A great and good man: Robert Smalls

23 12 2010

This is pure theft from TNC, but this man deserves every last bit of attention he can get:

Robert [Smalls] was sent to Charleston in 1851 to work for his master (now Henry McKee) where he held several jobs. He started out in a hotel, then became a lamplighter on the streets of Charleston. His love of the water, evidenced in his childhood at Beaufort, led him to work down on the docks and wharfs of Charleston in his teen years. He became a stevedore (a dockworker), a rigger, a sail maker, and eventually worked his way up to a wheelman (essentially a pilot, though blacks were not called pilots). He became very knowledgeable of the Charleston harbor.
In the fall of 1861, Smalls steered the CSS Planter, an armed Confederate military transport. On May 12, 1862, the Planter’s three white officers were spending the night ashore. In the early morning hours of the 13th, Smalls and several other black crewmen decided to make a run for the Union vessels that formed the blockade, in accordance with a plan Smalls previously had discussed with them.
Robert was dressed in the captain’s uniform and even had a hat similar to the white captain’s. The Planter backed out of what was then known as Southern Wharf around 3 a.m. The Planter stopped at a nearby wharf to pick up Smalls’ family and other crewmen’s relatives, who had been concealed there for some time. Now with his wife and children and a small group of other African Americans aboard, Smalls made his daring escape.
The Planter not only had the blacks on board but it also had four valuable artillery pieces aboard, besides its own two guns. Perhaps most valuable was the code book in Robert’s possession that would reveal the Confederate’s secret signals and placement of mines and torpedoes in and around Charleston harbor. Smalls piloted the ship past the five Confederate forts that guarded the harbor, including Fort Sumter.
The renegade ship passed by Sumter approximately 4:30 a.m. He then headed straight for the Federal fleet, which was part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, making sure to hoist a white flag. The first ship he encountered was USS Onward, which prepared to fire until a sailor noticed the white flag. When the Onward’s captain boarded the Planter, Smalls requested to raise the US flag immediately. Smalls turned the Planter over to the United States Navy, along with its onboard cargo of artillery and explosives intended for a Confederate fort.
Because of his extensive knowledge of the shipyards and Confederate defenses, Smalls was able to provide valuable assistance to the Union Navy. He gave detailed information about the harbor’s defenses to Admiral Samuel Dupont, commander of the blockading fleet. Smalls became famous throughout the North. Numerous newspapers ran articles describing his actions. Congress passed a bill, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, rewarding Smalls and his crewmen with the prize money for the captured Planter.
Smalls’ own share was $1,500 ($34,000 adjusted for inflation in 2007 dollars), a huge sum for the time. Robert personally met Abraham Lincoln in late May 1862 (two weeks later) upon which he heralded his personal account to the President. Lincoln was quite impressed with Smalls’ intelligence. His deeds became a major argument for allowing African Americans to serve in the Union Army. Smalls served under the Navy until March 1863, when he was transferred to the Army.
In December 1863, Smalls became the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States. On December 1, 1863, the Planter had been caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship’s commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might even be shot. Smalls took command and piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter’s captain.[2] Robert returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor in April 1865 for the re-raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter.

Read the whole thing, and read the thread for even more on this great and good man.

Forget the Lost Cause: This is the history we should be celebrating.





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6 04 2010

Declaration by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell:

WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and
WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and […]

WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

Two words, buddy. . . .

*UPDATE* TNC has a graceful follow-up to this story, in response to the Guv’s recognition that, oh, yeah, slavery was kind of big, bad deal, wasn’t it?

(h/t: Huffington Post)