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

Journalist Cate Lineberry explores the life of a man who's faded from the notable stories of the American Civil War. Despite his extraordinary contributions to the Union forces, the anti-slavery movement and South Carolina politics, Robert Smalls doesn't immediately jump to mind when people think of the War Between the States. Yet, during his lifetime, he achieved hero status throughout the country.

On May 13, 1862, Smalls, a 23-year-old slave, orchestrated an escape aboard the Confederate steamer the Planter. What makes his feat so unusual is the fact that he piloted the steamer, with a crew of fellow slaves and his family, out of the Charleston Harbor--under the noses of Confederate forces--and into the hands of the Union fleet. He risked everything to secure freedom for his family; the result exceeded his greatest expectations.

Smalls continued as pilot of the Planter for the Union forces--the first black captain of an navy vessel--winning the respect of white and black alike and challenging the belief that African Americans weren't smart enough or dedicated enough to play such vital roles.

Lineberry paints the portrait of a man who overcame remarkable obstacles. In his pursuit of a better life for his family he helped improve an entire country. Lineberry's thorough research reanimates this crucial identity, flushing out a long-forgotten chapter in the United States' annals and acquainting readers with an exceptional patriot. Be Free or Die is a perfect companion to stories about Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman, and it deserves to be well remembered. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

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