Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831 with visions from God telling him to revolt against the White man, Nat Turner gathers about 70 or more of his trusted fellow slaves and snuck out of their cabins armed with farm tools, sharp stones, clubs and other instruments. Whites organized a militia and called out regular troops to suppress the uprising. In addition, white militias and mobs attacked blacks in the area, killing an estimated 200, many of whom were not involved in the revolt
It begins, joining fellow slaves across the plantation, they seize the opportunity and kill the guards and, freeing himself and his fellow slaves they capture any sort of lethal weapon. They begin to kill all whites in sight and turn to the house and raze it to the ground, killing the master and his family excepting some of the overseers who made it back to the nearby town. They begin Freeing the other slaves on the plantation showing them their former master's head as proof of their freedom inspiring others to revolt, and begin their great liberation of the South. Now on the run their plan was to attack and free as many Plantations as possible, thus adding more to their numbers and strength. Armed with a few muskets and stabbing weapons by nightfall they had liberated nine nearby plantations and killed 55 to 65 white people and freed 350 slaves as they went from plantation to plantation they gathered horses and guns, freed other slaves along the way, and recruited other blacks that wanted to join their revolt. On the tenth day of the rebellion, whites organized unit of militia of sympathetic plantation owners or bribe-able townsfolk, and called out regular troops to suppress the uprising. In addition, militias and mobs attacked blacks in the area, killing an estimated 200, many of whom were not involved in the revolt, in the town to put an end to the "Tiny little Negro insurrection." As said by John Bossier, a wealthy banker and slave owner of some nearby plantations and leader of the militia. the rebellion, although large since the rebellion began, the slaves had only been fighting plantation guards up to this point who were only lightly armed overseers.
Battle of Blackwater River (Tupelo Swamp)
The area along Tupelo swamp had many thick oak groves, separated by marshes. This type of terrain was familiar to the slaves leaders such as turner himself but and quite alien to the U.S Militia . Turner's army, comprising 240-270 men, reached crossed mid-morning on Septmber 1st; Bossier's 200-man force arrived a few hours later. The slaves made camp in a wooded area along the bank of Tupelo swamp; while the location provided good cover and helped hide their forces, it also left the slaves no room for retreat. Over the protests of several of his officers, Bossier, certain that "slaves will never match the might of the U.S army," chose to make camp in a vulnerable location and plain near the Black water River, bordered by woods on one side, marsh and lake on another. The two camps were approximately 500 yards (460 m) apart, separated by a grassy area with a slight rise in the middle. Colonel Peter Barcles later wrote that "the camping ground selection was in all respects, against military rules. Any youngster would have done better.
Over the next several hours, two brief skirmishes occurred. The slaves won the first, surprising and forcing a small group of Militia to fall back and capturing a artillery piece. Another small unit of U.S dragoons then forced The Slave "Cavalry" nothing more than probably 40 or so to withdraw. In the melee, Turner, on foot to reload his Musket, was almost captured by some U.S soldiers, but was rescued by newly arrived 19 year old slave volunteer Caleb Jones who had recently been on the run himself as a former slave of a U.S brigadier general (It is probably this fact why the slaves looked to Jones for leadership and why turner relied so heavily on Jones for military advice in the coming years.) had heard of the angry white mobs and the rioting in nearby towns and came to help the revolt. Over Bossier's objections, many U.S infantrymen and some militia rushed onto the field determined to "Chase those Negros back to the cotton fields where they came from" said Johnny Hampton a local regular who had been apart of the small unit of dragoons. As the slave "Cavalry" fell back, Jones remained behind to rescue another slave who had been thrown from his horse; U.S officers reportedly applauded his bravery. Turner was irate that the cavalry had disobeyed his orders and given Bossier a better estimate of their strength the militia were equally upset that Bossier had not allowed a full battle.
U.S and Slave Preparations before the battle.
