Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid
Anyone who drives Highway 17 from Point South toward Charleston will cross the Combahee River and the Harriet Tubman Bridge.
Tubman, also know as “Moses”, was a former slave from Maryland who fled to freedom in 1849. After settling in Philadelphia, she spent the next decade returning to Maryland multiple times to bring over 300 enslaved people north to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She even rescued her parents, sister and her sister’s children. She came back for her husband, but he had already remarried. She was quoted as saying, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
Harriet was born in 1820 along the Maryland coast. She was named Araminta by her enslaved parents Ben and Rit Ross. At the age of 13 she was nearly killed by a blow to the head. She recovered but was always troubled by the damage.
She changed her name to Harriet when she married freeman John Tubman in 1844. Five years later Harriet learned she was to be sold. She escaped then vowed to bring others to freedom. She used the stars to find her way north, along with other skills learned in the fields.
In 1862 she left her home in Philadelphia to work in Union-occupied Hilton Head as a nurse and Union spy. The following year, Colonel James Montgomery asked if she would lead a covert military mission against the Confederates in South Carolina. She and 150 black members of the US Second South Carolina Volunteers travelled into Confederate territory and freed slaves. They also worked to destroy rice plantations and recruit ex-slaves into joining the Union Army.
In 1863 Tubman gained vital information about the placement of torpedoes along the Combahee River. Three Union gunboats were able to navigate the river because of the information gained by her covert interactions with slaves along the river.
She led the gunboats to specific spots along the river where fugitive slaves were awaiting rescue. The gunboats carried Union soldiers that were unloaded and succeeded in destroying several estates owned by prominent secessionists. As the soldiers were offloaded, slaves boarded the boats. That night, more than 700 slaves were rescued.
Harriet Tubman is the only woman to have led a military operation during the Civil War. This was known as the Combahee River Raid. 100 of the escaped male slaves joined the Union Army after the raid. This very successful raid dealt a mighty blow to the Confederate Army.
Harriet became a lifelong humanitarian and civil rights activist. She became friends with very influential people. She knew Frederick Douglas and John Brown. She was close with suffragists Lucretia Coffin Mott, Martha Coffin Wright and Susan B Anthony. She also spent time with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
She also set up the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. She was admitted to the facility which stood less than 100 yards from her house in 1911. She lived there until her death in 1913, at the age of 90. She was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery.