Bulletin for the Center... - 01/01/2007 Reprising his exploration of the Founding Father’s Revolutionary War espionage ring in George Washington, Spymaster (BCCB 4/04), Allen now turns to the information runners who supplied intelligence to Lincoln and his generals. This is a more loosely focused work, and so much time is spent providing background on Tubman and the Underground Railroad (pertinent, but somewhat rambling) that the actual spy activity doesn’t get well underway until nearly a hundred pages into the text. Even then, Tubman (whom Allen irritatingly refers to as Harriet, even though he more formally calls male players by their last names) has evidently covered her tracks so well that her efforts can only be roughly sketched. Often more interesting are others in the Union network: the Dabneys, who signaled Confederate troop movement via clothesline; Mary Touvestre, who worked right under Jefferson Davis’ nose in his own household; Robert Smalls, who purloined a Confederate ship and surrendered it into Union hands; Richmond socialite Elizabeth Van Lew, who ran an entire ring of spies and passed messages in code. There’s participatory opportunity in strings of numbers tucked near the book’s gutter, which can be decoded and checked against the answer on a website, and lots of cramped period and contemporary artwork for perusing by readers with sufficiently acute eyesight. Apart from annotated endnotes, a timeline, and an index, an epilogue on evidence rounds out the volume by admitting that very little is known about spying during the Civil War, and much of that is based on hearsay. Which, of course, leaves readers to wonder just how much of the previous hundred and fifty pages they can believe, but the thrill of tagging along on spy missions may suffice even in the face of uncertainty. EB - Copyright 2007 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
School Library Journal - 02/01/2007 Gr 5-8-This small book contains a lot of fascinating information on the network of slaves and free blacks who advanced the Union cause during the Civil War. The narrative is framed by the story of Harriet Tubman, the ex-slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad, whose work to help others escape is well known; less is known about her role as a spy. Tubman assisted Northern troops by tapping into a group of ex-slaves working in the South and passing information on to the Union forces. According to Allen, she led a raid along the Combahee River and may have led other expeditions as well. Readers also meet other people who participated in the espionage, including Elizabeth Van Lew, who devised a numerical code to transmit information that she picked up at society gatherings. Using this code, which is described in an appendix, the author includes several messages in the book. The type font and black-and-white reproductions and maps greatly enhance the presentation; in addition to illustrations from traditional sources, such as the Library of Congress, there are quality originals. A great addition to any collection.-Elizabeth M. Reardon, McCallie School, Chattanooga, TN Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. - Copyright 2007 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Booklist - 12/01/2006 Allen brings readers much more than the usual biography of the brave rescuer on the Underground Railroad. This small, packed volume tells of Harriet Tubman’s astonishing roles as spy, secret agent, and military leader, and it combines her personal story with a history of the abolitionist movement and the Civil War, focusing on how ex-slaves and free blacks served the Union cause. Whether African Americans were invisible servants listening to and reporting their masters’ battle plans or ex-slaves leading guerrilla raids on the areas they knew well, the spy action is the heart of the account, which includes the secret codes spies used to pass on messages as they worked in the darkness of secrecy and prejudice. The dense history is illustrated with numerous archival images, maps, and woodcuts, and the documentation is meticulous. A time line, a bibliography, and notes and quote sources are appended. An excellent resource for students’ research; pair it with Catherine Clinton’s adult book Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004). - Copyright 2006 Booklist.