Harriet Tubman is undoubtedly one of the most significant Black leaders in the slave era. She is credited for playing a huge role in leading slaves from the South up North through the Underground Railroad.
Famously likened to the biblical “Moses” who led the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt, Tubman was an essential figure in leading African slaves to freedom. But what many people, including some students of African history, do not know is that Harriet Tubman did much more beyond her role as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.
Some critics believe that there is a conscious ploy to protect the shameless disservice by authorities. They claim that the authorities are suppressing information about her role in the Union Army during the Civil War of 1861.
After the role in the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman joined the Union Army during the Civil War. She led a successful Brazen Civil War Raid termed the Combahee Ferry Raid.
Tubman was a soldier and spy for the Union Army during the war. She is also the first woman to lead an armed military operation in the United States.
The military operation Tubman led is known as the Combahee Ferry Raid. It resulted in the freedom of more than 700 slaves, possible through a partnership between Harriet Tubman and Colonel James Montgomery.
Col. Montgomery was an abolitionist who commanded a Black regiment known as the Second South Carolina Volunteers. As a spy for the army, Tubman gathered intelligence that some slaves were being ferried across the Combahee River by wealthy rice plantation owners. She was bent on rescuing the slaves before they got to the plantations.
Montgomery was willing to commit 300 men for the operation; so, Tubman and eight scouts mapped the area and sent words to the slaves to prepare for a rescue mission.
“She was fearless, and she was courageous,” said Kate Clifford Larson, renowned historian and author of the book – Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. “She had a sensibility. She could get black people to trust her and the Union officers knew that the local people did not trust them.”
The raid was carried out on the night of June 1, 1863. Tubman and Montgomery led two gunboats, the Sentinel and Harriet A. Weed, from a federal ship named John Adams.
As explained in a book by Catherine Clinton titled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, Tubman, who was illiterate, couldn’t write down any intelligence she gathered. Instead, she committed everything to memory, guiding the ships towards strategic points near the shore where fleeing slaves were waiting.
“They needed to take gunboats up the river,” said Clinton. “They could have been blown up if they hadn’t had her intelligence.”
Around 2:30 a.m. on June 2, the John Adams and the Harriet A. Weed split up along the river to conduct different raids. Tubman led 150 men on the John Adams toward the fugitives who opened fire on the soldiers and the slaves. One girl was reportedly killed.
As the escapees ran to the shore, Black troops in rowboats transported them to the ships, to calm the slaves. Tubman, who didn’t speak the region’s Gullah dialect, reportedly went on deck and sang a popular song from the abolitionist movement that calmed the group down.
More than 700 escaped slavery and made it onto the gunboats.
It is surprising that despite the Tubman’s role in this famous raid and in the army, which also included the recruitment of at least 100 freedmen into the Union Army through her help, she did not receive any compensation or medal.
Larson mentioned in her book that Harriet Tubman petitioned the government several times to be paid for her duties as a soldier, but was denied.
Tubman was later placed on a pension at her old age, but this was because she was a widow of a Black Union soldier she married after the war, not for her role and service as a soldier.
Do you think it is too late to honour Harriet Tubman as a war veteran? What are your thoughts?