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Harriet Tubman
Union Spy
U.S. Civil War

From Spy Book, the Encyclopedia of Espionage

Ex-slave who became a spy for the Union during the American Civil War. Born to slave parents in Maryland, Tubman escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania around 1849 by following Polaris, the north star. During the 1850s she became a leading abolitionist and one of the conductors on the Underground Railroad, which brought other slaves, including her own parents, to freedom.

When the Civil War began, she volunteered, first as a Union Army cook, then as a nurse, and finally as a spy. She led Union raiding parties into Confederate territory in Maryland and Virginia.

In 1863 she organized a scouting service consisting of former slaves who could slip through Confederate lines and locate supply dumps. Black river pilots working for Tubman located Confederate "torpedoes," as river mines were called. After she did the reconnaisance for a raid up the Combahee River in South Carolina, a Confederate officer reported, "The enemy seems to have been well posted as to the character and capacity of our troops and their small chance of encountering opposition, and to have been well guided by persons thoroughly acquainted with the river and country."

After the war, she tried unsuccessfully to collect $1,800 in back pay. She finally got a pension in 1899 -- but only as the widow of a veteran. She settled in Auburn, NY, opened schools for freedmen in the South and sponsored a home for poor blacks in Auburn. In acknowledgement of her work during the Civil War, she was buried with full military honors.

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