Abraham takes flight to freedom

Published 10:55 am Thursday, June 25, 2015

In a remarkable scene that seems lifted straight out of a spiritual, Abraham flew to freedom.

I wish I could have seen it.

At 3 p.m. June 25, 1863, Union soldiers ignited 2,200 pounds of black powder in a mine dug underneath the 3rd Louisiana Redan. Confederate soldiers and slaves — the man only remembered as Abraham among them — had been digging countershafts. All the slaves except Abraham were buried alive, yet the blast launched him into the heavens.

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That afternoon, Abraham was somewhere inside the giant V-shaped fortification standing an imposing 30-feet high and guarding the sunken Jackson Road. No one is sure where Abraham was that day, but his position — a launching pad of sorts — saved his life.

Abraham fell behind Union lines, where soldiers attended to his wounds, put him in a tent and charged others a quarter to come take a look at the only man in history to have flown to freedom.

“…[H]e was but little the worse for his aerial voyage,” Theodore R. Davis wrote of Abraham in the Aug. 8, 1863, edition of Harper’s Weekly.

Abraham was likely launched about 300 yards into the air. He was badly bruised and shaken, but by a miracle he survived with quite a story to tell.

“I don’t know how far I went, sir, but it seems me about a mile,” Abraham is reported as having said after descending to Earth.

I can only imagine what went through Abraham’s mind as he hurdled through the sky filled with thick gray smoke and clods of dirt. Did he know freedom waited down below? Was he certain he would die?  Was he singing “Now Let Me Fly?” It’s a song I know he must have sung a thousand times.

I wonder if he saw the Union soldiers rush into the crater below, where they became trapped and were picked off one by one.

After recovering from his wounds, Abraham became a cook for the Union army, but that’s where history loses track of the only man to every fly to freedom.