Slaves Declared Contrabands of War



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In the early months of the war, Union generals who encountered slaves were expected to return them to their “masters.” Troubled by the knowledge that slaves were used to support the Confederate military efforts, in May of 1861 General Benjamin Butler declared that fugitives who found their way to Fortress Monroe would be declared "contraband of war." Lincoln feared that offering even this limited form of freedom to slaves would alienate the border states that had been supporting the union. Congress, on the other hand, supported Butler's actions by passingthe Confiscation Acts. Butler's formulation received some support in the Northern press, and representations of slaves seeking refuge inside Union lines became a staple of illustrated newspapers.


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The Union Policy at the War's Outset: Return Slaves to Their Masters


As the Union armies moved South after the outbreak of the Civil War, they quickly began encountering fugitive slaves. Some slaves were discovered by advancing troops on plantations southern whites had recently deserted, other slaves escaped from their owners in the hopes of finding freedom if they could manage to reach Northern lines.

The war has naught to do with slaves, cried Congress, the President, and the Nation; and yet no sooner had the armies, East and West, penetrated Virginia and Tennessee than fugitive slaves appeared within their lines. They came at night, when the flickering camp fires of the blue hosts shone like vast unsteady stars along the black horizon: old men,and thin, with gray and tufted hair; women with frightened eyes, dragging whimpering, hungry children; men and girls, stalwart and gaunt,--a horde of starving vagabonds, homeless, helpless, and pitiable in their dark distress.

-- W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

In the early months of the war, Union generals who encountered slaves were expected to return them to their “masters.” Although such a practice seems incomprehensible today, Lincoln feared that emancipating slaves would prompt the border states to secede from the union. A related question concerned how Union generals should respond if slaves rose up in revolt against their southern "owners." In one case, General Butler actually offered to help secessionists put down an insurrection.

 

 One Account of the Response of Union Soldiers to Returning Slaves to their "Masters"

The Washington correspondent of the New York World says:

"The guard on the bridge across the Anacostia, on Friday night, arrested a negro who attempted to pass the sentries on the Maryland side. He seemed to feel confident that he was among friends, for he made no concealment of his character and purpose. He said he had walked sixty miles, and was going North. He was very much surprised and disappointed when he was taken into custody and informed that he would be sent back to his master. He is now in the guard-house and answers freely all questions relating to his weary march. Of course such an arrest excites much comment among the men. Nearly all are restive under the thought of acting as slave-catchers. The Seventy-first made a forced march, and the privations they endured made a honorable mention in the country's history. This poor negro made a forced march twice the length--in perils often, in fasting, hurrying toward the North for his liberty,! And the Seventy-first catches him at the end of his painful journey--the goal in sight--and sends him back to the master who even now may be in arms against us, or may take the slave, sell him for a rifle, and use it on his friends in the Seventy-first New York Regiment. Humanity speaks louder here than it does in a large city, and the men who in New York would dismiss the subject with a few words about 'constitutional obligations,' are now the loudest in denouncing the abuse of power which changes a regiment of gentlemen into a regiment of negro catchers. There is but one opinion among the troops in regard to their acting for rebels. 'Let them look after their own negroes,' is the universal sentiment. . . . The discussion of this subject has incidentally brought up another, immediately connected with it. That is, the probable insurrection among the slaves of Eastern Virginia. Here the sentiment is markedly divided. Many assert that they would not raise a hand to put down an insurrection; some think the danger is a military weakness of which our government should take the advantage; others would willingly assist in the suppression of such an attempt. All are of opinion that ere long the question will be brought to a practical issue.

--"Returning Fugitive Slaves," Boston Journal, May 18, 1861

 

The Use of Slaves to Support the Southern Military Effort


Union generals were conscious of the fact that slaves were being used by the Confederates to support their own forces. Why return slaves to aid and abet the efforts of the enemy when they could be used to build fortifications and take on other duties in support of the union?

 


"A Rebel Captain Forcing Negroes to Load Cannon Under the Fire of Berdan's Sharpshooters," Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1862, 289.

 

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on
the South's Use of Slaves in the War Effort

The following paragraph appears in the Memphis (Tennessee) Avalanche of the 3d inst. "A procession of several hundred stout negro men, members of the 'domestic institution,' marched through our streets yesterday in military order, under command of Confederate officers. They were all armed and equipped with shovels, axes, blankets, &c. A merrier set was never seen. They were brimfull of patriotism, shouting for Jeff. Davis, and singing war songs, and each looked as if he only wanted the privilege of shooting an abolitionist."

--Excerpt from "Southern Items," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, September 28, 1861, 307


Not only have the slaves of the Southern rebels been extensively employed against us in the erection of fortifications and in heavy work which we have devolved upon our volunteers, but the free negroes, and it is also believed many slaves, have been enrolled in the rebel army and made to fight our soldiers. Two regiments of negroes are known to be under arms in New Orleans. And now we find that the Legislature of Virginia, on the 4th of February, passed a law providing not only for the enrollment of free negroes in the army, but giving a capitation bounty to persons so enrolling them. In the course of the debate, Mr. Rives, a member of the House of Delegates, declared that he had “no friendship for free negroes,” and that “if it were in his power he would convert them all into slaves to-morrow.” And yet, in face of these proceedings, and with a full knowledge that the negroes are used against us in every case where possible, there are those in our midst who profess to be horror-stricken at Gen. Lane’s proposition to employ negroes to do the heavy work of the camp.

--"Negroes in the Rebel Army," Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 1, 1862, 230


The New Orleans Picayune, of Jan. 10th, gives an account of a grand review of the rebel troops in that city on the previous day, from which we copy the following significant paragraph:

“We must also pay a deserved compliment to the companies of free colored men, all very well drilled and comfortably uniformed. Most of these companies, quite unaided by the Administration, have supplied themselves with arms without regard to cost or trouble. One of these presented, a little before the parade, with a fine war flag of the new style. This interesting ceremony took place at Mr. Cushing’s store, on Camp, near Common street. The presentation was made by Mr. Bigney, and Jordan made, on this occasion, one of his most felicitous speeches.}

—"Negro Soldiers in New Orleans," Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 8, 1862, 243.

 

The "Fort Monroe Doctrine" Declares Slaves "Contrabands of War"


It was the officers in the field rather than the politicians who finally brought the policy of returning fugitive slaves to their masters to an end. In addition to the problem posed by slaves who sought refuge behind Union lines, there was also the problem created by the advances made by northern soldiers. As troops began to take control of Southern territory, they found themselves in possession not only of property, but of people as well.

In 1861, while serving as commander of Fort Monroe in Virginia, General B. F. Butler refused to return a group of fugitive slaves to their “masters,” declaring them instead as “contraband” of war.

 

 An Excerpt from Edward L. Pierce's
"The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe

On the 23d of May General Butler ordered the first reconnoitring expedition, which consisted of a part of the Vermont Regiment, and proceeded under the command of Colonel Phelps over the dike and bridge towards Hampton. They were anticipated, and when in sight of the second bridge saw that it had been set on fire, and, hastening forward, extinguished the flames. The detachment then marched into the village. A parley was held with a Secession officer, who represented that the men in arms in Hampton were only a domestic police. Meanwhile the white inhabitants, particularly the women, had generally disappeared. The negroes gathered around our men, and their evident exhilaration was particularly noted, some of them saying, "Glad to see you, Massa," and betraying the fact, that, on the approach of the detachment, a field-piece stationed at the bridge had been thrown into the sea. This was the first communication between our army and the negroes in this department.

