English 37

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is well known for risking her life as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, which led escaped slaves to freedom in the North. But the former slave also served in the capacity of1 a spy for the Union during the Civil War and was the first woman in American history to lead a military expedition – and successful one at that. During a time when women were usually restricted2 to traditional roles like cooking and nursing, she worked3 side-by-side with men, says writer Tom Allen, who tells her exciting story in the book Harriet Tubman: Secret Agent.

Tubman’s decision4 to help the Union Army because she wanted freedom for all of the people who were forced into slavery, not just the few she could help by herself. And she convinced many other brave African Americans to join her as spies, even at the risk that they could be hanged5 if they were caught.

 In one of her most dramatic roles,6 Tubman helped Colonel James Montgomery plan a raid to free slaves from plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina.

Early on the morning of June 1, 1863, three gunboats carrying several hundred male soldiers along with Harriet Tubman set out on they’re7 mission. Tubman had rescued many slaves from plantations in this area of South Carolina,8 so she knew where the soldiers were hiding along the shore. She also found out where they had placed torpedoes or barrels filled with gunpowder,9 in the water.

As the early morning fog lifted on some of the South’s most important rice plantations, the Union expedition hit hard. The raiders set fire to buildings and destroyed bridges because10 they could not be used by the Confederate Army. They also freed about 750 slaves — men, women, children, and babies. [11]

Allen, who writes about this adventure and many others, got to know Tubman well through the months of research he did for the book. The historic details he shares, bring12 Tubman and many other important figures of her time, to life. To gather the facts, Allen searched libraries and the Internet, and even walked in Tubman’s footsteps. He went to the river just south of the area where the raid took place. Standing in the kind of country she would have known, surrounded by dirt roads as well as plenty of mosquitoes and snakes,13 Allen began to understand the world that Tubman came from.

Allen says his most exciting moment came when a librarian led him to written accounts by people who actually saw Tubman and the raiders in action. Tubman stood at a height that measured five feet two inches,14 was born a slave, had a debilitating illness, and was unable to read or write, yet she was a tough woman who could take charge and lead men. [15]