Cover image for Be free or die : the amazing story of Robert Smalls' escape from slavery to Union hero
Title:
Be free or die : the amazing story of Robert Smalls' escape from slavery to Union hero
ISBN:
9781250101860
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
xiii, 272 pages,16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
General Note:
"June 2017"--Title page verso.
Contents:
Prologue -- The escape -- South Carolina's son -- In the service of the Confederacy -- Union hero -- Our country calls -- North and south -- The Keokuk -- Captain Smalls -- The City of Brotherly Love -- Triumph and tragedy -- Retaliation and reward -- Epilogue.
Personal Subject:
Genre:
Summary:
"It was a mild May morning in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1862, the second year of the Civil War, when a twenty-three-year-old slave named Robert Smalls did the unthinkable and boldly seized a Confederate steamer. With his wife and two young children hidden on board, Smalls and a small crew ran a gauntlet of heavily armed fortifications in Charleston Harbor and delivered the valuable vessel and the massive guns it carried to nearby Union forces. To be unsuccessful was a death sentence for all. Smalls' courageous and ingenious act freed him and his family from slavery and immediately made him a Union hero while simultaneously challenging much of the country's view of what African Americans were willing to do to gain their freedom. After his escape, Smalls served in numerous naval campaigns off Charleston as a civilian boat pilot and eventually became the first black captain of an Army ship...Be Free or Die is a compelling narrative that illuminates Robert Smalls' amazing journey from slave to Union hero and ultimately United States Congressman."--Dust jacket.
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Summary

Summary

***Finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize***

Henry Louis Gates, Jr: "A stunning tale of a little-known figure in history."

Candice Millard: "Be Free or Die makes you want to stand up and cheer."

The astonishing true story of Robert Smalls' amazing journey from slave to Union hero and ultimately United States Congressman.

It was a mild May morning in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1862, the second year of the Civil War, when a twenty-three-year-old slave named Robert Smalls did the unthinkable and boldly seized a Confederate steamer. With his wife and two young children hidden on board, Smalls and a small crew ran a gauntlet of heavily armed fortifications in Charleston Harbor and delivered the valuable vessel and the massive guns it carried to nearby Union forces. To be unsuccessful was a death sentence for all. Smalls' courageous and ingenious act freed him and his family from slavery and immediately made him a Union hero while simultaneously challenging much of the country's view of what African Americans were willing to do to gain their freedom.

After his escape, Smalls served in numerous naval campaigns off Charleston as a civilian boat pilot and eventually became the first black captain of an Army ship. In a particularly poignant moment Smalls even bought the home that he and his mother had once served in as house slaves.

Cate Lineberry's Be Free or Die is a compelling narrative that illuminates Robert Smalls' amazing journey from slave to Union hero and ultimately United States Congressman. This captivating tale of a valuable figure in American history gives fascinating insight into the country's first efforts to help newly freed slaves while also illustrating the many struggles and achievements of African Americans during the Civil War.


Author Notes

CATE LINEBERRY is a journalist and the author of The Secret Rescue, a #1 Wall Street Journal e-book bestseller and a finalist for the Edgar and Anthony Awards.Lineberry was previously a staff writer and editor for National Geographic Magazine and the web editor for Smithsonian Magazine . Her work has also appeared in the New York Times . Lineberry lives in Raleigh, NC.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Lineberry (The Secret Rescue) chronicles how in 1862 Robert Smalls, an illiterate 23-year-old deckhand from Charleston, S.C., hijacked the Planter, a Confederate steamer, and with a crew of fellow enslaved sailors-including his wife and children-sailed to freedom in Union-occupied waters, giving valuable Confederate secrets to the North. Through succinct and powerful prose, Lineberry unveils how Smalls hatched his bold and dangerous plan to steal the ship. His defiant act was "an extraordinary and unprecedented event" that made national headlines and gave lie to the white-supremacist belief in black inferiority. Smalls became a Union hero who met with President Lincoln and a hallowed leader of the South Carolina coastal Gullah community to which he belonged. Lineberry narrates Smalls's story against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction, detailing his career as a Union soldier, U.S. congressman from South Carolina, school builder, businessman, and customs collector, as well as his fall into obscurity after his 1915 death. Lineberry elevates Smalls to America's pantheon of black leaders, showing him to have been as courageous and inspirational as Harriet Tubman in her heroic exploits along the Underground Railroad and Booker T. Washington in his rise from bondage. Agent: Ellen Geiger, Frances Goldin Literary. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

