A guided-missile cruiser that was named after a Confederate Civil War victory will be renamed in honor of a former slave who stole a Confederate States Navy ship in South Carolina and delivered it to the Union, the Navy announced in a late Monday statement.
USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) will be renamed after Robert Smalls, a former slave who was conscripted into Confederate service in 1862. The skilled navigator stole the steamer CSS Planter and escaped from Charleston on May 13, 1862, with his family, rescuing enslaved people and capturing military material. He turned the ship over to the U.S. Navy.
“Smalls had been a member of the Planter’s crew since before the Civil War,” reads a 2021 piece from Naval History magazine.
“He started his maritime work as a stevedore and worked his way up the trades to become a trusted pilot and the rough equivalent of a noncommissioned officer as wheelman of the Planter.”
Smalls continued to sail for the Union and following the war served in the U.S. House as a representative from South Carolina.
“I am proud to rename CG 62 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,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in a 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.”
Chancellorsville was one of two ships identified by the commission tasked with purging Confederate names from the Department of Defense. In September, The Naming Commission recommended Chancellorsville (CG-62) and oceanographic survey ship USNS Maury (T-AGS-66) receive new names.
The cruiser was named for an 1863 Confederate victory of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
After reviewing the commissioning ceremony and studying the heraldry made for the ship, the commission decided the cruiser celebrated the Confederacy.
“The predominant gray refers to General Robert E. Lee’s spectacular military strategies and his dominance in this battle. Lee’s victory came at heavy cost, however, because General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was mortally wounded. The inverted wreath commemorates General Jackson’s death,” read the description of the crest before it was removed from the ship’s web page.
The ship’s wardroom formerly featured a painting of Lee and Jackson that has since been removed, USNI News has reported.
The Navy did not give a timeline for formally renaming the ship, which is currently based in Japan.
“The logistical aspects associated with renaming the ship will begin henceforth and will continue until completion with minimal impact on operations and the crew,” reads a statement from the Navy.
The new ship will not serve for long. Under the Navy’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023 decommissioning plan, Chancellorsville will leave active service in 2026.