US Navy cruiser renamed after Civil War-era African-American ship captain

The US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, June 28, 2010. In February 2023, the cruiser was renamed USS Robert Smalls after a famed African-American sailor and politician. (Photo: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach)

US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro has confirmed that the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser formerly named USS Chancellorsville will be renamed USS Robert Smalls.

This renaming honours Robert Smalls, a skilled Civil War-era African-American sailor and statesman born into slavery in South Carolina.

The decision came after a congressionally mandated Naming Commission outlined several military assets across all branches of service that required renaming due to ties to the Confederate States of America. In September 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accepted all recommendations from the naming commission and gave each service until the end of 2023 to rename their assets.

The cruiser’s new namesake became a skilled sailor and was an expert navigator of southern coasts. Smalls was conscripted in 1862 to serve as pilot of the Confederate steamer CSS Planter at Charleston, South Carolina. On May 13, 1862, he executed a daring escape out of the heavily fortified Charleston harbour with his family, other enslaved people, and valuable military cargo onboard, and successfully surrendered Planter to the US Navy.

Smalls continued as pilot of the ship, but also piloted other vessels. He ultimately became captain of Planter.

After the Civil War, Smalls was appointed a brigadier general of the South Carolina militia, and from 1868 to 1874 he served in the South Carolina legislature. In 1874, he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served for five terms.

The navy said the logistical aspects associated with renaming the ship will begin henceforth and will continue until completion with minimal impact on operations and the crew.

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