Captain Robert Smalls, Bona Fide Hero
It’s largely becoming cliche to say this, but Ta-Nahesi Coates’ continued blogging on the Civil War justifies the existence of the blogosphere. Today, seeking to reinforce his long-held argument that the aspects and persons of the Civil War which are so readily celebrated in certain circles in the South do not deserve celebration, while other aspects and persons of the Civil War in the South do very much deserve celebration, Coates points us to the awe-inspiring story of Captain Robert Smalls, a slave at the outbreak of the war:
In the fall of 1861, Smalls steered the CSS Planter, an armed Confederate military transport. On May 12, 1862, the Planter’s three white officers were spending the night ashore. In the early morning hours of the 13th, Smalls and several other black crewmen decided to make a run for the Union vessels that formed the blockade, in accordance with a plan Smalls previously had discussed with them. …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. Robert returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor in April 1865 for the re-raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter.