BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) – On June 2, 1863, using her knowledge as a Union Army scout and spy, Harriet Tubman led a raid up the Combahee River, freeing nearly 800 slaves.
One hundred and fifty years later, a crowd gathered to commemorate the event in the place where historians believe Tubman lodged and addressed the newly freed men and women: Beaufort’s Tabernacle Baptist Church.
This time, Kate Clifford Larson, author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, addressed the audience in the pews.
Larson described how Tubman arrived in Beaufort in the spring of 1862, working as a spy and scout and setting up businesses so other freedmen could earn an income. Tubman, with the help of other scouts familiar with the area, was also gathering information about the location of slaves and supplies.
As proof, Larson held up a check Tubman received from the government for her scouting work, provided by another guest speaker, Asa Gordon, secretary general of the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Colored Troops.
On the evening of June 1, 1863, three steam-driven gunboats carrying 300 black soldiers left Port Royal under the cover of darkness. With Tubman’s guidance, Col. James Montgomery and his small force made their way to the plantations where Tubman and her scouts had identified Confederate warehouses and stockpiles of rice and cotton.
The next morning, the troops laid waste to several plantations and fields with fire and flooding, and confiscated thousands of dollars in food and livestock.
More than 750 slaves fled to the Union boats. An article published in the Boston Commonwealth printed in the church’s program described the raid as a “bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton and lordly dwellings and striking terror to the heart of rebeldom.”
Montgomery and his men suffered no losses, or even a scratch, according to the article.
UP FROM SLAVERY
Larson, a leading Tubman scholar, described how Tubman had been born into slavery in Maryland and lived with disabilities her entire life from beatings at the hands of overseers.
She was illiterate, and stood only 5 feet tall, but worked her entire life to help others gain freedom after making her own escape, Larson said.
“She wanted to be part of the war effort,” Larson said. “So she came here and got to work.”
The Rev. Kenneth Hodges, pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church, said it is “only fitting” that the church celebrate the raid as it continues to mark its own 150th anniversary.
Hodges, who is also a Democratic state representative from Colleton County, said celebrations of the church’s milestone so far this year have included a ceremony in January marking the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery and a traveling exhibit honoring Civil War hero and U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls.