The North and the South had been arguing over several issues, including slavery, for many years. Growing numbers of Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. Some people wanted to outlaw it, while others wanted to prevent it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played a big role in the Southern economy and culture. As a result, many Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. They did not want the national government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life.
By 1861, this ongoing dispute had convinced several Southern states to secede from (leave) the United States and attempt to form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. But Northern political leaders were determined to keep the Southern states in the Union. The two sides soon went to war. Once the Civil War began, Tubman began looking for a way to help the Union cause. She ended up volunteering as a cook, nurse, and laundress for Union troops who had taken over Beaufort, South Carolina.
Tubman also served as a spy, conducting several successful raids and scouting missions. In June 1863, she led a group of Union gunboats manned by black soldiers on a raid up the Combahee River in South Carolina. They removed mines from the river, destroyed Confederate supplies, and led 750 slaves to freedom. Nearly all of the male slaves who were freed in this mission later joined the Union Army.
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