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Harriet Tubman in the Civil War: Nurse, Scout, Spy

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After war broke out, Harriet Tubman went South to assist and work with contrabands -- escaped slaves who were attached to the Union Army. She also briefly went to Florida on a similar mission.

In 1862, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts arranged for Tubman to go to Beaufort, South Carolina, as a nurse and teacher to the Gullah people of the Sea Islands who had been left behind by their owners when they fled the advance of the Union Army, which remained in control of the islands.

The next year, the Union Army asked Tubman to organize a network of scouts -- and spies -- among the black men of the area. She not only organized a sophisticated information-gathering operation, she led several forays herself in pursuit of information. Not so incidentally, another purpose of these forays was to persuade slaves to leave their masters, many to join the regiments of black soldiers. Her years as Moses and her ability to move about secretly were excellent background for this new assignment.

In July of 1863, Harriet Tubman led troops under the command of Colonel James Montgomery in the Combahee River expedition, disrupting Southern supply lines by destroying bridges and railroads. The mission also freed more than 750 slaves. Tubman is credited not only with significant leadership responsibilities for the mission itself, but with singing to calm the slaves and keep the situation in hand.

Tubman came under Confederate fire on this mission. General Saxton, who reported the raid to Secretary of War Stanton, said This is the only military command in American history wherein a woman, black or white, led the raid and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted. Tubman reported later that most of the freed slaves joined the colored regiment.

Tubman was also present for the defeat of the 54th Massachusetts, the black unit led by Robert Gould Shaw.

Catherine Clinton, in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, suggests that Harriet Tubman

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