The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

By School Library Journal

This slim biography for young readers shares the remarkable story of Civil War hero Robert Smalls. Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, SC. As a young man, he worked in the city of Charleston, where he was known for his skill as a sailor and navigator. As the Civil War began to heat up, Smalls began to dream about the possibility of gaining freedom for his family. He worked as the wheelman on a steamship called The Planter, and when the Union Army set up a blockade within sight of Charleston Harbor, Smalls devised a plan. At night, when the officers went ashore to sleep, Smalls and the crew snuck their families on board. Using Smalls’s knowledge of secret steam whistle signals, they sailed the ship to the Union blockade and joined their side. Smalls went on to a very successful career in the Union Army, becoming the first African American captain of a United States vessel. Later, he became a member of the South Carolina and the United States Houses of Representatives. The daring escape of Smalls and his crew is exciting and well told, with just enough detail to hold the attention of younger readers who may just be learning about the Civil War. Interspersed throughout the chapters about Smalls’s life are sections on slavery, the origins of the Civil War, steamships, and the story of Lear Green, who escaped from slavery by hiding in a steam trunk. Smith’s abstract but evocative art enriches the factual details of Smalls’s fascinating and exciting life story. VERDICT Recommended for purchase in libraries where biographies for younger readers are in demand.

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