Robert Smalls, 1862

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Image Reference

Harper's Weekly (June 14, 1862), vol. 6, p. 372. (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)

Smalls was born in Charleston, S.C. and for many years was a ship's pilot in Charleston harbor. In 1862, while Union forces had blockaded the harbor, the 23 year old Smalls (a slave at the time), and eight other "colored men" who comprised the engineers and crew of the Confederate gun-boat "Planter," ran the blockade and delivered the "Planter" to the Union side --it was, in the words of the Harper's Weekly account, "one of the most daring and heroic adventures since the war was commenced" (p. 372). Smalls later became a major general in the South Carolina militia, a state legislator, and a five-term U.S. congressman. He also participated in drafting the state's constitution. In February 2004, The Army's chief of transportation at Fort Eustis (on the James River by Newport News, Virginia, the home of the US Army Transportation Corps) announced that the Army's newest ship will be named for Robert Smalls. "The Major General Robert Smalls" will be the first Army vessel to be named after an African-American and the first to be named for a Civil War hero; the ship will be christened in April 2004. For details, see article by Peter Bacque, staff writer for the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch, February 13, 2004; for more information about Robert Smalls, see the Robert Smalls Legacy Foundation Web site, A photo of Smalls, taken during Reconstruction -- when he was a congressman -- is published in James McPherson, The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom (New York, 2003), p. 485; taken from the Library of Congress collections.