A nearly forgotten Civil War episode is restored to history in this masterful account.

The title above is the first line of the publisher’s description of this book and it is of course a story that has been sanctified by Hollywood in the movie GLORY which means that it has risen above the cultural bar of mere historical fact to become part of the tapestry of the nation.

How odd then that a scant three years before the action takes place John Brown had been hanged for treason against the State of Virginia for attempting to arm slaves and foment rebellion and that no sane voice in the north could, finally, defend his actions.

That black troops fought for the north with a fury that exceeded valor we do not deny. That they were good soldiers is a little more open to question. That they were used by union politicians for their own ends in promoting race war – with NO consideration of their casualties – is without doubt.

This could have been a great history if it explored all of the facets of the question but by taking the safe and politically correct approach it is just another mediocrity.

Firebrand of liberty : the story of two Black regiments that changed the course of the Civil War       Stephen V. Ash United States Army, African troops, History, 19th century New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c 2008 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing.     xvi, 282 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [256]-265) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In March 1863, nine hundred black Union soldiers, led by white officers, invaded Florida and seized the town of Jacksonville. They were among the first African  troops in the Northern army, and their expedition into enemy territory was like no other in the Civil War. It was intended as an assault on slavery by which thousands would be freed.

At the center of the story is prominent abolitionist Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who led one of the regiments. After waging battle for three weeks, Higginson and his men were mysteriously ordered to withdraw, their mission a seeming failure. Yet their successes in resisting the Confederates and collaborating with white Union forces persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to begin full-scale recruitment of black troops, a momentous decision that helped turned the tide of the war.

Using long-neglected primary sources, historian Stephen V. Ash’s stirring narrative re-creates this event with insight, vivid characterizations, and a keen sense of drama.


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