The reconnoissance of the day had more important results than were anticipated. Three negroes, owned by Colonel Mallory, a lawyer of Hampton and a Rebel officer, taking advantage of the terror prevailing among the white inhabitants, escaped from their master, skulked during the afternoon, and in the night came to our pickets. The next morning, May 24th, they were brought to General Butler, and there, for the first time, stood the Major-General and the fugitive slave face to face. Being carefully interrogated, it appeared that they were field-hands, the slaves of an officer in the Rebel service, who purposed taking them to Carolina to be employed in military operations there. Two of them had wives in Hampton, one a free colored woman, and they had several children in the neighborhood. Here was a new question, and a grave one, on which the Government had as yet developed no policy. In the absence of precedents or instructions, an analogy drawn from international law was applied. Under that law, contraband goods, which are directly auxiliary to military operations, cannot in time of war be imported by neutrals into an enemy's country, and may be seized as lawful prize when the attempt is made so to import them. It will be seen, that, accurately speaking, the term applies exclusively to the relation between a belligerent and a neutral, and not to the relation between belligerents. Under the strict law of nations, all the property of an enemy may be seized. Under the Common Law, the property of traitors is forfeit. The humaner usage of modern times favors the waiving of these strict rights, but allows,--without question, the seizure and confiscation of all such goods as are immediately auxiliary to military purposes. These able-bodied negroes, held as slaves, were to be employed to build breastworks, to transport or store provisions, to serve as cooks or waiters, and even to bear arms. Regarded as property, according to their master's claim, they could be efficiently used by the Rebels for the purposes of the Rebellion, and most efficiently by the Government in suppressing it. Regarded as persons, they had escaped from communities where a triumphant rebellion had trampled on the laws, and only the rights of human nature remained, and they now asked the protection of the Government, to which, in prevailing treason, they were still loyal, and which they were ready to serve as best they could.

The three negroes, being held contraband of war, were at once set to work to aid the masons in constructing a new bakehouse within the fort. Thenceforward the term "contraband" bore a new signification, with which it will pass into history, designating the negroes who had been held as slaves, now adopted under the protection of the Government. It was used in official communications at the fort. It was applied familiarly to the negroes, who stared somewhat, inquiring, "What d' ye call us that for?" Not having Wheaton's "Elements" at hand, we did not attempt an explanation. The contraband notion was adopted by Congress in the Act of July 6th, which confiscates slaves used in aiding the Insurrection. There is often great virtue in such technical phrases in shaping public opinion. They commend practical action to a class of minds little developed in the direction of the sentiments, which would be repelled by formulas of a broader and nobler import. The venerable gentleman, who wears gold spectacles and reads a conservative daily, prefers confiscation to emancipation. He is reluctant to have slaves declared freemen, but has no objection to their being declared contrabands. His whole nature rises in insurrection when Beecher preaches in a sermon that a thing ought to be done because it is a duty, but he yields gracefully when Butler issues an order commanding it to be done because it is a military necessity.

On the next day, Major John B. Cary, another Rebel officer, late principal of an academy in Hampton, a delegate to the Charleston Convention, and a seceder with General Butler from the Convention at Baltimore, came to the fort with a flag of truce, and, claiming to act as the representative of Colonel Mallory, demanded the fugitives. He reminded General Butler of his obligations under the Federal Constitution, under which he claimed to act. The ready reply was, that the Fugitive-Slave Act could not be invoked for the reclamation of fugitives from a foreign State, which Virginia claimed to be, and she must count it among the infelicities of her position, if so far at least she was taken at her word.

The three pioneer negroes were not long to be isolated from their race. There was no known channel of communication between them and their old comrades, and yet those comrades knew, or believed with the certainty of knowledge, how they had been received. If inquired of whether more were coming, their reply was, that, if they were not sent back, others would understand that they were among friends, and more would come the next day. Such is the mysterious spiritual telegraph which runs through the slave population. Proclaim an edict of emancipation in the hearing of a single slave on the Potomac, and in a few days it will be known by his brethren on the Gulf. So, on the night of the Big Bethel affair, a squad of negroes, meeting our soldiers, inquired anxiously the way to "the freedom fort."

--from Edward L. Pierce, "The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe," Atlantic Monthly, November, 1861, 626-640

 

Although Lincoln had indicated that freeing slaves would be contrary to the Constitution, Butler defended his decision both on the grounds of military necessity and argued those who had seceded had given up their constitutional rights. Here is Butler's own description of the fateful events at Fortress Monroe.

General Butler's Letter to Military Authorities
Proposing to Claim Slaves as "Contrabands"

