Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers

ISBN: 0440228387
ISBN 13: 9780440228387
By: Gary Paulsen

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Civil War Currently Reading Favorites Fiction Historical Historical Fiction History To Read War Young Adult

About this book

In June 1861, when the Civil War began, Charley Goddard enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteers. He was 15. He didn't know what a "shooting war" meant or what he was fighting for. But he didn't want to miss out on a great adventure.The "shooting war" turned out to be the horror of combat and the wild luck of survival; how it feels to cross a field toward the enemy, waiting for fire. When he entered the service he was a boy. When he came back he was different; he was only 19, but he was a man with "soldier's heart," later known as "battle fatigue."

Reader's Thoughts

April Helms

15-year-old Charley Goddard lied about his age so he could join the First Minnesota Volunteers in 1861, and fought for virtually the entire Civil War. A fictionalized account of a real soldier and real events. Charley enlists so he can see more of the world, and it seems like easy money. But from his first battle, he realizes that there is nothing romantic or exciting about war.Teens with family in the military will probably be able to relate to an extent what Charley is going through. It boggles the mind that a 15-year-old, someone not even old enough to drive, someone who would be a freshman or sophomore in school, would know the horror of battle. This book illustrates the psychological toll of war, the horrors seen – once, when Charley goes to fill his canteen, the stream is red with blood. In other scene, Charley is asked to stack dead bodies near a medical tent to serve as a windbreaker. My one nit is there is a very abrupt shift from when Charley is on the train, still innocent, and then the midst of his first battle. That may throw a lot of teens. I was a bit surprised to find this in the Children’s section of my local library. I really don’t think this is an appropriate book for anyone under 11. It is better for the YA shelves.


Charlie lies about his age to enlist in the American Civil War. He wants to prove to his family that he can provide for them. However, he gets much more than he bargained for. Charlie experiences the harshness and cruelties of war, sees friends die, and he himself gets injured. At the end of the book, he is suffering from PTSD, another name for it is Soldier's Heart.I liked the book. It was short, sweet, and full of action. The descriptions in this book were also well written, and as this is a Paulsen novel, it is mostly the protagonist's inner monologue.As for warnings, there is death and violence. This is a war novel after all.


Charley Goddard is just fifteen years old when he enlists to fight in the Civil War, obviously lying about his age. Throughout the book, the author describes how Charley's eyes are opened as he witnesses the hardship and devastation that results from war. This is a coming of age story about a boy becoming a man. I have a really hard time with Paulsen's books, I often find them extremely boring. This one was only one hundred pages, and so there were pros and cons to this story being so short. The pros are that the subject matter of this book is not really my thing and so it was good that this wasn't a rigorous read I had to work through. It also helped give the book a nice, fast pacing, not dwelling too long on detail, so I was rarely bored. The cons are that there was hardly any character development. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of understanding Charley's character. This may or may not have been intentional, but regardless it was hard for me become fully engaged in this book because I couldn't forma an attachment with the characters. Content:Sexuality/nudity: NoneViolence/gore: There are some graphic and disturbing images in this book, some even that caused me to make loud and horrified exclamations. Some scenes caused me to feel physically sick. But like I said, this is not my thing. I have a weak stomach, and so some of the stuff that disturbed me would probably be no big deal to someone else. Language: This is a war novel, so of course there is some language, though nothing too graphic. Alcohol/drugs: NoneFrightening/intense scenes: There are several intense battle scenes.


Charley is a young man who wants to get into the army even though he is too young. In order to fool people about his age he goes to another town where they don't know him and he can lie about it. At first he is super excited to go to war and thinks it will be a great experience. After he enters his first fight he finds out it is not something to take be excited about. The rest of the war leads to many tragedies and horrors for him to face.I thought the book wasn't a very good read. It seemed to just kind of be there. There wasn't anything about the story that pulled me in and made feel like I was there and I wasn't able to relate to the character. The amount of tragedy this one boy sees and survives is also very unlikely the way it is described. There is some strong violence in this book to be aware of.

Colin Hughes

"Soldier's Heart," is the story of a young 15 year old boy who hears rumors about a war brewing against the seceding "Rebels," and wants to fight for the Union. After months of training, Charlie is finally thrown into his first battle, the Battle of Bull Run, where he is forever changed. Once the plot got going, it never slowed down, and it had me hooked right until the very end. The Civil War setting seemed very authentic, and the battlefield scenes were horrifyingly realistic; I felt like I was seeing it right through the eyes of this young boy. Charlie is nicely described and well-developed, although other characters seemed a little half-baked, and Paulsen could've done a better job building them up. This book relates to the American Dream because it shows that people are willing to fight for freedom and equality, even if it isn't there own. It describes the pivotal point in American history where blacks finally gained freedom from slavery. People interested in the Civil War time period, or simply anyone looking for a quick, exhilarating read should give this book a try.


Terrific book. My students were riveted to Charley's story. A must read for US History (part 1) classes everywhere, and BONUS.... the story is only 102 pages, so kids won't get tired or bored with it. My hat is off to Gary Paulsen with this absolute WINNER of a book!

Erika Forth

While I am a fan of Gary Paulsen, I was not a fan of Soldier's Heart. This novel just had way too many issues for me to enjoy it. The writing wasn't very good, and there were lots of longwinded and awkward sentences. The pacing was off as well. We get a brief introduction to who Charley is, and then he is thrown into a couple battles, and then all of a sudden it was a couple years later. It didn't feel like a novel to me; I think this would have worked better as a short story. I would have liked more back story on Charley, and at the end I would like to see more of how things ended up for him. I also thought the battles were too short, and I don't like how it jumped from one to the next with very little in between. There just seemed to be so little character development and no plot! However, it did portray the horrors of war quite well, as there were some very disturbing yet true scenes! Perhaps I am a bit biased because I am used to (and prefer) long, sweeping, epic historical fiction novels, but either way I just couldn't get into this book.

