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Book about bugler sounds a youthful note on history

(ran PC edition)

A New Jersey man tells of 12-year-old Gustav Schurmann in hopes of bringing the past home to young people.

Some 138 years ago, a 12-year-old boy volunteered to serve as a musician in the 40th New York Infantry. Three years later, he was a veteran of 10 battles, serving as bugler and orderly to four different generals in the Civil War.

The true story of this boy, Gustav Albert Schurmann, has been re-created by author William Styple, a Kearny, N.J., resident who owns a home in Clearwater and has vacationed here since childhood.

Styple, 39, was in the midst of researching a book about Union Gen. Philip Kearny when he came across a photo of Schurmann. He searched the National Archives to find out about Schurmann's life. What he learned pushed him to find out more.

Schurmann was a friend to Abraham Lincoln's youngest son, Tad. One evening two years before Lincoln was assassinated, Schurmann was a guest in the White House on a two-week furlough from military service. One night, with Tad, Schurmann attended a play called The Marble Heart, in which John Wilkes Booth played the leading role.

"I'd like to meet that actor," Styple quotes Tad as saying. Tad and Schurmann were introduced to Booth and complimented the actor on his performance. Booth handed each boy a rose, and the two went back to their seats.

Revealing that historic scene to others was Styple's favorite part of telling Schurmann's tale.

On a trip to Gettysburg, Pa., Styple saw there were few books about the Civil War aimed at children. He said he could not find any books targeted to a young audience, so he decided to try to fill that gap with Schurmann's story, rather than writing a footnoted, scholarly work.

"I wanted young people to realize what life then was like," Styple said. "They couldn't stop at a McDonald's and get a cold soda."

Though he dedicates all his time to writing, Styple said it does not come to him easily. He studied history in college and said he has been fascinated with the Civil War since he was a child.

"Every year we would stop in Virginia and visit the battlefields, and that would just spur my interest," he said.

The Little Bugler is the first book Styple has written on his own. He has edited and co-authored other works on the Civil War, including films and the video series Echoes of the Blue and Gray.

Some of the book's dialogue is fictionalized to portray Schurmann's life more vividly, the author said. But those quotations are set off with dashes and without quotation marks.

Styple said the book, published in November by Belle Grove Publishing Co. in Kearny, has sold more than 17,000 copies. It is available for $17.95 in paperback and $21.95 in hardcover.