By fall of 1863, Union forces had taken control of Tidewater Virginia, and established a toehold in eastern North Carolina, including along the Outer Banks. Thousands of freed slaves and runaways flooded the Union lines, but Confederate irregulars still roamed the region. In December, the newly formed African Brigade, a unit of these former slaves led by General Edward Augustus Wild—a one-armed, impassioned Abolitionist—set out from Portsmouth to hunt down the rebel guerillas and extinguish the threat.
From this little-known historical episode comes Black Cloud Rising, a dramatic, moving account of these soldiers—men who only weeks earlier had been enslaved, but were now Union infantrymen setting out to fight their former owners. At the heart of the narrative is Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the son of a slave and her master, raised with some privileges but constantly reminded of his place. Deeply conflicted about his past, Richard is eager to show himself to be a credit to his race. As the African Brigade conducts raids through the areas occupied by the Confederate Partisan Rangers, he and his comrades recognize that they are fighting for more than territory. Wild’s mission is to prove that his troops can be trusted as soldiers in combat. And because many of the men have fled from the very plantations in their path, each raid is also an opportunity to free loved ones left behind. For Richard, this means the possibility of reuniting with Fanny, the woman he hopes to marry one day.
With powerful depictions of the bonds formed between fighting men and heartrending scenes of sacrifice and courage, Black Cloud Rising offers a compelling and nuanced portrait of enslaved men and women crossing the threshold to freedom.
Praise for Black Cloud Rising:
“Faladé’s book is so accessible and rousing, though, that you hope it becomes available as a mass-market paperback, in packaging that more clearly announces: This book is a straight-up page-turner. There are no braided points of view here, no too-pretty words, no splintered syntax. No leaden diagnoses of the human predicament belch on the smoky skyline. The nature of the American experiment is implicitly questioned but not burned to the ground… This is a classic war story told simply and well, its meanings not forced but allowed to bubble up.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“In this profoundly reflective novel, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award winner Faladé uses real-life Civil War sergeant Richard Etheridge to explore the immediate consequences of emancipation… A triumphant examination of U.S. history and race relations at a crucial juncture, as seen through the eyes of the well-wrought, ever-questioning Etheridge; highly recommended.”—Library Journal, starred review
“The story of the African Brigade, a unit of Black freedmen who fought for the Union during the Civil War, gets its due in this superior adult debut from Faladé . . .[Richard] Etheridge is made a fascinating figure, well suited to serve as the focal point for Faladé’s exploration of the complexities of Etheridge and his comrades’s rapid shift from powerlessness to armed military duty. Engrossing and complex, this will have readers riveted.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Tensely wrought… A masterful depiction of the precarious nature of Black life during the war and of slavery’s unrelenting assault on human dignity.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Wright Faladé’s richly detailed, grippingly told story breathes life into a revolutionary moment when the US moved a vital step forward toward achieving the ideals we’ve always proclaimed.”—Charles Frazier, National Book Award-winning author of Cold Mountain
“David Wright Faladé’s thrilling, revelatory Black Cloud Rising turns Civil War history upside down and makes America give up one of its darkest secrets—that our racial tension is literally a family feud.”—James Hannaham, Pen/Faulkner Award-winning author of Delicious Foods and The Pilot Imposter
“Black Cloud Rising is riveting and authentic—an intimate and brilliantly written portrayal of former slaves who risked everything to fight in the African Brigades during the Civil War. It’s a compelling and deeply moving story of race, war and the eternal pursuit of freedom.”—David Zucchino, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Wilmington’s Lie
“The brilliant portrayal of crucially defining matters of racial history in America will rightly draw great acclaim to David Wright Faladé’s Black Cloud Rising. But this novel’s power is transcendent. Told in an exquisitely distinctive and nuanced voice, it reaches deep into the universal human condition and engages the core yearning of us all: our yearning for a self, for an identity, for a place in the universe.”—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“Black Cloud Rising is the story of a minor engagement in the Civil War, a footnote in most history books, but it is the story of a major part of American history: the hard fought, still continuing battle of African Americans to rise from slavery to equality. From a single time and place, like a hologram it generates a three-dimensional picture of the difficulties, complexities, and nuances faced by Black people then and now. If you like history, if you want to better understand the struggle for equality, no matter your personal history or race, and if you want a good story, read this book. It’s a triple threat.”—Karl Marlantes, New York Times-bestselling author of Matterhorn
Praise for Fire on the Beach:
“This true-life story is akin to Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, except that the storm here is on shore as well. The story roils with the terrifying racism of slavery’s aftermath, as Wright (English, Univ. of Illinois) and Zoby (Caspar Coll.) indicate in this story of the life and times of Richard Etheridge (1842-1900)… More than one man’s story, this mix of personal and institutional biography brings to life the daily challenges and triumphs of blacks pushed aside, but no less valuable, in a New South.”—Library Journal
“African-American, Civil War and naval history enthusiasts will find this of interest.”—Publishers Weekly
“Fire on the Beach is a grand American adventure story, perfectly paced and surely told, filled with lore, meticulous detail, and a dozen perfect storms.”—Tom Franklin, author of Poachers
“Wright and Zoby recount an extraordinary story of perseverance, courage, and professionalism in the face of extreme racial prejudice… The authors have revived a remarkable long-forgotten chapter in the annals of African American history.”—Booklist
“Combining a thrilling narrative pace with meticulous research, David Wright and David Zoby have restored for us all a vibrant chapter of our common history that should never be forgotten.”—Philip Graham, author of How to Read an Unwritten Language