Throughout the night, U.S troops worked to fortify their camp, creating breastworks out of everything they could find, including saddles and brush not knowing which direction the enemy would attack from/ At 9 AM on September 2nd, the U.S non-official commander Garnett Charles with arrived 240 reinforcements, bringing the force to 440 men, which outnumbered the Slaves. Charles' men were raw recruits rather than experienced soldiers, and they had marched steadily for more than 24 hours, with no rest and no food. As the morning wore on with no slave attack, U.S officers lowered their guard. By afternoon, Bossier had given permission for Charles' men to sleep; his own tired troops also took advantage of the time to rest, eat, and bathe. Tuner, with Jones advice ordered his rested "Troops" to sabotage and wreak whatever havoc possible on the U.S Camp before the any plan assault of to maximize the chances of it's success.
Not long after the U.S reinforcements arrived, Turner ordered Jones to Capture a nearby U.S wagon, full of badly needed gunpowder, ammunition and other supplies. At 4 PM the slaves began creeping quietly through the tall grass, pulling the cannon behind them. The slave cannon fired at 4:30, beginning the battle of Tupelo swamp. After a single volley from the few muskets the slaves possessed they broke ranks and swarmed over the U.S breastworks to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The tired U.S soldiers were taken by surprise unprepared and far from the breastworks. Bossier, Charles, and Barcles yelled often conflicting orders, attempting to organize their men into some form of defence. Within 12 minutes, The tired and hardly rested contingent under Charles broke almost the moment they heard that the enemy had stormed the breastworks virtually unprepared for the attack, Bossier and Barcles seeing that more than half their force had broke without a fight fought a desperate, losing battle for the camp against the riled, embittered, slave assault Within 30-45 minutes, the remaining U.S soldiers abandoned their campsite and fled for their lives. The killing lasted for hours.
Many U.S soldiers retreated through the marsh to the Blackwater River slave "Calvarymen" Armed with most of the army muskets stationed themselves on the banks and shot at anything that moved. Many Slave officers, including Turner and Jones, attempted to stop the slaughter, attempting to take prisoners for leverage and information but they were unable to gain control of the men. Slaves continued to pursue and chant war cries while frightened U.S infantry, mostly militia yelled and begged for mercy to no avail. finally Jones was able gain control of the men and commenced to take prisoners 210 U.S soldiers were killed and 74 captured along with. eleven slaves died, with 30 others, including Turner, wounded.
Although Bossier's troops had been thoroughly vanquished, they did not represent the bulk of the U.S army that had been assembled. An additional 650 troops remained in the nearby town of Franklin under the command of Charles and had fortified the town and Brigadier General Vincent Burns was in route with about 300 mounted rangers. Turner's army had won the battle due to mistakes made by Bossier, and Turner was well aware that his troops would have little hope of repeating their victory against Bossier or gaining a new one against Charles but with little choice and hundreds of weapons and supplies captured turners new slave army was poised to try. As darkness fell, a large group of prisoners were led into camp. Turner initially mistook the group for U.S reinforcements and shouted out that all was lost.
Charles and a wounded Barcles had escaped towards and shallow part of the river in a panicked retreat to the town with about 156 remaining men, Bossier was captured the following day. He was brought before Turner, who had been shot in the ankle and badly wounded. slaves gathered around, calling for the U.S general's immediate execution. Bargaining for his life, Bossier suggested that he order the remaining U.S troops to stay away. In a letter to Burns, who was now the senior General of a task force assembled to deal with turner and his fellow slaves, Bossier wrote that "yesterday evening [we] had an unfortunate encounter" and ordered his troops to retreat to the small railroad town of Franklin and await further instructions.
Bossier urged Burns to continue the campaign. He was confident that he could challenge the slaves troops. According to Historians and scholars Bossier had presented the U.S army with one military disaster; Burns did not wish to risk another. rains ruined the ammunition and rendered the roads nearly impassable, with troops sinking to their knees in mud. U.S troops were soon out of food and began to fall ill from dysentery and other diseases. Their supply lines had broken down, leaving no hope of further reinforcements for at least a month. Charles later wrote that "Had the enemy met us under these cruel circumstances, on the only road that was left, no alternative remained but to die or surrender at discretion". Turner and Jones and the newly named " Free Negro Army " began to raid other plantations, capturing supplies and strengthening their numbers. another force was sent against turner, leading to the battle of Franklin,