Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Logo_smallHarriet Tubman was born under the name of Arminta Ross as a slave to Southern farmer Edward Brodess around 1822. From childhood on she experienced the hardships of slavery: she was often hired out to other masters who mistreated her badly and her family was torn apart when her sisters were sold.

When Brodess died, she feared that she and her remaining family would be sold. In 1849, she escaped and went to Philadelphia, where she organised the escape of her niece and her children. From that moment on, she became involved in the Underground Railroad, a clandestine organisation dedicated to helping slaves escape to the North. Using a network of free Blacks, Quakers and Abolitionists, she made numerous dangerous trips and personally guided about 80 people to freedom.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Tubman (she had changed her name to Harriet Tubman after marrying a free black man named John Tubman) was a fighter by nature and not above getting into the fray herself: When a fugitive slave named Charles Nalle was detained in Troy, New York, under the Fugitive Slave Act (which, in the minds of many Northerners, violated States’ rights), she led a crowd to storm the building were Nalle was kept and helped to free the prisoner.

Her successes and her dedication brought her into contact with leading abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas and John Brown. Brown invited her to take part in his raid on Harpers Ferry, which was intended to start a slave revolt on a grand scale. Tubman admired Brown, who in turn used to call her “General Tubman”. However, while she initially agreed to join Brown, she was not present when he attacked Harpers Ferry in October 1859. Later, she herself stated that she fell ill, but perhaps she was convinced by Douglas, who believed that the raid was futile. Indeed did the attack fail and Brown was hanged, becoming a martyr to the abolitionist cause.

When the Civil War broke out, Tubman went to South Carolina, where the presence of the Union army on the Sea Islands had attracted many fugitive slaves. She organised and taught the slaves, which trusted her and gave her valuable information on Confederate troop movements. Her efforts were recognised by local Union officers like General David Hunter, who was known for his abolitionist views, and Tubman became a spymaster, commanding several scouts.

Tubman during the American Civil War

Her most famous endeavour during the war was the Combahee River Raid. Hunter had organised a regiment of Black soldiers and sent them to raid several plantations on the Combahee River. The operation, whose main aim was to free slaves and to destroy the cotton and rice production, was commanded by Colonel James Montgomery. However, Tubman seems to have played a decisive role in planning and conducting the raid, which was a resounding success: The expedition brought back more than 700 slaves, many of which joined the Union army.

After the war, Tubman committed her energies towards promoting women’s suffrage, attending meetings and delivering speeches where she cited her own activities during the war and those of countless other women as proof of women’s equality to men. When she died in 1913, she was buried with semi-military honours at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.

Harriet Tubman’s actions before and during the Civil War would lend themselves well to small-scale skirmish games. But how to represent her on the tabletop?

Dixon Miniatures
Dixon Miniatures

In 28mm, Dixon Miniatures have several very nice women with dress and gun in the Pioneer Women section of their Old West range. Black Scorpion have a model in their Town Watch pack that might work. Knuckleduster Miniatures have a woman with a dress and a gun and in their Women of the Gun pack. Irregular Miniatures also offers a woman with rifle. Brigade Games have a woman with a shotgun, albeit with a hat instead of a scarf.

In 15mm, Peter Pig have a women with shotgun in their Wild West range. A similar model can be found in the Minifigs Wild West range.

Bibliography

Larson, Kate Clifford: Bound for the Promised Land. Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, New York: Ballantine 2004.

Grigg, Jeff W.: The Combahee River Raid. Harriet Tubman & Lowcountry Liberation, Charleston: The History Press 2014.

 

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3 thoughts on “Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

  1. daggerandbrush September 2, 2015 / 4:17 am

    I really enjoy reading these articles. Most of these histories I did know little about and especially the history of black women in this time. So thank you for making me aware of this.

    • cptshandy September 2, 2015 / 9:14 am

      Thanks for your kind comment! I enjoy researching and writing them – it’s always astonishing what one can discover off the beaten paths of history…

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