Black History Month Spotlight: Guest post by F.W. Abel, author of 'Deeds of a Colored Soldier during the Rebellion, Volume 1: From the Beginning to Chickamagua'

Jedediah Worth, the main character and narrator, is the Sergeant-Major of the 10th U.S. Cavalry.  At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he tells a journalist the story of his life, starting as a teen-aged slave during the Civil War. Because it’s a memoir, the main character is able to not only relate his experiences and his feelings at the time, he can also give commentary from his perspective of thirty years later, contrasting his hopes for the results of what he was fighting for with what actually happened.
            The other, more muted, aspect is that his story is told to an interviewer some thirty years later, who in turn write it down some twenty years later, which enables the interviewer to add some more longitudinal perspective.
            Because of this, although the book is a novel, the two characters are free to explore the arc of race-relations in the United States, from the end of slavery through its nadir, the early part of the 20th Century.  Endnotes and Historical Notes also give the opportunity to explore the purely historical aspects of the subject matter.
            Additionally, novelization can be most instructive, in that it can provide information in a more memorable way.  In this case, the African-American main characters become almost emblematic, kind of the “everymen” of the African-American experience as it happened, contrasting white attitudes about them with their reactions to these white attitudes, and as they disprove the negative perceptions about their abilities as soldiers and as potential free citizens.

            Possibly the most important point of the novel is that the United States is a united country today, in large part because of the enthusiasm and determination to win the war and end slavery displayed by these soldiers, and their families, when many people in the North were discouraged by the length of the war, and shocked by its cost, both human and material. 

Deeds of a Colored Soldier during the Rebellion, Volume 1: From the Beginning to Chickamagua is a novel of the Civil War.  Written as a memoir as told to an interviewer more than thirty years after the war’s end, it traces the story of Jedediah Worth, a teenaged slave who becomes a soldier fighting for the Union and the freedom of his people.

At secession, although he vaguely realizes that the conflict started over the question of slavery, Jedediah regards Kentucky, and the South, as home.  When his master’s sons join the Confederate army, he and his friend Obie accompany them as their personal servants.  Eager to prove himself as a man, Jedediah runs ammunition and even rescues a wounded Confederate until, with Obie’s prodding, he comes to realize his valor should serve the cause of emancipation.  He escapes, meeting up with Samson, an enslaved African who becomes his life-long friend.

Jedediah and Samson travel hundreds of miles to Kansas, to join one of the few units of colored troops allowed to serve in the early part of the war, and participate in the first battle fought by colored troops, the victory at Island Mound.

Gaining confidence in his abilities, Jedediah becomes a non-commissioned officer, leading his men during the brutal, hand-to-hand combat at Milliken’s Bend, where the Confederate promise no quarter will be given to colored troops, and where he becomes the first colored soldier to be awarded the newly-created Medal of Honor.

F.W. Abel was born in New York.  His life-long fascination with the Civil War began during the Civil War Centennial, when he was ten years old.  After graduating from Fordham University, he served for eight years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and currently works for the federal government.  He lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., within a few hours’ drive of most of the Civil War’s eastern theater battlefields, where he has walked the same ground once trodden by heroes.

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