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The US Navy is changing the name of a warship to honor a former slave who escaped to freedom on a stolen Confederate ship

Feb 28, 2023, 23:07 IST
Business Insider
The US Navy's USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) guided missile destroyerANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images
  • A US Navy guided missile cruiser is losing its name that previously honored a Confederate victory.
  • The ship, formally known as USS Chancellorsville, will be named USS Robert Smalls.

The US Navy is renaming one of its ships so that it no longer pays tribute to a major Civil War victory for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced that the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser formerly named USS Chancellorsville will be called USS Robert Smalls, the Navy said in a Monday statement.

Robert Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 in South Carolina, where as a young man he worked on the steamer Planter, which would later be used by the Confederacy for ammunition transport.

Smalls was an expert sailor and navigator, and during the Civil War, as the ship's Confederate officers went ashore, he effectively hijacked the steamer and sailed it past Charleston gun batteries to deliver it to the Union Navy, freeing not only himself but over a dozen others as well. He continued to pilot the Planter, which was repurposed for troop transport, for the Union and later the ironclad USS Keokuk.

After the war, Smalls became a brigadier general in South Carolina's state militia and served in the state's legislature and, later, the US House of Representatives.


The changing of the name of the missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville comes after a US government Naming Commission reviewed assets within the military that honored various aspects of the Confederacy and required them to be renamed. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin agreed with the commission's recommendations in October 2022. Each branch of service has until 2024 to make any necessary name changes.

Del Toro on Monday said he is "proud" to rename the ship after Robert Smalls. "He was an extraordinary American and I had the pleasure of learning more about him last year when I visited his home in South Carolina," he said in the statement.

"The renaming of these assets is not about rewriting history, but to remove the focus on the parts of our history that don't align with the tenets of this country, and instead allows us to highlight the events and people in history who may have been overlooked," Del Toro added. "Robert Smalls is a man who deserves a namesake ship and with this renaming, his story will continue to be retold and highlighted."

The Battle of Chancellorsville, which the cruiser was initially named after, took place in Virginia in the spring of 1863 and proved to be a major victory for the Confederate army, despite the loss of Lt. Gen. Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson. The USS Chancellorsville was commissioned in 1989 and is assigned to Carrier Strike Group Five in Japan, although it is scheduled to leave active service in 2026.

The ship previously made headlines when it sailed through the disputed Taiwan Strait alongside the USS Antietam in August 2022 amid sky-high tensions between the US and China over then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan a few weeks earlier.

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