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Civil War era ship found off South Carolina

Once a Confederate ship, the "USS Planter" was commandeered and sailed into Union waters.
Once a Confederate ship, the "USS Planter" was commandeered and sailed into Union waters.

Below 10 to 12 feet of water and then another 10 to 12 feet of sand, historians believe they have found the USS Planter off the coast of South Carolina. The ship experienced extensive action during the Civil War.

Built during 1860, the USS Planter was commandeered by slave Robert Smalls during the early morning hours of May 13, 1862. He placed his wife and children on board and headed out to sea with a few other black crew members. Smalls was a skilled pilot and he guided the ship through Confederate defenses and to the Union blockade. Once in Union waters, Smalls surrendered the vessel and provided valuable intelligence about Confederate military plans.

The USS Planter was a side-wheel steamer built in Charleston. It was used by the Confederacy as an armed dispatch boat and a transport. It was attached to the city’s engineer department.

Smalls was the boat’s pilot. When the captain was on shore on that May day, Smalls took the ship and steamed past several Confederate forts. To not raise suspicion, he saluted each fortification by blowing the steam whistle. When the boat was out of range of Confederate cannon, Smalls hauled down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white flag to navigate his way into Union waters.

U.S. Gunboat And Captain

Besides his family and the enslaved crew, the USS Planter carried artillery and explosives. After serving as a pilot on other Union ships, Smalls returned to the USS Planter as its captain. He became the first black man to command a U.S. ship. The USS Planter served as a gunboat for the Union Navy. Soon after, the ship was sent to the Union Army near Fort Pulaski on the Georgia coast. Smalls served as captain until 1866.

After the war, Smalls became involved in South Carolina politics. A devoted member of the Republican Party, Smalls worked diligently to obtain the support of other former slaves. Smalls was elected first to the state house and then to the state senate. During 1874, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served several terms.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more information about the find off the South Carolina coast will be released on May 12. The actual location of the ship will not be revealed since it rests where it sank, off Cape Romain on March 25, 1876, in what now is considered an environmentally sensitive area.


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