Civil War Era
—1858 - 1865 —
The Slavery Conflict Deepens
During the 1850's the deep-rooted conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery Americans intensified. The 'abolitionists' were united around the common long-run goal of abolishing slavery. But they differed greatly about the best strategy and moves to achieve that goa. In the early 1850's most abolitionists, including Harriet Tubman, did not believe that outright violence (some form of civil war) was the right way to end slavery. For example, Harriet Tubman, as a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, employed a strategy that might best be called "free one person at a time" without violence, except if necessary for self-defense.
Harriet Tubman Meets John Brown
By the mid 1850's a small number of militant abolitionists in the North believed that armed aggression against slaveholders and their institutions would be necessary in order to abolish slavery nationwide. In 1856, Jon Brown, a member of this group, led a raid in Kansas killing five pro-slavery settlers. Two years later he met Harriet Tubman for the first time. That spring, Brown sought her support for an armed "slave revolt" that Brown was planning in the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), Tubman agreed to support Brown's plan. She apparently tried to obtain money and volunteers
from African Americans in Canada, New York, and New England, but in the fall of 1859, at the time of the final preparations for John Brown's raid, Tubman was too ill to come. John Brown's plan ultimately failed, and he and his fellow conspirators were captured and hung in December, 1859.
General Tubman's Respect for John Brown
Spy, Scout, and Nurse During Civil War
John Brown's martyrdom at Harper's Ferry was one of the catalysts that eventually led to the American Civil war. This war began in April 1861 when Union forces surrendered to Confederate forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
Harriet Tubman, who was then living in New York, volunteered her services to the Union Army. Tubman served as a spy, scout, and nurse in various military campaigns in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, especially in the area around Beaufort, South Carolina.
Tubman's presence in South Carolina is well-documented. A key document concerns a raid in June 1863, up the Comahee River, behind Confederate lines. This raid was commanded by Colonel James Montgomery of the Second South Carolina Volunteers (all African Americans, except for Montgomery).
A newspaper account of this raid appears on the front page of The Commonwealth
, a Boston newspaper, on Friday, July 10, 1863. The writer was a war correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal
. The following is an excerpt:
Letter From Harriet Tubman to Franklin Sanborn