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Song: “Robert Smalls”

by April Grant (c) 2019

The Planter sails the harbor, inside the Yanks’ blockade,
To bring to the Rebel forts their food and guns and aid.
She carries three white officers, she carries eight slave crew,
And one of these was Robert Smalls, the age of twenty-two.

Rylea told his officers, “Tonight we’ll go on shore;
We’ll all be back by morning, I was never caught before.
Leave Planter at the wharf here, and leave Robert Smalls beside —
He cares for that steamer as a husband for his bride.”

“Oh, come with me or get on shore,” said Smalls unto his men.
“Such a night as this one will never come again.
Hannah and our children are ready for the flight;
Fearful is the venture, but we are off tonight.”

The captain’s on the shore tonight and dancing up in town,
But the captain’s on the deck tonight with his old hat pulled way down.
They took on board five women, three children and three men,
Then Planter got up steam and left Atlantic Wharf again.

Right below Fort Sumter’s walls, their whistle blew a blast;
The fort returned their signal, and then watched as Planter passed.
The aide-de-camp of Sumter, who stood and let them go,
Next day would tell his officer, “Well, how was I to know?”

They only had till five a.m. when night began to fade,
With Planter steaming straight out for the Yankee blockade.
The crew on US Onward could see just enough to tell
The steamer flew palmetto flag and Rebel flag as well.

Young Nickels took his spyglass and he saw their colors fly.
“They’ve come out past the fortress and they have no reason why.
And now their palmetto and Rebel flags both fall.
What are these Rebels playing at? Up with gun-ports all.”

But now the sun was rising as the Planter still came on,
And Hannah flew a bedsheet as their white flag at dawn.
She shook her fist at Charleston, the city they had fled,
And Robert Smalls waved his old hat three times above his head.

“Good morning, sir, good morning!” Robert Smalls did say.
We’re returning to the Yankees some U.S. guns today.
We’ve brought our friends and neighbors and children likewise,
Now take us to Port Royal, since the Planter is our prize.”

Based on a true story and following the historic events as closely as possible. An overview of Robert Smalls’ daring liberation of himself and his family and friends, and subsequent career as a Union pilot in the Civil War and then as a US Congressman: