Friday, April 24, 2020

"Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero" by Cate Lineberry

I first learned about Robert Smalls on Facebook, of all crazy places.  I can't believe I knew nothing about him!  Especially since he was quite famous during the Civil War.  Hmm.

Born a slave in South Carolina, Robert Smalls was working on a paddle-wheel steamer in Charleston harbor when he hatched a daring plan of escape.  He and the other crewmembers, also slaves, smuggled family members and friends aboard the steamer one night and chugged boldly past multiple Confederate forts. Smalls impersonated the white captain, fooling all they met thanks to a borrowed hat and the dim light of early morning.  They made it to the Union blockade ships and delivered not only the steamer into the US Navy's hands, but also a cargo of valuable weaponry.  And, most important to them, they had reached freedom.  Smalls and his wife and their young children forged new lives for themselves, and Smalls went on to meet President Lincoln, pilot boats for the Navy, and eventually buy the plantation home where he was born a slave.  After the war, he eventually became a US Senator!

This is a very readable biography of Smalls' life, mostly focused on the Civil War years.  It does delve into his childhood and adult life before his heroic escape from slavery, but it doesn't spend a lot of time on his life after the war.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of slavery and mention of things like rape, killing, and torture.  Not super-detailed or descriptive, but still not something I'd like child or tween read.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read! I enjoy a good, easy-to-read biography now and again.

    1. RM, it definitely is! I've got a couple other books about him on my shelves too, which I'm hoping to get to sooner rather than later. But this was a good introduction to his life story.


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