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The Taking of the Planter--

Discussion in 'Civil War History - The Naval War' started by 5fish, Jul 6, 2009.

  1. 5fish

    5fish 1st Lieutenant

    Aug 26, 2007
    Central Florida
    Here is a cute story form our civil war....about a Black American...... I found in one of my roaming of the net....Enjoy the story..

    Robert Smalls and "The Planter"
    Robert Smalls (1839-1915), the son of plantation slaves, was taken by his master in 1851 to Charleston, S.C., where he worked as a hotel waiter, hack driver, and rigger. Impressed into the Confederate Navy at the outbreak of the war, he was forced to serve as wheelman aboard the armed frigate Planter. On May 13, 1862, he and 12 other slaves seized control of the ship in Charleston harbour and turned it over to a Union naval squadron blockading the city. This exploit brought Smalls great fame throughout the North. [some sources use the name Small]

    Smalls went to work as a civilian pilot for the Union Navy on the Keokuk, which was sunk during an attack on Charleston. Rescued, he went on as pilot on the Planter, which was a civilian run ship under contract to the Army. During a Confederate ambush of the Planter, her white captain wanted to surrender, but Smalls locked him in the coal bunker and escaped in spite of heavy fire. He was named the ship's captain for his bravery.

    After the war, Smalls rose rapidly in politics, despite his limited education. From 1868 to 1870 he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and from 1871 to 1874 in the state senate. He was elected to the U.S. Congress (1875-79, 1881-87), where he sponsored a bill requiring equal accommodations for both races in interstate transportation. Smalls spent his last years in Beaufort, S.C. where he served as port collector.

    SS Planter

    The following is directly quoted from: The Negro in the American Rebellion, by William Wells Brown, Lee and Shepard, Boston: 1867. [This book uses the language of the times and refers to Robert Smalls as Robert Small.]

    "To the Secretary of War -- U.S. Steamship Augusta, off Charleston, May 13, 1862

    " Sir, - I have the honor to inform you that the rebel armed gunboat Planter was brought out to us this morning from Charleston by eight contrabands, and delivered up to the squadron. Five colored women and three children are also on board. She was the armed despatch and transportation steamer attached to the engineer department at Charleston, under Brig. Gen. Ripley. At four in the morning, in the absence of the captain who was on shore, she left her wharf close to the government office and head-quarters, with the Palmetto and confederate flags flying, and passed the successive forts, saluting as usual, by blowing the steam-whistle. After getting beyond the range of the last gun, they hauled down the rebel flags, and hoisted a white one. The Onward was the inside ship of the blockading squadron in the main channel, and was preparing to fire when her commander made out the white flag.

    "The Planter is a high-pressure, side-wheel steamer, one hundred and forty feet in length, and about fifty feet beam, and draws about five feet of water. She was built in Charleston, was formerly used as a cotton boat, and is capable of carrying about 1,400 bales. On the organization of the Confederate Navy, she was transformed into a gunboat, and was the most valuable war-vessel the Confederates had at Charleston.

    She was commanded by Capt. Relay, of the Confederate Navy, all the other employees of the vessel, excepting the first and second mates, being persons of color.

    "Robert Small, with whom I had a brief interview at Gen. Benham's headquarters this morning, is an intelligent negro, born in Charleston, and employed for many years as a pilot in and about that harbor. He entered upon his duties on board The Planter some six weeks since, and. . . the whole arrangement of the escape was left to the discretion and sagacity of Robert, his companions promising to obey him, and be ready at a moment's notice to accompany him. For three days he kept the provisions of the party secreted in the hold, awaiting an opportunity to slip away. At length, on Monday evening, the white officers of the vessel went on shore to spend the night. . . the families of the contrabands were notified, and came stealthily on board. At about three o'clock, the fires were lit under the boilers, and the vessel steamed quietly away down the harbor. The tide was against her, and Fort Sumter was not reached till broad daylight. However, the boat passed directly under its walls, giving the usual signal -- two long pulls and a jerk at the whistlecord -- as she passed the sentinel.

    "The armament of the steamer is a thirty-two pounder, on pivot, and a fine twenty-four pound howitzer. She has, besides, on her deck, four other guns. . . Robert Small, the intelligent slave, and pilot of the boat, who performed this bold feat so skillfully, is a superior man to any who have come into our lines, intelligent as many of them have been. His information has been most interesting, and portions of it of the utmost importance. The steamer is quite a valuable acquisition to the squadron . . .

    Very respectfully, your obedient servant, S. F. DUPONT, Flag- Officer Commanding

    "The New-York Commercial Advertiser said of the capture, 'We are forced to confess that this is a heroic act, and that the negroes deserve great praise. Small is a middle aged negro, and his features betray nothing of the firmness of character he displayed. He is said to be one of the most skillful pilots of Charleston, and to have a thorough knowledge of all the ports and inlets of South Carolina.'. . It is proposed, I hear, by the commodore, to recommend the appropriation of $20,000 as a reward to the plucky Africans who have distinguished themselves by this gallant service, $5,000 to be given to the pilot, and the remainder to be divided among his companions.

    "The steamer The Planter was placed under command of a Yankee, who being ordered to do service where the vessel would be liable to come under fire of rebel guns, refused to obey: whereupon Lieut.-Col. Elwell, without consultation. . . issued the following order. . . 'You will please place Robert Small in charge of the United-States transport Planter, as captain. . . He is an excellent pilot, of undoubted bravery, and in every respect worthy of the position. This is due him as a proper recognition of his heroism and services. The present captain is a coward, though a white man. Dismiss him, therefore, and give the steamer to this brave black Saxon."

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  3. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Feb 20, 2005
    Near Kankakee
    I might be wrong, but it seems that on one of the many "Black Confederate" threads, Smalls (or the pilot of the Planter), was cited as being a Black Confederate. Anybody remember that?

  4. Elennsar

    Elennsar Colonel

    May 14, 2008
    I believe it was the naval one, Ole. And then Scribe(?) pointed out that they might not want to be too quick to claim him as a Black Confederate.

    Don't think anyone said anything after that.

    Kudos to Smalls in any case. The man had guts and a fair heaping of sense.
  5. Scribe

    Scribe Cadet

    May 9, 2008
    St. Louis, Mo
    The Confederate command didn't find it all that amusing.

    When word of the defection of Smalls and the Planter reached Richmond General Robert E. Lee called for the punishment of the responsible parties. Brig. Gen. Roswell Ripley had anticipated that suggestion. He had already ordered the Planter’s derelict white officers arrested and tried by court-martial.

    Union voices saw it as something more than simply amusing also. The New York Times called it "One of the most heroic acts of the war," and Union Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont called it "one of the coolest and most gallant naval acts of war."
  6. 5fish

    5fish 1st Lieutenant

    Aug 26, 2007
    Central Florida
    We know Robert Smalls becomes the first captain as sited below....

    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 National flag upon Ft. Sumter.

    After the war he went on to have a political career. He was the member of the 44th, 45th, 47th, and 48th U.S. Congress. He stay active in politics into the 20h century.

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