September 2019: The Tubman Command, by Elizabeth Cobbs

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 – discussion lead: Cheryll

Cobbs’ (The Hamilton Affair, 2016, etc.) third novel follows Harriet Tubman as she leads a crucial raid on behalf of the Union Army.

This novel veers away from what Tubman is primarily known for: engineering the Underground Railroad and smuggling, often single-handedly, fugitive slaves from the South to the North. Now, Tubman, aka Moses, is assisting Union troops hoping to turn the tide of the Civil War, which, as of May 1863, the North is losing. Up to now, there has been a hands-off policy toward civilian property, but it has dawned on the war office that Southern plantations constitute an unbroken supply chain for the “Secesh” resistance. A disastrous defeat in Charleston harbor has led certain officers, notably Col. Montgomery and Gen. Hunter, to espouse a new approach—crippling the slavery-based agrarian economy. Tubman and her small band of escaped slaves volunteer as scouts for a pivotal mission that forms the throughline of this novel: They are to guide U.S. gunboats, carrying 300 black soldiers, from their base on Port Royal Island to the South Carolina coast. On landing, Union forces intend to free hundreds of slaves and destroy the rice harvest. But to further this goal, the scouts must first determine the exact locations of underwater mines planted by the Rebels.

Under cover of night, Tubman twice sneaks behind enemy lines to a plantation to gain intel and alert the enslaved. Tubman’s world is vividly brought to life as we see her go about her daily routines: making gingerbread, befriending a cat, taking on humble duties in a military hospital. She is extolled by abolitionists in the North but still greeted with some suspicion on the part of the white Union military. Re-creating the speech patterns and culture of black and white characters alike, Cobbs strives for verisimilitude while avoiding caricature. Although Cobbs allows her heroine a brief love affair, her treatment of her protagonist is so reverential as to render Moses almost superhuman.

A stirring fictional tribute to an American icon.

About the author:

From Elizabeth Cobbs website: Award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs brings fresh, unexpected perspectives to our understanding of the past and present. Building upon worldwide research and extraordinary life experiences, Elizabeth writes best selling fiction and non-fiction that is both scholarly and witty. Her path-breaking books and articles reveal a world that is as intriguing and surprising as it is real.

Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in American history at Stanford University. She now holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Her books have won four literary prizes, two for American history and two for fiction. Elizabeth has been a Fulbright scholar in Ireland and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She has served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

P.S. 9/6/19: The tuesday book discussion generated quite a few side-reading and site-thinking on the subject. Here are suggestions from the book-club members:

• Cheryll: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, by by Sarah H. Bradford (free on Project Gutenberg – It turns out the original biography (Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman) written by Sarah Hopkins Bradford in 1869 is available from many sources for purchase. As I mentioned last night this was the first authorized biography about Harriet.

• Cheryll: Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford (free on Project Gutenberg) – The flow of information in this second book was described as not being great making it a hard read. Apparently because if that the author wrote a second book titled “Harriet the Moses of Her People.” New information was added and it was writren in chronological order providing a clearer account of Harriet’s life. This book too is available for purchase at many locations and reasonably priced. I’ve decided to purchase the second book.

• Bev: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist – the real history of slavery and its impact on building the economic strength of the nation

• Carla: Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel – The book I referred to about a former slave- a woman named Henrietta Wood- sued her kidnapper and won a settlement in 1878. The book review made this book sound like a good read. It sounds like it has quite a bit about individual stories during reconstruction. It is probably too new to be in the library yet.

• Aleks: Alice Walker’s blog, different entries, this one is is titled: Raising A Memorial To The Confederate Soldier Who Did Not Want To Go To War

• Anita: Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton, 2004. She has written several books about that time period, most about women like Woman’s World in the Old South, Women, War, and the Plantation Legend.

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