Sir

Since I wrote my last dispatch the question in regard to slave property is becoming one of very serious magnitude. The inhabitants of Virginia are using their negroes in the batteries, and are preparing to send the women and children South. The escapes from them are very numerous, and a squad has come in this morning to my pickets bringing their women and children. Of course these cannot be dealt with upon the Theory on which I designed to treat the services of able bodied men and women who might come within my lines and of which I gave you a detailed account in my last dispatch. I am in the utmost doubt what to do with this species of property. Up to this time I have had come within my lines men and women and their children---entire families---each family belonging to the same owner. I have therefore determined to employ, as I can do very profitably, the able-bodied persons in the party, issuing proper food for the support of all, and charging against their services the expense of care and sustenance of the non-laborers, keeping a strict and accurate account as well of the services as of the expenditure having the worth of the services and the cost of the expenditure determined by a board of Survey hereafter to be detailed. I know of no other manner in which to dispose of this subject and the questions connected therewith. As a matter of property to the insurgents it will be of very great moment, the number that I now have amounting as I am informed to what in good times would be of the value of sixty thousand dollars. Twelve of these negroes I am informed have escaped from the erection of the batteries on Sewall's point which this morning fired upon my expedition as it passed by out of range. As a means of offence therefore in the enemy's hands these negroes when able bodied are of the last importance. Without them the batteries could not have been erected at least for many weeks As a military question it would seem to be a measure of necessity to deprive their masters of their services How can this be done? As a political question and a question of humanity can I receive the services of a Father and a Mother and not take the children? Of the humanitarian aspect I have no doubt. Of the political one I have no right to judge. I therefore submit all this to your better judgement, and as these questions have a political aspect, I have ventured---and I trust I am not wrong in so doing---to duplicate the parts of my dispatch relating to this subject and forward them to the Secretary of War. . .

Benj. F. Butler

 

"Stampede Among the Negroes in Virginia,"
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
, June 8, 1861, 56-57

 

A Soldier at Fort Monroe:
"If such a piece of property isn't contraband, what is?"

FORTRESS MONROE, JUNE 7, 1861

To the Editor of The Boston Journal:

My mind perpetually recurs, as to a subject of constantly augmenting interest to the everlasting Ethiopian. From the veteran of eighty-five--the oldest of the corps--the the ebony youth who minds the horses at the door, every member of the Virginia Brigade is a study. "What sort of a man is your master?" asked an officer of the negro on board the little sloop brought in from James River by the Harriet Lane yesterday. "Ver bad man, sah," was the reply; "dref'l secessh--better hang him, sah, 'fore he do mischief." One who has thus far proved himself singularly useful in every service in which he has been employed, is most decidedly a character. Four years he has been a "woods nigger," that is to say, having been soundly beaten by his master once, he declared he would endure that sort of thing but once more; being badly beaten again and pickled moreover, he dissolved his connection with is master and took to the woods. Since that time he has defied all the white men in the Elizabeth City to catch him. Once he was caught and jailed, but not fancying jail life, he vanished one day. Two of the fellows came to his cell; one he knocked senseless, and while the other carried the wounded away, he escaped. He is now making himself generally useful. He can brush a coat, black boots, take charge of a wardrobe, drive hard bargains with the sutler, explain the geography of the country for fifty miles around, tell at any time just where the enemy is posted and in what force, and withall--as I am informed by his present possessor--can concoct every sort of beverage known in the Virginia vernacular, with consummate skill. If such a piece of property isn't contraband, what is?

***

Yours respectfully,

TIMOTHY GORDON
Captain Co. G. 4th Regiment

--from Timothy Gordon, "Letter from Fortress Monroe," June 7, 1861, Newspaper Clipping from Civil War Scrapbooks Collection, American Antiquarian Society

 

The Confiscation Acts: Congress Recognizes Fugitive Slaves as "Contraband"



Illustration from a Civil War Envelope preserved in a scrapbook of Civil War memorabilia at the American Antiquarian Society.

 

"The Fort Monroe Doctrine," Anonymous, 1861

Despite Lincoln's concern that freeing slaves would encourage border states to join the confederacy, Congress supported Butler's move by passing the the first Confiscation Act in August of 1861. That act authorized Union forces to seize rebel property and freed slaves who had fought or labored on behalf of the confederate army from further obligations to their masters. The Second Confiscation Act, passed on July17, 1862 expanded the rights outlined in the first. It stipulated:

That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such persons found on [or] being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

In addition to authorizing the president "to make provision for the transportation, colonization, and settlement, in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States, of such persons of the African race, made free by the provisions of this act, as may be willing to emigrate" the Second Confiscation Act also authorized him "employ as many persons of African descent as be may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion."

 

Contraband Policy as the Origins of a "Freedman's Bureau"

It was at this point, probably, where the first idea of a “Freedman’s Bureau” took its origin. Orders of the government prohibited the expulsion of the negroes from the protection of the army, when they came in voluntarily. Humanity forbade allowing them to starve. With such an army of them, of all ages and both sexes, as had congregated about Grand Junction, amounting to many thousands, it was impossible to advance. There was no special authority for feeding them unless they were employed as teamsters, cooks and pioneers with the army; but only able-bodied young men were suitable for such work. This labor would support but a very limited percentage of them. The plantations were all deserted; the cotton and corn were ripe: men, women and children above ten years of age could be employed in saving these crops. To do this work with contrabands, or to have it done, organization under a competent chief was necessary. On inquiring for such a man Chaplain Eaton, now and for many years the very able United States Commissioner of Education, was suggested. He proved as efficient in that field as he has since done in his present one. I gave him all the assistants and guards he called for. We together fixed the prices to be paid for the negro labor, whether rendered to the government or to individuals. The cotton was to be picked from abandoned plantations, the laborers to receive the stipulated price (my recollection is twelve and a half cents per pound for picking and ginning) from the quartermaster, he shipping the cotton north to be sold for the benefit of the government. Citizens remaining on their plantations were allowed the privilege of having their crops saved by freedmen on the same terms.

At once the freedmen became self-sustaining. The money was not paid to them directly, but was expended judiciously and for their benefit. They gave me no trouble afterwards.

Later the freedmen were engaged in cutting wood along the Mississippi River to supply the large number of steamers on that stream. A good price was paid for chopping wood used for the supply of government steamers (steamers chartered and which the government had to supply with fuel). Those supplying their own fuel paid a much higher price. In this way a fund was created not only sufficient to feed and clothe all, old and young, male and female, but to build them comfortable cabins, hospitals for the sick, and to supply them with many comforts they had never known before.

--Ulysses S. Grant, "Chapter 30," Personal Memoirs, 1885–86

 

 

Response to the Contraband Policy in the Northern Press


Debate raged in the North about the propriety of Butler's actions. The fact that this initiative would provide fresh support for Union military efforts impressed some. As one newspaper reported:

Gen. Butler has introduced a new plough into Virginia. It is a LEGAL plough; and it turns over slavery in that state as handsomely as ever one of Knox's ploughs turned over a field of green sward. "Articles contraband of war," is the name he gives to slaves that come into his camp or into the possession of our troops. Several hundred of the "articles" have run into Fortress Monroe, and are rendering good service; the administration having advised Gen. Butler to keep an account, for the present, of the amount of their labor and of the cost of their keeping. If the "articles" should turn out to be men, it will be very proper for the government to compensate them for the labor they perform; and wherever there is an army, there must necessarily be a great amount of work to be done.

--"General Butler's Plough," The (Worcester) Palladium, June 5, 1861

Moreover, by calling the former slaves “contrabands of war” rather than “freemen,” Butler avoided inflaming the concerns of some of those Northerners who continued to oppose emancipation. An article in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper explained:

The promptness and sagacity of General Butler have increased the dilemma of the Secessionists to a remarkable degree, since it is at once equally hostile to both Abolitionism and Secession. By declaring slaves as contrabands of war, he recognizes them as property, and, consequently as liable to capture.

--"Negroes Taking Refuge at Fort Monroe," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861, 55

Slaves had been considered "property" rather than human beings, and contrabands would have the same status. Thus, they would experience no change in their legal standing, instead, they would only exchange one "master" for another. Under Butler's directive, it would be the federal government rather than the slaveowner who controlled and benefited from their labor.


"Morning Mustering of the 'Contraband' at Fortress Monroe, on Their Way to Their Day's Work, Under the Pay and Direction of the U.S.--From a Sketch by Our Special Artist at Fortress Monroe," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 2, 1861, 375.

 

Evolving Northern Responses to Butler, the War, & Slavery

The contraband notion was adopted by Congress in the Act of July 6th, which confiscates slaves used in aiding the Insurrection. There is often great virtue in such technical phrases in shaping public opinion. They commend practical action to a class of minds little developed in the direction of the sentiments, which would be repelled by formulas of a broader and nobler import. The venerable gentleman, who wears gold spectacles and reads a conservative daily, prefers confiscation to emancipation. He is reluctant to have slaves declared freemen, but has no objection to their being declared contrabands. His whole nature rises in insurrection when Beecher preaches in a sermon that a thing ought to be done because it is a duty, but he yields gracefully when Butler issues an order commanding it to be done because it is a military necessity.

