Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Tubman Command: "I Got An Insurrection To Plan." Harriet Tubman

When I read She Came to Slay, Erica Armstrong Dunbar's biography of Harriet Tubman for Black History Month, I learned about Tubman's great military achievement, the Combahee River Raid (1863).  There is a non-fiction book about it listed in Dunbar's bibliography, but I was unable to obtain it through libraries, and purchasing it was beyond my current means.  So when I was asked to list books that I'm reading for Women's History Month on a Goodreads group called Read Women, I selected a historical novel about the Combahee River Raid, The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobbs, as one of them.

I am particularly pleased to be reviewing a book about Harriet Tubman today because March 10 is the day assigned to Tubman in The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont.

I read both history and historical fiction.  I feel that each of them have their strengths.  I was looking forward to getting a window into the mind of Harriet Tubman, and feeling the impact of her leadership role in a Civil War military operation through the pages of  The Tubman Command.


Harriet Tubman was clearly a born leader who had a talent for planning and was a gifted speaker.  She was also determined to achieve her goals, had tremendous courage and believed strongly that the visions she received were messages from God. Elizabeth Cobbs portrays her as a character with these traits, but also shows us her vulnerable side as a woman who wanted a relationship with a man.  Her Tubman seemed wary of trusting men on an intimate level.  Based on what I read about her in She Came To Slay, I think she had good reason to be untrusting.

A romantic possibility for Tubman is a sub-plot in The Tubman Command, but it isn't a major focus of the narrative. So I wouldn't call this a romance.  It's mainly about a historic military operation that resulted in the rescue of 750 slaves.

The quote from Harriet Tubman in the title of this review is a fictional one from this novel.  Harriet Tubman was illiterate.  So she herself wrote no accounts of her life.  

The Combahee River Raid was made possible because of Harriet Tubman's status as the leader of a team of Black scouts for the Union Army.  The Tubman Command shows how Tubman persuaded the officers involved in decision making to support her plan.  I felt that there was a great deal of suspense involved in its implementation even though I already knew the result.

In the midst of  all this drama, there was also comic relief in the form of an unexpectedly funny scene involving the antics of Tubman's cat, who was appropriately named Trouble. I was charmed by this scene and was glad it was there.

The fictional elements of The Tubman Command didn't cause me to lose confidence in Cobbs' accuracy.  There is a back cover blurb praising this book from Edda L. Fields-Black, an African American academic who has been working on a scholarly book about the Combahee River Raid that is forthcoming.

I found The Tubman Command moving, insightful and well-written.  I thought it was also original because I had never read a novel dealing with this significant event. This is my first five star read of 2020.  It will certainly be a candidate for my top ten of the year.


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