by Christopher Datta
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Touched With Fire, a novel of the Civil War inspired by the true story of Ellen Craft.
Ellen Craft is property; in this case, of her half-sister Debra, to whom she was given as a wedding gift. The illegitimate daughter of a Georgia plantation owner and a house slave, she learned to hate her own image, which so closely resembled that of her “father:” the same wiry build, the same blue eyes, and the same pale—indeed, lily-white—skin.
Ellen lives a solitary life until she falls, unexpectedly, in love with a dark-skinned slave named William Craft, and together they devise a plan to run North. Ellie will pose as a gentleman planter bound for Philadelphia accompanied by his “boy” Will. They make it as far as Baltimore when Will is turned back, and Ellie has no choice but continue. With no way of knowing if he is dead or alive, she resolves to make a second journey—South again. And so Elijah Craft enlists with the 125th Ohio Volunteers of the Union Army: she will literally fight her way back to her husband.
Eli/Ellie’s journey is the story of an extraordinary individual and an abiding love, but also of the corrosive effects of slavery, and of a nation at a watershed moment.
“I sat down yesterday to read Touched with Fire, and found it so entrancing that I finished it today. A tour de force. What an imaginative approach to take the real story of Ellen and William Craft and turn it into an exciting–and penetrating–Civil War story. You touched all the right bases about slavery and the war. I especially liked the episode of General Grant and Eli Craft bonding over their mutual love of horses. I look forward to the second volume of the trilogy, and beyond that a third, when the time comes.” –Prof. James McPherson, Author of Battle Cry of Freedom
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