Robert Smalls: A Daring Escape

Robert Smalls was a 23-year-old slave pressed into service for the Confederacy aboard a warship called the Planter. For nearly a year, he quietly observed the movements of the ship and its crew. Just before dawn on May 13, 1862, Smalls took his chance. While the ship’s officers slept ashore, he and his fellow slave crewmen pulled anchor and eased the Planter into Charleston Harbor. They had prearranged to meet their family members. Together they embarked  on an extremely dangerous journey. Smalls had to navigate the ship past four Confederate checkpoints: Castle Pinckney, Fort Ripley, Fort Johnson and Fort Sumter. After successfully doing so, he then had to safely approach the vessels of the Union naval blockading force.

The vessel was not fired on. As astonished Union officers boarded the Planter,  Smalls stood at attention, saluted, and spoke: “I am delivering this war material including these cannons and I think Uncle Abraham Lincoln can put them to good use.”

Smalls went on to serve with the Union during the war, and beginning in 1868,  in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Robert Smalls was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to begin his first term in 1875.

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The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.