As we close out February and Black History Month SNA would like to highlight a member of our Hall of Fame.
Robert Smalls was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina. He freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston Harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailed it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. At one point he disguised himself as the ship’s Confederate Captain and convinced harbor patrol boats to allow him through to access the open ocean. He piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His valiant actions helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African American soldiers and sailors into the Union Force. During the rest of the war, Smalls balanced his role as a spokesperson and Union Navy captain on the Planter and the ironclad USS Keokuk, conducting 17 missions in and around Charleston. After the war, Smalls was commissioned as a brigadier general in the South Carolina militia. He returned to Beaufort and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. He purchased the plantation where he served as a slave and lived the rest of his life there. Numerous schools, facilities and monuments have been named in honor of Robert Smalls, including Camp Robert Smalls and an Army logistics support vessel.
Author Note: His status was very much in question, sources state that Smalls did receive a commission either in the Army (Second LT) or the Navy (Captain), but he was likely officially a civilian throughout the war.
The Hall of Fame Video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/8GuCknGnZWw