On May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls donned a straw hat, hoisted a Confederate flag over a warship, and piloted himself to freedom.

Yeah, seriously.

At 22, Robert Smalls was working in servitude for the Confederacy. Desperate for deliverance, the young man planned an extraordinary and daring escape, and when an opportunity presented itself, he risked life and limb to free himself and 16 others.

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As the sun set on their first day, the men of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps were cold, tired, and soaking wet. And they still had nearly 1,900 miles to go.

It was summer 1896. The 20 members of the 25th Infantry, an all-black company out of Fort Missoula, Montana, had been volunteered by their white commanding officer, 2nd Lt. James Moss, to study the feasibility of using bicycles in the military, which, unlike horses, required no food, water, or rest.

Moss was allowed to lead his men on a near-2,000-mile journey from Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri. The weather was punishing, the ride grueling, and the water poisonous. The men of the 25th were selected for the experiment, frankly, because as soldiers, they were worth little to the U.S. military.

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