--from Edward L. Pierce's"The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe," Atlantic Monthly, November 1861, pp. 626-640


FUGITIVE SLAVES.—The House of Representatives have passed a bill, by a vote of 83 to 42, prohibiting officers in the army and navy of the United States from arresting fugitive slaves for the purpose of returning them to slavery, under penalty of dismissal from the service.

-- Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 15, 1862, 259.


THEATRICAL AND MUSICAL

A singular and perhaps a significant feature of theatricals in New York, is the revival of the Anti-Slavery drama, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;” it is now played at four places of amusement in this city, and draws crowded houses in all. The events of the past year have evidently not added to the popular admiration for the system of human bondage.

-- Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 15, 1862, 275

 


"Negroes Building Stockades under the Recent Act of Congress," Harper's Weekly, August 30, 1862, 549.

 

The South Threatens Butler with Poison and the Knife 

ADVOCATING ASSSASSINATION.

—The brutalizing effect of the rebellion on its apostles and upholders is strongly evinced in open advocacy of poisoning and assassination. The Jacksonville Mississippian, the State paper of Davis’s own State, advocates the raising of a purse of $10,000 for the head of Gen. Butler, whom it characterizes as a “brutal, beastly and sanguinary savage,” whose life “should be taken by any means whatsoever.” The Charleston Mercury goes on in the same strain. “Let no quarter to Butler be the sworn resolve of every Southern man.” It adds, “If he venture not upon the field of battle, let poison or the knife do its secret but deadly work.” And these are the people who ask to be admitted into the brotherhood of civilized nations!

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 5, 1862, 211

 

Representations of Contrabands in the Northern Press



"Contrabands Coming Into Camp On the Federal Lines. Sketched by Our Special Artist--See page 11," New-York Illustrated News, May 10, 1862, 5

 


"The Union Forces Leaving North Edisto Island, July 26--Contrabands on the Beach Awaiting Transportation to Hilton Head--Sketched by G. W. Bailey, Sixth Connecticut Volunteers. See page 258," The New York Illustrated News, January 31, 1862, 260.

 


"Union Troops Removing the "Hobble" from an Escaped Slave--A Scene on Otter Island, S.C. From a sketch by Henry Stulen.—Page 32," New York Illustrated News, May 17, 1862

 

Contrabands are almost daily arriving at this point. The “Scene on Otter Island” represents a newly arrived contraband being relieved from the “hobble” placed upon her by her cruel master, to prevent her escaping. Scenes of this kind are by no means rare, and seldom fail in awakening the sympathetic feelings of the brave men who witness them. In addition to the fetters upon her limbs, a yoke was fastened around her neck, and attached by a chain to her foot.

HENRY STULEN, Regimental Band of 45th Penn. Vol's, Otter Island, S.C.

--"Union Troops Removing the "Hobble" from an Escaped Slave--A Scene on Otter Island, S.C.," New York Illustrated News, May 17, 1862, 26

 

 


"Nigger Quarters Within the Federal Lines at Hilton Head, S. C., From a Sketch By Our Artist With the Expedition. See page 234," New York Illustrated News, February 16, 1862

 

Great numbers of negroes come into our lines daily, all of whom are examined by the Provost Marshal, and their names and ages taken down, and the names of their former masters. They all want to be free, and none speak in good terms of their Southern masters.

 

 


"The Camp of the Contrabands on the Banks of the Mississippi, Fort Pickering, Memphis, Tenn.--From a Sketch By Our Special Artist, Mr. Henri Lovie," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 22, 1862, 140

 

Among other disadvantages under which we labor is that of the negroes. The rebels, of course, have no scruples on this head, but, in accordance with their system of considering them as property, put them to their full use as animals. The National Government, on the other hand, treat them as human beings, and are, consequently, put to considerable expense, trouble, danger and inconvenience—fork as there are Benedict Arnolds and Jeff. Davises among the whites, so there are spies among the blacks, and the utmost vigilance is needful to prevent these ostensible refugees from giving intelligence to the enemy. Indeed, so debased has the “divine instititution” made many of the men thus rescued from slavery, that they are just as willing to betray their savioiurs as their oppressors. Close to Fort Pickering, Memphis, and on the banks of the Mississippi, the National Government has formed a Camp for the contrabands, which our Artist, Mr. Lovie, sketched lately. He says that they are employed in labor about the fort, which they perform willingly enough—but accustomed to work only under the lash, they do not seem to understand to labor freely, even though paid a pro rata for what they do. With firm overseers, they, however, contain material, which, with judicious culture, may be elevated and made more useful as free laborers than as slaves.

