was destroyed in a cyclone, and the captain was shipwrecked on a desert island – five years with a ship mate, and ten years alone after the mate died.

He was finally rescued and returned to his boyhood hometown, but couldn’t get used to being around people. He learned of the need for a lighthouse keeper on a island off the coast of Maine, asked for, and obtained the job. Once again he was living in solitude, until ten years before the story begins.

During a gale a shipwreck occurred on the lighthouse island’s rocky coast, and the only survivor was a baby girl. The next day Captain January sent for the minister to give a proper burial to the bodies he recovered, but refused to give up the baby he named Star Bright. He was sure the Lord wanted him to care for the little survivor.

He obtained a milk cow named Imogen, and later asked the minister for a couple of books to use in educating his girl. He was given the Bible, plus a book of Shakespeare’s plays. Those books became greatly loved by Star and the captain, but neither liked the dictionary the minister also gave them. That book was considered a troublemaker.

Star was not perfect – she could be bossy, had a quick temper, and didn’t like being in the company of strangers. Well, a girl raised by a recluse, and who read Shakespeare to a cow, can’t be expected to behave like an average child. But she adored her Daddy Captain, and enjoyed the company of the only person encouraged to visit the lighthouse.

Bob Peet was the pilot of the steamer Huntress that regularly went past the island. Some thought him not quite right in his mind because of his stubborn and quiet ways, but Captain January liked him because he could “belay his jaw” and sit for hours without feeling the need to speak.

One day Bob came by for a visit, and admitted he wasn’t on the Huntress because he’d run her aground on the sand during a thick fog. All aboard would have to wait until high tide before finishing their journey.

With the captain’s approval Bob rowed Star close to the grounded steamer. That short outing had serious consequences, for a lady passenger saw the girl, and was shocked by the resemblance to her sister, who’d been lost at sea – along with her husband and baby – ten years ago.

The next day the minister was rowed to the island to tell Captain January that wealthy Mrs. Morton was sure Star was her niece and wanted to do what was best for the girl. In an hour’s time Bob Peet would row Mr. and Mrs. Morton to the lighthouse. At first the poor captain railed at the injustice of a stranger claiming any right to the child who had become his reason for living, but though he was rough and uneducated Januarius Judkins had faith in the Lord’s will.

With heartbroken dignity he greeted Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and declared his lighthouse island to be “Good anchorage for a shipwrecked mariner like me, but no place for ladies or – or them as belongs to ladies.”

The captain was willing to give up his treasure, but when Star was asked to go off with her relatives she replied that they could kill her and take away her body, but she would never leave when she was alive. Mrs. Morton was not cruel, and so she left her niece with the lighthouse captain.

One crisis passed, but another one was looming.

On Christmas day Bob Peet came with pockets filled with candy and oranges, plus he brought a large box containing presents and a letter from Star’s aunt. When Star took her beautiful new doll up to her bedroom the captain made plans with Bob.

The Lord was letting Captain January know that he would soon receive his “final sailing orders” and Star needed to be taken care of. The captain would fly a blue pennant as a signal, and when Bob went past as pilot of the Huntress he would look for that pennant, and when he saw it he’d know all was well. (I looked in my father’s World War II edition of The Bluejackets’ Manual and saw that a blue pennant meant “senior officer present.”)

When the time came when Bob didn’t see the signal pennant he was to tell the steamer’s captain to send a telegram to Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and Bob was to row to the lighthouse and comfort Star.

I will end this summary by stating both of the film versions ended with Star going to live with a wealthy family, and the captain being hired to take charge of the family’s yacht. There are no yachts in the novel.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the romance and lore of old-time lighthouses? This brief, six-chapter novel has a nautical flavor to it, with the main characters speaking in seafaring terms. The author moved to Maine a few years after her marriage, so I am sure the local dialect rings true.

Captain January and Star Bright are both salty individuals, but I grew to care for the loving and believable family. More than thirty-five years after writing Captain January Laura E. Richards wrote a sequel entitled Star Bright, published in 1927. This second book was apparently not a best seller, and the few copies I’ve seen for sale are on the pricey side. But I know I will eventually acquire a copy, for I want to know more about the story.

I found this book when I came up with the idea to read all of the original stories Shirley Temple movies were based on, and I was expecting the novel to be rather trite. It now holds a permanent place as one of my favorite Bookshelf Companions.

If you’d like to read Captain January it can be downloaded without charge at: