ROBERT SMALLS Biography - Military related figures


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Name: Robert Smalls                                                                 
Born: 5 April 1839 Beaufort, South Carolina                                         
Died: 23 February 1915 Beaufort, South Carolina                                     
Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 - February 23, 1915) was a multiracial slave who       
became a naval hero when he freed himself and his family from slavery in May       
1862 by commandering a Confederate transport. He was born in Beaufort, South       
Carolina, and eventually became a politician.                                       
Smalls' mother was a slave owned by John McKee. His father was white. As a         
young man, Smalls held several jobs in Charleston, SC, and finally began working   
in the docks. Gradually he learned to be a seaman, and then a pilot, becoming       
knowledgeable of the Charleston harbor.                                             
In the fall of 1861, Smalls was made helmsman of the Planter, an armed             
Confederate military transport. On May 12, 1862, the Planter's three white         
officers were spending the night ashore. Smalls and several other black crewmen     
decided to make a run for the Union vessels which formed the blockade, in           
accordance with a plan which Smalls had previously discussed with them. They       
made a stop at a nearby ship to pick up Smalls' family and other crewmen's         
relatives, who had been concealed there for some time.                             
Early on the morning of May 13, with his wife and children and a small group of     
other African Americans now aboard, Smalls made his daring escape. He piloted       
the ship past the five Confederate forts which guarded the harbor, including       
Fort Sumter. He then headed straight for the Federal fleet, which was part of       
the Union blockade of Confederate ports, making sure to hoist a white flag. The     
first ship he encountered was USS Onward, which prepared to fire until a sailor     
noticed the white flag. When the Onward's captain boarded the Planter, Smalls       
requested to raise the US flag immediately. Smalls turned the Planter over to       
the United States Navy, along with its onboard cargo of artillery and explosives   
intended for a Confederate fort.