USS Planter (1862)

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
Steamer Planter
Steamer Planter loaded with 1000 bales of cotton at Georgetown, South Carolina. Ca 1860-61 or 1866-76
Career (US) Confederate Navy Jack Union Navy Jack
Name: USS Planter
Laid down: date unknown
Launched: 1860
Acquired: 30 May 1862
In service: 1862
Out of service: 1862
Struck: 1862 (est.)
Fate: transferred to the Union Army, circa August 1862
General characteristics
Type: Steamer
Displacement: 300 long tons (300 t)
Length: 147 ft (45 m)
Beam: 30 ft (9.1 m)
Draft: 3 ft 9 in (1.14 m)
Depth of hold: 7 ft 10 in (2.39 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine
Speed: Unknown
Complement: Unknown
Armament: 1 × long 32-pounder gun, 1 × short 24-pounder howitzer

USS Planter (1860) was a steamer captured by the Union Navy during the American Civil War when Robert Smalls, a Southern slave, managed to stealthfully steer her past Confederate defenses and surrender her to Union Navy forces.

For a short period, Planter served the Union Navy during her struggle against the Confederate States of America as a gunboat. However, as she burned wood, which was scarce where the Navy was operating, the Navy turned the ship over to the Union Army for use at Fort Pulaski.

Service under the Confederacy

Planter — a sidewheel steamer built at Charleston, South Carolina in 1860 — served the Confederacy as an armed dispatch boat and transport attached to the engineer department at Charleston, under Brigadier General Ripley, CSA.

Robert Smalls, a slave, commandeers Planter and escapes

At 04:00 on 13 May 1862, while her captain, C. J. Relyea, was absent on shore, Robert Smalls — a slave who was Planter's pilot — quietly took the ship from the wharf, and with a Confederate flag flying, steamed past the successive Confederate forts, saluting as usual by blowing her steam whistle.

As soon as the steamer was out of range of the last Confederate gun, Smalls hauled down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white one. Then he turned Planter over to Onward of the Union blockading force.

Besides Smalls, Planter carried seven other black men, five women, and three children to freedom. Moreover, in addition to the cargo of artillery and explosives, Smalls brought Flag officer Samuel Francis Du Pont valuable intelligence including word that the Confederates had abandoned defensive positions on the Stono River.

Smalls pilots Planter to Samuel DuPont in South Carolina

The next day, Planter was sent to Flag Officer Du Pont at Port Royal Harbor, South Carolina, who later assigned Robert Smalls as Planter's pilot. At the time she was taken over by the Federals, Planter had on board, as a valuable cargo, four guns besides her usual armament.

Smalls and his crew are awarded half the value of Planter

The United States Senate and House of Representatives passed a private bill on 30 May 1862, granting Robert Smalls and his African-American crew one half of the value of Planter and her cargo as prize money.

Service in the Union Navy

Du Pont promptly took Planter into the Union Navy and placed her under command of Acting Master Philemon Dickenson. On 30 May he ordered the side-wheeler to North Edisto where Acting Master Lloyd Phoenix relieved Dickenson.

Planter served the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron through the summer of 1862. On a joint expedition under Lieutenant Rhind, Crusader and Planter ascended to Simmons Bluff, Wadmelaw River, South Carolina, landed with troops, and destroyed a Confederate encampment.

Planter transferred to the Union Army

The Southern steamer had been designed to use only wood as fuel, a scarce commodity for the Union blockaders off Charleston, South Carolina. Therefore, in the fall of 1862, Du Pont ordered her transferred to the Union Army for service near Fort Pulaski. [1].

Planter under fire

After his escape, Robert Smalls served as a pilot for Union ships in the area. He was eventually assigned to serve aboard Planter once again. On December 1, 1863, Planter was caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship's commander, a Captain Nickerson, ordered her surrendered. Smalls refused, saying he feared her black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might even be killed by the Confederates. Smalls took command and piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. As a reward for his bravery, he was made her new captain, becoming the first black man to command a United States ship. [2] Smalls remained in that position until Planter was sold by the Army in 1866. [1]

See also


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert Smalls: Commander of the Planter During the American Civil War, article by Howard Westwood.
  2. "The Unstoppable Mr.Smalls", by Gerald Henig, America's Civil War, March 2007 issue.

External links