One of the anniversaries I missed due to my recent blog hacking was the swashbuckling escape of Robert Smalls. It’s a more exciting action-adventure than anything Hollywood could dream up.
He was conscripted by the Confederates to serve as a pilot on the Planter, a Confederate side wheel ammunition ship.
Smalls took the Planter about 2 a.m. May 13, 1862, after the white officers aboard left for a night in town.
“An interesting thing about those officers is they were not part of the Confederate Navy – they were actually civilian contractors,” said Carl Borick, the assistant director of the Charleston Museum. “The military really couldn’t take much recourse against them for leaving their posts.”
Not every black on the Planter crew was in on the plot. Those who weren’t went ashore but never raised an alarm. Smalls and the seven crewmen headed back up river to pick up the nine family members and friends. The group included his wife, Hanna.
Smalls knew the harbor channels and the signals to make it past the Confederate batteries.