following dispatch, quoted in part, appeared on the front page
of The Commonwealth, a
newspaper, on Friday, July 10, 1863:
Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 black soldiers, under
the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemy’s
country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions
of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton and lordly
dwellings, and striking terror into the heart of rebeldom,
brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of
property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch. It was a
they were all fairly well disposed of in the Beaufort charge,
they were addressed in strains of thrilling eloquence by their
gallant deliverer, to which they responded in a song. “There
is a white robe for thee,” a song so appropriate and so
heartfelt and cordial as to bring unbidden tears.
Colonel was followed by a speech from the black woman, who
led the raid and under whose inspiration it was
originated and conducted. For sound sense and real native
eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created
a great sensation...
rebellion she had devoted herself to her great work of
delivering the bondman, with an energy and sagacity that cannot
be exceeded. Many and many times she has penetrated the
enemy’s lines and discovered their situation and condition, and
escaped without injury, but not without extreme hazard.1
The Combahee River, in South Carolina, was the first one visited by
the Spaniards in the year 1520. Vasque de Ayllon, having
discovered it, gave it the name “River Jordan.” 2 Although
subsequently renamed the Combahee, the stream now became a River
Jordan literally for more than seven hundred and fifty Negroes
who, under the leadership of Harriet Tubman and the auxiliary
command of Colonel James Montgomery, delivered this number of
blacks into the free lines. The River Jordan has been in
biblical history a reality, and in modern Negro allusion a
symbol of the barrier between bondage and freedom, and it is an
interesting coincidence, therefore, that the
Combahee campaign should so parallel the ancient situation. It is
significant as the only military engagement in American history
wherein a woman black or white, “led the raid and under whose
inspiration it was originated and conducted”. The N.Y.
Tribune ” says that the Negro troops at Hilton Head, S.C.
will soon start an expedition, under the command of Colonel
Montgomery, differing in many respects from any heretofore
The Combahee strategy was formulated by Harriet Tubman as an outcome
of her penetrations of the enemy lines and her belief that the
countryside was ripe for a successful invasion. She was asked
by General Hunter “if she would go with several gunboats up the
Combahee River, the object of the expedition being to take up
the torpedoes placed by the rebels in the river, to destroy
railroads and bridges, and to cut off supplies from the rebel
troops. She said she would go if Col. Montgomery was to be
appointed commander of the expedition…Accordingly, Col.
Montgomery was appointed to the command, and Harriet, with
several men under her, the principal of whom was J. Plowden…accompanied
the expedition”. 4 Actually in this raid it was Montgomery who
was the auxiliary leader. The whole venture owed its success to
the complete preliminary survey made by Harriet Tubman’s
F. Lay, the Confederate investigating officer, discussing the
movement afterwards, said, “The enemy seems to have been well
posted as to the character and capacity of our troops and their
small chance of encountering opposition, and to have been well
guided by persons thoroughly acquainted with the river and
country. 5 It was a commentary, however indirect, on Harriet’s
work and the labor of her subordinates.
miles north of Port Royal Island, Harriet’s station, was St.
Helena Island, and between this island and the mainland of
was the water known as St. Helena Sound. The Combahee River, a
narrow, jagged stream that ran about fifty miles into the
interior of the State, began at the Sound: and on its banks were
rice fields and marshes.
the night of June 2, 1863, Harriet and Colonel Montgomery, with
a party of about 150 Negro troops in three gunboats, started up
the Combahee River. Pickets located at stations near the mouth
of the stream spotted the oncoming boats and dispatched word to
the Confederate commander, Major Emanuel, located deeper inland
at Green Pond…Every plantation on both sides of the river was
aroused; the Union soldiers, in small detachments, raced from
one to another, creating a general devastation of the zone.
Combahee Ferry region the Blake, Lowndes, Middleton and Heyward
plantations were in ruins. The Negroes fled to the gunboats and
the slave masters skedaddled inland. The bridge at Combahee
Ferry was burning too “but not badly. 8
gunboats passed up the river, the Negroes left their work and
took to the woods, for at first they were frightened. Then
they came out to peer, “like startled deer.” But scudding away
like the wind at the sound of the steam-whistle. The word
was passed along that these were “Lincoln’s
gunboats come to set them free.” From that moment on, the
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.
This is about
what happened all through the night and morning of June 2 when
Harriet, Montgomery and the colored soldiers overran the
The Commonwealth, Boston, July 10, 1863, volume 1, Number 45.
The Principia, p. 1139, column 3.
Official History of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, volume
xiv, p. 308.
Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, p. 39.
Official History of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, vol.
xiv. P. 306
early 1980’s Ms. Abdur-Rahim contacted Mr. & Mrs. Earl Conrad at
near San Diego. She had lived in San Diego for almost a year,
but was unaware at the time that Earl Conrad was nearby. After
their lengthy conversation she shared the exciting news with
others about locating Conrad, and was fortunate to own book #23
titled, “A Biography of Harriet Tubman” by Earl Conrad.
Later after his death in 1986, Ms. Abdur-Rahim contacted Anna
Alyse Conrad and encouraged her to request a reprint of
General Tubman and the rest is history. General Tubman
was reissued by Associated Publishers, Inc. Washington, D.C.