A stormy, yet keenly focused, dramatically potent first novel, set in 1862 Louisiana, in which a trio of African-Americans serve and march and struggle toward a dream of freedom--through the hideous heat of slavery's proclaimed end, the noise and deaths and menace of war, and a haze of hatred, fear, and confusion. Many chapters begin with the poetry of Langston Hughes, who pointed to the dream but had a wise knowledge about it as far off (``Where is this light/Your eyes see forever?''). Other chapters lead off with quotes from generals, officials, private journals, all pointing up the irony of a ``walk to freedom'' blocked by blind alleys: the forced, unpaid labor of ``freed'' peoples; the sacrifice of eager recruits in a black army unit, given no training and inferior weapons; arbitrary roundups of those who left the plantations. Here, Chad Creel finally leaves the plantation of Sweet Haven, where ``Uncle'' Blake, also a slave, secretly taught him to read and write, where he'd sworn blood brotherhood with the owner's son, where he'd been hounded and tortured. Chad travels to New Orleans, is aided by black Creoles, and then goes north. Meanwhile, Blake scouts and spies for the Union generals (but ``I played their game and they never saw my face''), and Anna, once safe in a convent, returns to Sweet Haven to await Chad. All will have seen terrible things, deliberate and casual cruelties, and know the foul, sad grotesqueries of the crazy black-white communications. At the close, Blake and Chad agree that being full of ``make-believe freedom'' isn't all it takes, in the words of Hughes, to ``break this shadow/Into a thousand lights of sun.'' A skilled and moving hortatory novel that points out, in picaresque fragments, that for those who have not achieved the dream of freedom, the ``walk to morning'' is a long one.