--"Camp of the Contrabands at Fort Pickering, Tennessee,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 22, 1862, 141

 


"Arrival at the Chickasaw Bayou of the Negro Slaves of Jefferson Davis, From His Plantation on the Mississippi--From a Sketch by Our Special Artist, Fred. B. Schell," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 8, 1863, 320.

 


"Negroes Leaving Their Homes," Harper's Weekly, April 9, 1864, 237.

 


"Negroes Escaping Out of Slavery--Sketched by A. R. Waud [See Page 294]," Harper's Weekly, May 7, 1864, 292.

 


Edwin Forbes,"Coming into the Lines," Life Studies of the Great Army: A Historical Work of Art, In Copper-Plate Etching, Containing Forty Plates, Illustrating the Life of the Union Armies During the Late Rebellion (New York: E. Forbes, 1876).

 


Edwin Forbes,"Coming into the Sanctuary," Life Studies of the Great Army: A Historical Work of Art, In Copper-Plate Etching, Containing Forty Plates, Illustrating the Life of the Union Armies During the Late Rebellion (New York: E. Forbes, 1876).

 

A Letter from a Union Soldier Describing Contrabands Published in a Northern Paper

On the 2st inst., one of our sentinels thought he heard a cry for help floating down from far up the river: 'come and get us!" was the rude, faint voice that came from more than two miles across the water from an island of mud and rank grass. From the ramparts of the fort we discovered an object which proved to be a pole holding up a towel raised by the suffering wanderers. A boat was dispatched which brought in three besmeared starving colored men. These reported more men and three women in a similar situation further up the river. A second boat was sent out, which after hours of search, venturing close to the enemy's lines, rescued the periled and destitute company. These refugees were a spectacle--almost naked, the women having only little miserable skirts that reached to their knees, besmeared with mud, as one said,, "boggy as de bog eself,' famished and almost entirely exhausted. For nine weary days and fearful nights they had been feeling their perilous way from the slave pens, twelve miles beyond Savannah, through the rebel bivouacs and lines, wading through swamps, skulking through forests, and swimming three rivers, the women clinging to the necks of the men, floundering across the mud islands, as they said, "like de alligators," till they discovered the dear tars and stripes floating over fort Pulaski. The original party consisted of twelve; four gave out on the way. The famished but persevering eight were consuming their last morsel of food when they descried our garrison flag. One of them said," when I seed that flag, it fill me right up." What a compliment from the human soul to our standard! How unspeakably sweet is the thought of liberty! Tell us not that the slave is indifferent to freedom. But miles of distance and the swift flowing Savannah still divided them from help and safety. The wind baffled their uplifted voices. Another night of hunger, nakedness, and peril, was before them on their island of mud, where they mired to their waists. Before the sun went down they saw a steamer visit the fort, and hoping they had been heard, looked longingly for her to come up the river after them, but when they saw her leave the fort and disappear from view on her way towards Port Royal, their hearts egan to fail them: one remarked, "when I seed de steamboat go way, my heart go down to de bottom of my foot." But the calm of the following morning allowed their cry of freedom to reach our ears and their rude stick an little towel attracted our eyes. Pitiable yet unutterably happy creatures they were when they reached our garrison. One moment's view of them and interview with them would have melted the most obdurate of "copperheads." They had been working for the confederate government and a little corn bread daily was their whole compensation. As we handed to one of them a loaf of bread, he ejaculated, "Gorry, Massa, dat be work two or free dollar in Sawannna." In almost every sentence they would exclaim, "Tank the Lord, we get away."--Letter from Fort Pulaski

--"Touching Story of Contrabands," The Worcester Daily Spy, April 8, 1864

 


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