May 13, 1862: Robert Smalls Seizes CSS Planter


Born in 1839 as a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, Robert Smalls freed himself and his family in a dramatic fashion on May 13, 1862.  Sent to Charleston when he was 12 by his master Henry McKee, who may also have been his father, Robert made his way holding a series of jobs.  He early developed a love for the sea, and began working on the docks as a stevedore.  He was eager to learn and worked himself up to being a pilot aboard ships.  In 1856 he married his wife Hannah, a hotel maid.  In 1858 their daughter was born, and in 1861 their family welcomed a son.

With the coming of the War, Robert served as a pilot aboard the CSS Planter, an armed transport.  On the evening of May 12, 1862, the white officers decided to sleep onshore.  Robert and his fellow slave members of the crews decided this was their opportunity to steam to freedom.  At 3:00 AM, they cast off, stopping at a nearby wharf to pick up their families.

Under the command of Smalls the CSS Planter sailed past the five Confederate forts guarding the harbor and passed out of the harbor to the Union blockading fleet.  Smalls and his colleagues found themselves national heroes throughout the North.  Smalls’ share of the CSS Planter as a prize of war was $1,500.00, a huge sum when one considers that Union privates were paid $15.00 a month.  Smalls met with Lincoln who was impressed by his intelligence and resourcefulness.  Smalls went on to have an interesting career during the War both on land and sea, and a spectacular political career after the War.  One post can’t do justice to the man, and I will have two future posts dealing with his additional service during the War and his post war political career in South Carolina.  Here is the report of Flag Officer S.F.  Du Pont on the capture of the CSS Planter: (more…)

Published in: on May 13, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 13, 1862: Robert Smalls Seizes CSS Planter  
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