Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tanya Bolden

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN 9781681196992
(Age: 13+) Recommended. In the latter months of 1864, during the U.S. Civil War, General Sherman of the Union led a huge army through Georgia, freeing slaves, plundering goods and destroying property of the vanquished. Many ex-slaves chose to accompany the advancing army on the march. Many would have seen the Northern soldiers as saviours, some depended upon their rations and some undoubtedly wanted to participate in and witness the defeat of the Confederate South.
The Union army was glad to have the labour from thousands of willing workers for transporting equipment, foraging food and building pontoon bridges to replace those destroyed by the retreating Confederates. Accompanying the principally male ex-slaves engaged in military support were the women, children and elderly from their families or dependants from their previous life of servitude.
This story centres upon Mariah, a young woman whose main focus after being freed is the protection of her intellectually disabled young brother by establishing a home on one acre of land, upon which she can grow food. From her recollections, the reader comes to appreciate some of the abject misery and brutal cruelty endured by slaves in the American South. It is difficult to imagine conditions in an era when those who considered themselves part of civilised society might sell children away from traumatised mothers, would inflict barbaric, degrading punishments for the slightest of perceived misdeeds and could ultimately end a slave's life.
Liberated from tyranny, these ex-slaves rejoiced in freedom but faced the fact that they were ill prepared for life ahead, having no land or property and usually no education. When Mariah meets Caleb (a skilled black man working for the Union Army) she recognises his kind, gentle and decent nature and a romance develops which would have been realistic under the circumstances.
The climax of this story involves an historically accurate event which should be shamefully acknowledged and remembered, yet appears to have been buried and forgotten in the mists of time.
Young readers may be confused by the opening sequences of this story, especially if they have no knowledge of slavery in the American South. It may be difficult for those unfamiliar with plantation life and conditions to understand the various characters who are introduced in the early passages, yet if they persist, they will be better for learning about this profoundly important chapter of history.
Recommended for readers 13 years+
Rob Welsh