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Devil's Den

Devil's Den

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Devil's Den

85 pages
3 hours
Mar 3, 2015


Tending to a veteran’s grave leads a boy on a search for his father

The battlefield at Gettysburg is a landscape of rolling hills, thickly wooded forests, and monuments to men who died here long ago. When Joey looks at this peaceful landscape, he sees it through the eyes of Joshua Gibbs, a soldier from his hometown who came to Gettysburg to save the Union. Joey comes here with his stepfather hoping to learn more about the soldier whose story has captured his imagination, but he will leave obsessed with another person’s history: his own.
Joey doesn’t know much about his biological father, who left his mother long ago, and he has never been all that curious. But during the trip to Gettysburg, his stepfather announces that he wants to adopt him. This surprising declaration sends Joey on a frantic search for his birth father—a search that uncovers truths even harder to understand than those of Gettysburg, and just as painful as any battle ever fought.
Mar 3, 2015

About the author

Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of many books for teens, including the New York Times best-selling novel Life As We Knew It, which was nominated for several state awards, and its companion books, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In, and The Shade of the Moon. She lives in Middletown, New York.

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Devil's Den - Susan Beth Pfeffer



Oh, no, Ben said to Mom and me, as we were getting ready to leave the house. I didn’t buy a flag.

I don’t think we’ll need one, Mom replied. I’m sure the committee put flags on all the veterans’ graves.

You’re right, Ben said. As a matter of fact, that’s why I didn’t buy one. It’s coming back to me now.

Joey, do you think these are enough flowers? Mom asked me. She had half a lilac bush in her arms, as well as some tulips and daffodils.

That’s more than enough, Mom, I said to her.

Why didn’t you take some of those fancy daffodils you like so much? Ben asked her.

I almost did, Mom said. And then I thought that kind of daffodil didn’t exist back then. So I went with the kinds of simple flowers Joshua Gibbs would have been familiar with.

Nice touch, Ben said, and gave Mom a peck on the cheek. They’ve been married for over five years, and he still does that kind of thing. Come on, gang. We want to get to this cemetery while there’s still daylight.

You mean so we’ll get back before the ball game, Mom said. And we have plenty of time for that. Joey, are you ready?

Of course I was ready. We were only going a mile or so to the local cemetery. After that, we were going to have lunch out and then get back in time for the ball game. Ben’s a longtime Yankee fan, and he hasn’t been the same since they won the Series.

You’ll have to take Mike to the cemetery soon, Mom said to me as we got into the car. She dropped one of her tulips and bent down to pick it up. As though one less tulip was going to matter to Joshua Gibbs. He’d been dead for over a hundred years by now, and the way I pictured him, he’d never been one for flowers anyway.

But Mom had insisted. When you go to a cemetery, you bring flowers, she said. And this is our way of welcoming Joshua into our family. Besides, he’s from here. He’d like it if we brought him flowers that grew in our backyard.

The funny thing was, adopting Joshua Gibbs had been my idea. My teacher, Ms. Hartman, had been the one to mention it. Some local group had decided the Civil War veterans’ graves were being neglected. So they set up this program where you could adopt a veteran.

As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to do it. A couple of years ago, in fifth grade, we’d been studying local history, and I’d played an Orange Blossom in our class play. That’s what they were called, Orange Blossoms, the soldiers that came from around here. We live in Orange County, New York. I personally would have called myself something different, maybe the Orange Marauders or the Orange Wildcats, but times were different back in the Civil War, and they went with Orange Blossoms.

In spite of their name, they were really brave soldiers, and they fought all over the place in the Civil War, including Gettysburg. And they deserved to be remembered. So when I heard about this adoption business, I told Mom and Ben.

It costs seventy-five dollars, I said, which was the part I liked the least about it. I have twenty saved if you’d be willing to put in the rest.

That’s a wonderful idea, Mom had said. Don’t you agree, Ben?

I certainly do, Ben said. I’m proud of you, Joey, for wanting to get involved.

So we filled out some papers, and the next thing we knew, we were told the name of our veteran. Joshua Gibbs. Born in 1838. Died in 1870, five years after the Civil War ended. A private first class in the Orange Blossoms.

It was funny. I was the one who told Mom and Ben about it, but they really got into it. We all signed a paper saying we would adopt our veteran. We promised to learn about him, to visit his gravesite and honor his memory. For some reason, that really appealed to them.

I figured it was enough to adopt Joshua Gibbs and think about what things must have been like for him. He wasn’t very old in the Civil War, in his early twenties. I liked to imagine what he looked like, Brad Pitt, I thought, or maybe Tom Cruise, and what he must have been like. Very brave. Telling his parents that fighting to end slavery was the right thing to do. I didn’t know if he had a girlfriend, but if he did, she was all upset that he was going, but he knew he had to go. Maybe he had a really good friend, like Mike, and the two of them enlisted together.

And I knew Joshua Gibbs fought bravely. I could imagine the battles, smoke from the cannonballs, and the bullets whizzing by. Dead bodies all over the place, the stench of blood and guts making strong men sick. And Joshua Gibbs kept on fighting. He entered the war hardly more than a boy, but by the time the last soldier died, he was a man.

I even had the feeling that when the war ended, he couldn’t just come back to Orange County and farm or do whatever it was people did in those days. I kind of imagined he’d become a bank robber or held up trains, and that’s why he died in 1870. Sometimes I thought maybe he’d become a deputy, and he got killed trying to stop Billy the Kid or Jesse James, instead of becoming Billy the Kid or Jesse James himself. But either way, he died in a blaze of bullets. Not that I could really picture that happening anywhere near where I lived. What probably happened was he came back home and died of boredom. But I really preferred the bank robber idea.

I didn’t tell Mom and Ben any of that. Just because that was my idea of Joshua Gibbs didn’t mean it was theirs. As a matter of fact, Mom was convinced Joshua Gibbs was in love with some beautiful girl, and just when they had a

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