The Tamarack Tree is the story of a girl named Rosemary who goes to America because her mother is dying. She travels across the ocean from England to the United States, a long and tedious journey, with her older brother Derek (whom she calls Derry; he calls her Tad). They arrive in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This story is historical fiction, but it is based on the diary of a real girl named Rosemary Leigh.
When Rosemary arrives in America, she is surprised by Southern customs. The idea of slavery is particularly appalling to her. She does not understand how the same people who are kind and courteous to her can own slaves.
Most of these people are slave owners. They buy and sell human beings—like furniture! Perhaps, as I have been told, they are kind and caring to their … property, but men and women are not property! (p. 45)
The concept of slavery is not the only new thing to Rosemary. She has to grow accustomed to the Southern lifestyle of frilly dresses, parties, and social status. She makes a friend named Mary Byrd, and falls in love with a boy, Jeff, who joins the Confederate Army.
Soon, the town comes under siege by the Union Army. Rosemary has to hide from the shelling, and live without light and comforts.
Food has become the most critical problem. With the river blockade well established, nothing comes into Vicksburg and nothing leaves. (p. 123)
She survives, and moves on to New Orleans and then back to London.