--Boys of '76 by Charles Coffin (earliest UIUC catalog date is 1876, although it was clearly reprinted multiple times)
Rip-roaring start, right in the middle of action, getting ready to send a son off to war. And then an intervening letter gives details, and the whole things bogs way down by p. 5.
I wonder if inclusion of the letter was meant to make it seem real, the way contemporary nonfiction writers for children include photographs?
I need to read What Darwin Saw, if I'm able to find it. Finding older nonfiction may prove difficult, but it's what I need to do. Just found Chemical History of a Candle on Project Gutenberg... goodie.