William Barton

Soldiers Heart is a candid depiction of the barbarity involved with the civil war. The book depicts a series of famous battles in which the characters are faced with unreasonable odds and terrors. The book follows one character in particular, Charley Goddard, who was an actual young man who served in the war. The novel is a horrific telling of what soldiers had to deal with physically and emotionally during that time in history.I loved this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of violence, a lot of gore, and some very disturbing images. But if you can look past those moments and see the book as a historical depiction of some of the most influential moments in our history, the book can be quite illuminating regardless of it’s dark content.


I have always had a certain respect for Gary Paulsen, and have enjoyed several of his books. However, I found this one to be surprisingly lack-luster. It’s short, which makes it attractive to readers, but I think it could have been fleshed out a lot more. There were points at which it felt more like an outline than a full story and didn’t seem to be following the all-important “show, don’t tell” rule as much as it could have.I think there is value to this book, and it could easily be enjoyed by fans of non-fiction or war stories, particularly middle school boys. I just personally would have preferred more character depth. I didn’t feel like I got enough of a feel for Charley’s pre-war life to be able to appreciate the change when he left for war. I also didn’t feel like I knew the character very well in general, and certainly didn’t know any of the other characters. Very few of them are ever named and even those few are little more than shadows on a battlefield. After the first battle, Charley is devastated because of all the men who died, many of whom he knew and was friends with, but since I didn’t know a single one of them, I had trouble sharing his pain. I can see the usefulness of this book, but I think that it could have been better.


This book is about a boy named Charley who quickly learns to become a man. Charley lived in the civil war era and decides to join the Union forces. The only problem is that Charley is underage and can't join in his town. So Charley goes to a diffrent town where no one will reconize him. He is able to join up but dosen't go into action very fast. He has to go through training and just prepare for what he was about to do. The day finally comes where his platoon is sent out on a train to fight the South. His first fire-fight comes and a lot of the men were slaughtered. This fight scares him but he continues to fight. After this first fight, Charley's squad doesn't fight in another conflict for a very long while. But he was finally sent to the front lines. The next fight was a victory for Charley and his friends. Charley felt on top of the world all the way until his next fight. He was shooting and stabbing when the fate of all too many soldiers came to meet Charley, a bullet. I liked this book because it has been the only one I have read about the Civil War. Also the author, Gary Paulsen, keeps you turning the pages.

Jac Sevasta

ONLY giving this a 5 because I have FINALLY found an accessible war story that delivers what all my students who want to read "war stories" are actually interested in: graphic details about wounds and dead people. And from Gary Paulson no less. I'm shocked.

Adrienne Morgan

Soldier's Heart is a blunt depiction of Civil War combat. Based on the real-life experiences of Charley Goddard, the novel is an account of Charley's experiences from the time he enlists in the Union army at age fifteen to a couple of years after the Civil War when he is twenty-one and his life is a shambles. The title of the book is a phrase used by Americans to label Civil War veterans who seemed mentally lost because of the war. The atmosphere at the town meetings discussing the possibility is festive, with flags and drums and patriotic speeches. I read this book in grade school and felt a little overwhelmed with the story line and language. My older brother convinced me to read it and I am happy I did. This is a well written book by Gary Paulsen. It shows a 15 year old who thinks he knows it all and has all of the confidence in the world and quickly realizes life is not as easy as it seems. His fears and insecurities are exposed as he is quickly thrown into the realities of war.This book could definitely be used in the classroom when reviewing world history or how we got our independence. There are so many references to real life soldiers and their stories it almost seems like you are there.

Brittany Permann

Soldiers Heart by Gary Paulsen was an easy read because it was short but at the same time it was hard for me to read because I haven't ever gotten in to those types of books. It is about Charley, a young boy who lies about his age and joins a group of volunteers to fight in the war. It was the first "shooting" war so everyone was very excited about it. He was shocked to see what the war brought and had many terrifying things happen. He had to grow up faster than he planned. His whole life changed just by joining the war and it was something he could never forget. There are a few scenes where it is graphic about the war and all the dead bodies.


Soldier's Heart is the story of Charley Goddard (who actually existed), a fifteen-year-old boy who lies about his age to join the Union Army. The short novel goes through his journey as he experiences the horrors of almost every major battle in The Civil War. This book was short, with very little, extremely mild language, but it still shocked me. It portrays the horrors of the battlefield as Charley sees them. The honesty in the descriptions is shocking. I wouldn't say that I loved the book simply because how can you love a book about such a horrible experience? But the book is to the point and poignant. It could be a powerful tool in a young adult's life. It's a quick read that took me into the time period and helped me appreciate what I have and the lives that were lost and destroyed so that I can be free.

Carson Ball

Soldiers heart is an interesting and emotional historical fiction novel. Its based of the real life of Charlie Goddard, who you first meet as a 15 year old boy from Minnesota. Who is determined to lie about his age and enlist in the first Minnesota regiment. This book will keep you interested throughout by making you feel so emotionally close to the characters. The only down side of this book was its lack of details in some areas. Even considering those factors I would suggest this book to history lovers and people who want a good read.

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