One of the most singular and daring incidents of the Civil War occurred this date, when Robert Smalls, a slave who had been hired out as a stevedore by his master and was assigned to the Confederate steamer CSS Planter
—and who had learned the arts of sea navigation well enough to be made the pilot— carried forth a plan he had conceived and enlisted the slave crew to carry out: to hijack the Planter,
run her past the batteries in Charleston Harbour, and make for the Federal blockade fleet outside the harbour mouth. It was certain death if the plot was tumbled, but Smalls and his band decided it was worth the chance for freedom.
Having observed the routines of the captain and crew in signaling the Confederate shore batteries and watch stations, Smalls and the crew seized their opportunity when the captain and officers —in violation of orders— left the ship for the night to seek more comfortable quarters; slipped their moorings, retrieved their families where they were secreted near the North Atlantic Wharf, and successfully steamed right through the harbour, giving the appropriate signals at every point, and made it past Morris Island and to the open sea, to come alongside the USS Onward.
Passed along to Flag Officer Samuel F. DuPont, Smalls and his crew were given refuge, commended for their feat, and awarded half the prize money for the Planter
—which was subsequently recommissioned into Union service. Smalls, who had garnered the particular notice of Flag Officer DuPont, would remain with the ship as her pilot and eventually receive a commission into the United States Navy and be appointed captain of the USS Planter.