The story of Smalls's dramatic escape from slavery attracted a great deal of media attention in the North. Many newspapers and magazines published articles about him and called him a war hero. Admiral Samuel DuPont (1803-1865), the commander in charge of the Union naval blockade of Charleston, called Smalls's escape "one of the coolest and most gallant [brave and daring] naval acts of war." Of course, people in the South were not so thrilled by the news. A newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, called the loss of the Planter "one of the most shameful events in this or any other war."
Smalls and the other former slaves on board the Planter were accepted into the Union as "contrabands" (the Union Army was authorized to seize any Confederate property used in the war effort, including slaves, as "contraband of war"). The U.S. Congress granted Smalls a $1,500 cash reward for delivering the ship, and gave several hundred dollars to each member of his crew. Smalls continued to help the Union Navy by providing valuable information about Confederate defenses in the Charleston area. After all, he had explored many rivers and inlets during his supply missions on the Planter.
At that time, black men were not allowed to serve as Union soldiers. Smalls joined a group of prominent black leaders who tried to convince President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; see entry) to allow black men to join the army. Lincoln eventually allowed an all-black regiment—the First South Carolina Volunteers—to be formed on the South Carolina coastal islands, near Smalls's home. Smalls helped recruit black men to join the war effort both in his home state and in the North. Smalls himself served in the Union Navy. When he was promoted to captain of the Planter, he became the first black man ever allowed to command an American warship. He continued to carry supplies along the coast—this time for the Union—and also fought in seventeen naval battles.
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