n his new novel, Where I'm Bound, Allen Ballard does a masterful job of filling in the most underreported annals of the Civil War, the fighting exploits of the black soldiers of the Union Army.
These soldiers were under more than one gun, since their capture meant almost certain death by hanging or the firing squad. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, told his generals that officers of black regiments were to be "put to death" at the discretion of a military court. The black soldiers were to be returned to their masters, sold, or put to work helping the Confederate troops.
What usually happened was that black troops were hanged or shot when captured. At Fort Pillow, for instance, black soldiers surrendered their arms after being promised that all who did so would be treated as prisoners of war. Instead they were shot "without mercy," according to eyewitnesses.
Where I'm Bound tells the dramatic story of black cavalry scout Joe Duckett, whose regiment roamed the Mississippi Delta, seeking slaves held by the Confederates and trying to keep vital waterways open for Union gunboats. The pictures of war are dramatic as seen through the eyes of black slaves who tried to escape to freedom and the troops who were fighting for the same freedom. It was not a pretty war for most, and cruelty was not the sole transgression of the Confederate troops. This is the first novel by Ballard, who teaches history and African-American studies at the State University of New York at Albany. He has written two nonfiction books on African-American history. Most of Ballard's novel is historically correct, although he has fudged a bit for the sake of greater realism here and there.
Where I'm Boundis an absorbing story that will touch the reader in different ways, but it will entertain and educate about a war that is history, if it is, indeed, sad history.
Where I'm Bound should be required reading for true Civil War buffs, but it is well worthwhile for those who simply like a well-told story.
Lloyd Armour is a former newspaper editor.