Found: Civil War Ship Taken by Slaves

Robert Smalls commandeered the Planter, gave it to Union
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2014 6:30 AM CDT
Found: Civil War Ship Swiped by Slaves
This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a model of the CSS Planter at the Charleston Museum as an exhibit titled "The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls."   (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, file)

After the American Civil War, a storied ship was wrecked off South Carolina. Now, experts believe they've found the remains of the Planter, a Confederate supply ship commandeered by its crew of slaves and turned over to the Union, LiveScience reports. The ship's wheelsman, in charge of steering, was one Robert Smalls, whose "knowledge became vital to the Confederates," an expert tells Discovery. The crew at first joked about commandeering the ship, Smalls later said, but eventually the slaves decided to take real action.

When the crew's white men were partying offshore in 1862, Smalls and Co. made a daring break for it, picking up relatives as they escaped. They turned the Planter over to the Union, and Smalls continued to operate it as it fought the Confederates. He became the US military's first African-American captain, and eventually a US congressman. Years after the war, in 1876, the ship was damaged in a storm near Charleston and buried in sand. NOAA researchers have likely rediscovered it using a magnetometer to trace its iron. Now, South Carolina could excavate it—or install a tribute at the site. A plaque has already been made, Reuters reports. (Another shipwreck off South Carolina appears to house plenty of gold.)

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