More than a century before women were officially allowed to serve in combat positions in the U.S. Army...
...a woman planned and executed an armed raid into enemy territory.
She guided a force of three gunboats upriver to rout enemy outposts, destroy stockpiles of supplies and weapons, and free hundreds of captives.
It was June 1863. Union forces had just suffered their worst defeat yet at the hands of the Confederates and Robert E. Lee at the First Battle of the Wilderness.
Northerners needed a boost and they gained both military and psychological momentum when James Montgomery and 300 men of the Second South Carolina Black regiment and the Third Rhode Island Battery pulled off the Combahee Raid near Beaufort, South Carolina.
Who was the woman who supplied the intelligence for the raid and directed the Colonel and his men?
Nearly every school kid learns about Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and her work on the Underground Railroad.
Less often they hear how this amazing woman, barely five feet tall, was the first American woman to lead an armed mission behind enemy lines.
Nurse, cook, scout, and spy---Harriet did it all for the Union army. On the night of June 2, 1863 she led the force that wrecked havoc on Confederate holdings on both sides of the river and emboldened more than 700 slaves to desert their plantations and flee to freedom.
At the appearance of Union gunboats coming up the river "...overseers used their whips in vain, for they failed to drive the slaves back to the quarters. They turned and ran for the gun-boats; they came down every road, across every field, dressed just as they were when they left their work and their cabins. There were women with children clinging around their necks, hanging onto their dresses, or running behind, but all rushed at full speed for “Lincoln’s gun-boats.” Hundred crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their deliverers, and most of them were taken aboard the gun-boats to be carried to Beaufort." Quote thanks to www.harriettubman.com/tubman2.html.
A Boston newspaper reporting the event mentioned Colonel Montgomery later gave a speech, which was followed by words from "the black woman who led the raid....For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created a great sensation... "
The story ends on a further unfortunate note. Harriet Tubman was paid a mere $200 for her service to the Union Army over the course of the war, and was refused veteran's benefits. Though she received benefits as the wife of a veteran, she died in poverty.
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