On May 12th of 1862 Robert Smalls and seven fellow black slaves stole a Confederate military ship, sailed it out of Charleston Harbor, handed it over to the Union
Navy, and gained their freedom from slavery. On this page we list interesting kid-friendly facts about this daring escape which was one of the main factors that
convinced President Lincoln to permit black men to join the Union Army. Although Small's was never officially a Black civil war soldier he is included in this section
due to his service to his country. The kid-friendly information on this page includes how he pulled off this amazing escape, why his escape was so important to the
Union, and where he learned how to sail.
Robert Smalls Introduction
Robert Smalls was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina on April 5th of 1839.
Starting at the age of 12 his slave master sent him to work in Charleston South Carolina at various jobs for which his master was paid.
In the seaport town of Charleston Robert Smalls eventually found work on the docks as a dockworker, sail maker, and a rigger. He learned how to sail and worked his
up to being a ship pilot.
He married Hannah Jones on December 24th of 1856. Jones already had a daughter when they married; together they had a daughter and a son who died when he was two
Robert Smalls Escape from Slavery Facts
Robert Smalls had been entrusted by the Confederates to work aboard a Confederate military transport named the CSS Planter that was docked in Charleston South
He and several black crew members had planned to take over the CSS Planter and sail it out to sea where they could escape slavery and turn the ship over to Union
blockading Charleston Harbor.
On May 12, 1862 the opportunity to escape presented itself as the CSS Planter's captain and white crew were all ashore for the night.
At around three o'clock in the morning he and seven fellow slave crewmen stole the ship and set sail out of Charleston Harbor.
In order to fool any suspicious Confederates who may view the ship passing by them Small dressed in the captain's uniform.
The ship stopped at a dock to pick Robert Small's family and the families of other black crewmen who had been hiding while waiting for the ship.
The CSS Planter sailed past several Confederate forts, including the famous Fort Sumter, which guarded Charleston Harbor. Small's flashed the correct Confederate
signals to the lookouts at the forts who then let the ship pass without incident.
As the ship approached the Union blockade ships a white flag to signal surrender was raised as to avoid being fired upon.
Once the ship was boarded by the Union sailors Small raised the U.S. flag and surrendered the ship to the U.S. Navy.
The ship had several valuable artillery pieces along with a supply of ammunition. However, even more important was a code book with secret Confederate naval
and a map of where mines were placed around Charleston Harbor.
Not only was the ship and its contents of great value to the Union but Robert Smalls himself proved to be a great asset to the Union Navy. His knowledge of the
Confederates defenses around Charleston Harbor provided important information.
Robert Smalls after Escape from Slavery Facts
Robert Smalls became famous in the North for his daring escape; articles about him appeared in several newspapers.
Although never officially a soldier he was involved in 17 military engagements in the American Civil War.
Robert Smalls and his brave crew were awarded money for capturing the Confederate ship. Smalls share was $1,500 which was a large sum of money at that time.
Smalls met with President Lincoln shortly after stealing the Confederate ship, giving the interested president a detailed account of the escape.
His first wife Hannah Smalls died on July 28th of 1883, on April 9th of 1890 he married Annie E. Wigg.
He went on to have a successful political career; first serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate before being elected
United States House of Representatives in 1874.
Later in his life he was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort South Carolina serving from 1889 through 1911.
An interesting fact is that he bought and lived in the house in which he had been a slave. He actually allowed his former slave master's wife to move back into the
house shortly before her death.
Robert Smalls died on February 23rd of 1915, the cause of death was unspecified.