Cudjo’s Cave chronicles the brutalities and fears faced by unionists, loyal to Abraham Lincoln and the federal cause, living in secessionist states politically aligned with the Confederacy. Set in 1861 in a fictionalized rural village in east Tennessee, the story revolves around four main characters who find themselves trapped together with other unionists in “Cudjo’s Cave.”
Penn Hapgood is a Quaker schoolmaster who openly voices his antislavery sentiments and support for the Union but refuses to fight even when faced with the probability of being shot for his stance. Virginia Villars, a clergyman’s daughter who loves Hapgood, is hotly pursued by the sinister planter and slave master Augustus Blythewood. Pomp, an intelligent man trained as a doctor, is a runaway slave, and Cudjo, another runaway who has been dehumanized by slavery’s violence, still risks all to save others.
John Townsend Trowbridge’s fine literary skill and storytelling ability lift the Victorian plot. He artfully maps out many of the cultural and political tensions regarding the issues of slavery and secession, giving the reader access to the popular sentiments of the period. More important, he offers a rare 19th-century depiction of a character of full African descent as a strong, intelligent leader.
Released to popular acclaim in the summer of 1863, this novel was designed to awaken patriotism in northern citizens wearied by the losses of conflict and to refocus attention on the moral purposes of the war—emancipation of the slaves. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this stimulating story contributed vital power to the success of the Union war effort.