Sunday, February 22, 2015

American History 101: When a Slave Captured a Confederate Ship

There is much discussion in Civil War historical circles about how much slaves participated in the war on both sides, and what the total impact of slave participation really was in the war.  In spite of laws preventing it, many were forcibly enlisted to serve as cooks, slaves, manservants and infantry for the Confederacy.  The Union army legally allowed blacks to enlist and serve after July 17, 1862.  This would include blacks that fled the south to gain freedom, and then fight for freedom for the Union Army.  There was also the practice of slave reclamation by southern soldiers when blacks were taken as prisoners.  Both sides were equally guilty of sending blacks instead of whites. out on the front lines to die in particularly dangerous situations.

But on May 12, 1862 a slave took action unlike any other had taken before to strike a blow for the Union -- and freedom for slaves on both sides.  On May 12, 1862 the Planter, a Confederate Sidewheeler, was in Beaufort harbor in South Carolina.  The Planter was a Confederate supply ship transporting munitions and supplies for Fort Sumter and Fort Riley.  That night, when the white officers went ashore for the evening, Robert Smalls took action.  Smalls, a 23 year old pilot of the boat, and seven other black men pulled up the anchor and sailed the Planter out of Beaufort harbor.

As the Planter sailed past Fort Sumter, Smalls sounded the Confederate whistle leaving the fort none-the-wiser to what was happening.  As the Planter approached the Union blockade inside St. Helena Sound, Smalls and his crew dropped the Confederate flag and hoisted the American flag.  He then surrendered the Planter to the Union Navy, an act that quickly made him a national hero.  The Confederates offered a $4,000 reward for the capture of Smalls. 

Smalls went on to fight for the Union and, after the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, he was elected to the South Carolina state legislature from 1868 to 1874.  Then in 1875 he was elected to Congress where he served 5 terms, and then was appointed customs collector for the Port of Beaufort by President Harrison.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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