Yes, it was Harriet Tubman, who in June of 1863 guided three steam-powered Union gunboats as they churned 25 miles up the Combahee River in South Carolina during the Civil War. Tubman told the pilots of the boats how to avoid the mines Confederate forces had placed in the river.
When Tubman and some 150 black soldiers of the Second South Carolina Regiment landed, they stole or destroyed thousands of dollars worth of crops and livestock, burned houses, barns and plantations and made off with 750 slaves who would no longer serve the Confederate war effort.
Although a Col. James Montgomery was in command of the troops, it’s Tubman who has only recently received proper credit for leading the Combahee River expedition. “On June 1, 1863,” writes Kate Clifford Larson in a recent biography, “Tubman became the first woman to plan and execute an armed expedition during the Civil War. Acting as an adviser to Montgomery, Tubman led a raid from Port Royal to the interior…”
But Tubman did more than just lead the raid and serve as an adviser to Montgomery. She and her network of spies carefully scouted the region of the Combahee River where Union troops landed. That’s how she knew where the mines were in the river and the lay of the land that allowed the mass escape of slaves.
Two new books give accounts of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the raid: Kate Clifford Larson’s “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero” and Catherine Clinton’s “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.”