Harriet Tubman is best known for setting up the Underground Railroad, a series of safe houses that helped black slaves reach freedom in the north, prior to the American Civil War.
But Tubman, born into slavery as Araminta Ross, was also a spy and a battlefield leader during the Civil War.
In 1862, Tubman left her home in Auburn, N.Y. and went to South Carolina to support the Union Army as a nurse, caring for black soldiers and newly liberated slaves. But that didn’t last long. The kind of information about Confederate troop locations and movements she was getting from black slaves (who knew her by reputation) was proving valuable to Union commanders.
Biographers say that she would go on scouting missions behind Confederate lines. Her courage – and the intelligence she was collecting – led to one of her most dangerous, and most famous, missions.
Thomas B. Allen, author of “Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent” writes that Tubman was approached by General David Hunter to lead a raid. As Allen notes, generals don’t usually ask, they give orders. But Tubman was a woman and a civilian. Yes, she was spying and scouting for the Union army, but she was doing so outside the military chain of command.