It's one of the most daring escapes of the Civil War: a band of black slaves commandeer a Confederate steamship at night, navigate through Southern defenses, then run for freedom to the Union blockade of Charleston Harbor.
That remarkable tale is now coming back to life with the discovery of the wreck of the steamship Planter off the South Carolina coastline.
Marine archaeologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the ship's location Tuesday, 152 years after Robert Smalls sailed the Planter, eight crew members and their families out of slavery. It's the culmination of a six-year search for the sidewheel steamship using historic records, side-scan sonar and ground-penetrating magnetometers.
NOAA officials say the underwater search has engaged students about the history of the Civil War and the contribution of African-American slaves as seamen during the early years of the United States.
"Robert Smalls stands out as a figure of history," said Michael Cottman, president of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. "The symbolism is important and will resonate with people."