On May 13, 1862, a 23-year-old slave named Robert Smalls seized an armed sidewheel steamer from the Charleston headquarters of a Confederate general, ran a gauntlet of fortifications, and delivered the vessel to Union forces, earning freedom for his family and his crew of slaves. A trained pilot, Smalls would become a Union hero and the first black captain of a navy ship. Postwar, he bought the South Carolina house where he and his mother had worked as slaves, raised his family, ran successful businesses, and served five terms in Congress. Lineberry (The Secret Rescue, 2013) ably provides context for Smalls' saga: slavery's horrors, the story of blacks in the Union fighting force. But Smalls remains an enigma. Where did he get his courage? How did he muster the forgiveness to help his former masters after the war? Press accounts must have been glowing, but there's little psychological complexity in this otherwise compelling story. Something about Smalls captured people's attention and hearts and went far beyond his seizing of a Confederate vessel, Lineberry writes. That something remains elusive.--Gwinn, Mary Ann Copyright 2017 Booklist


Kirkus Review

An audacious paragon of the Civil War, now largely forgotten, is brought back to life, and his rags-to-riches adventure is certainly worth the revisit.In the cotton-rich cradle of the Confederacy, not far from Charleston, South Carolina, Robert Smalls (1839-1915) was born a slave. Once an illiterate house servant in the Beaufort home of his owner, the affable Smalls quickly became a hero in the North and an enemy in the South. It all started when the clever Smalls conceived of and executed a plan to release himself, his family, and several others from bondage and, in the doing, render a service to the Union. It was a dramatic, even cinematic, scheme. Smalls was a proficient steersman, hired out to work aboard the Planter, a Confederate steamer, in Charleston's harbor. One day in May 1862, with his black crew and frightened passengers aboard, he commandeered the ship and navigated it out to the Union blockade of Charleston. In the dim light, disguised with the boat captain's distinctive headgear, Smalls sailed the Planter past Southern fortifications port and starboard. It was an impressive feat. Reliable, congenial, and whip-smart, he became the toast of the North. He assumed the captaincy of the Planter, lectured in Northern cities, met President Abraham Lincoln, and assisted freed slaves (who were, to keep them free, considered "contraband"). Smalls also learned to read and write, became a man of means, and bought and occupied the Beaufort home of his former master. He even became a member of Congress. This is unquestionably a remarkable story, and journalist Lineberry (The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines, 2013, etc.) ably tells it as a microcosm of the war. It's a tale of politics and battles told with clarity, and the matter-of-fact discussions of people owning other people remains as jarring as it should. A worthwhile Civil War biography cogently presented and ready for the big screen. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Robert Smalls, a slave living in Charleston, SC, commandeered a Confederate naval vessel in 1862, sailed past fortified Confederate strongholds, and delivered the ship and its guns to the Union Navy. Journalist Lineberry (The Secret Rescue) successfully charts Smalls's (1839-1915) epic and dangerous voyage, illuminating the many roles Smalls played in garnering freedom for enslaved African Americans. The author provides ample evidence to suggest that Smalls was instrumental in advancing the mind-set of many colonists concerning what enslaved people were willing to do to aid themselves and their families. Lineberry parallels Smalls's actions with other events occurring throughout the country, bringing to life the multiple moving parts and politics that went into furthering the cause for African American participation in the Union military-a strategy that eventually assisted in the Union victory. VERDICT A valuable narrative history that will benefit readers interested in African American, Civil War, or naval history.-Rachel Koenig, SUNY Canton Lib. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Map of Charleston Harbor, 1862p. x
Key Participantsp. xi
Prologuep. 1
1 The Escapep. 4
2 South Carolina's Sonp. 29
3 In the Service of the Confederacyp. 49
4 Union Herop. 72
5 Our Country Callsp. 92
6 North and Southp. 116
7 The Keokukp. 134
8 Captain Smallsp. 152
9 The City of Brotherly Lovep. 170
10 Triumph and Tragedyp. 190
11 Retaliation and Rewardp. 206
Epiloguep. 225
Acknowledgmentsp. 233
Notesp. 237
Indexp. 265