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date: 07 December 2021

Contraband Camps and the African American Refugee Experience during the Civil Warfree

Contraband Camps and the African American Refugee Experience during the Civil Warfree

  • Chandra ManningChandra ManningDepartment of History, Georgetown University


In May 1861, three enslaved men who were determined not to be separated from their families ran to Fort Monroe, Virginia. Their flight led to the phenomenon of Civil War contraband camps. Contraband camps were refugee camps to which between four hundred thousand and five hundred thousand enslaved men, women, and children in the Union-occupied portions of the Confederacy fled to escape their owners by getting themselves to the Union Army. Army personnel had not envisioned overseeing a massive network of refugee camps. Responding to the interplay between the actions of the former slaves who fled to the camps, Republican legislation and policy, military orders, and real conditions on the ground, the army improvised. In the contraband camps, former slaves endured overcrowding, food and clothing shortages, poor sanitary conditions, and constant danger. They also gained the protection of the Union Army and access to the power of the US government as new, though unsteady, allies in the pursuit of their key interests, including education, employment, and the reconstitution of family, kin, and social life. The camps brought together actors who had previously had little to no contact with each other, exposed everyone involved to massive structural forces that were much larger than the human ability to control them, and led to unexpected outcomes. They produced a refugee crisis on US soil, affected the course and outcome of the Civil War, influenced the progress of wartime emancipation, and altered the relationship between the individual and the national government. Contraband camps were simultaneously humanitarian crises and incubators for a new relationship between African Americans and the US government.


  • Civil War and Reconstruction
  • African American History


Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend were put to work building Confederate fortifications near their Hampton, Virginia homes shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, when they learned that their owner, the Confederate colonel Charles Mallory, was planning to move them farther south to labor for the Confederate Army, separating them from their families. To avoid that fate, the men ran to nearby Fort Monroe, an army installation in southeastern Virginia that had remained in hands of the US Army when Virginia seceded from the union, on April 17, 1861. Colonel Mallory demanded that the men be returned to him, in compliance with the federal Fugitive Slave Act. General Benjamin Butler, the officer in command at Fort Monroe, refused. Because Colonel Mallory had used the men to build fortifications to aid a force engaged in armed rebellion against the United States, the rules of war permitted the confiscation of the three slaves as contraband property.1 Conscious of the irony, Butler had capitalized on slaveholders’ insistence that slaves were “property” and used it as a mechanism for releasing the three men from their owner’s grasp.

The enslaved men’s actions and Butler’s response all drew on inexact precedents. Bondpeople fled from slaveholders in peacetime as well as in war, but the risk of capture was high and the number of successful escapes low. Under the Fugitive Slave Act, runaways were returned to owners. World history offers examples of armies manumitting an enemy’s slaves as a war measure, including during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and uprisings in the Caribbean and South America, but many of the slaves emancipated in these conflicts were re-enslaved afterward. Only in Haiti did war lead to abolition, and even there, the route was indirect because wartime liberation was followed by re-enslavement, until a slave rebellion destroyed the bondage system in Haiti permanently. American wars of the 19th century, notably the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War, resulted in the vast expansion of slave territory. History in 1861 showed that war typically resulted in more slaves and slave territory, not fewer slaves and a reduction of slave territory.2

Yet enslaved men, women, and children ran to Union Army lines anyway, because an army fighting against slaveholders offered the refugees access to power that they could draw on to help destroy slavery and realize their ambitions for freedom. When they reached army lines, they often lived, at least for a time, in the ad hoc settlements that drew their name—contraband camps—from General Benjamin Butler’s decision in May 1861.

Figure 1. A Group of “Contrabands” at Cumberland Landing, Virginia. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-B811- 383

Approximate Numbers and Locations

The exact number of slaves who spent all or part of the Civil War in contraband camps is impossible to determine because of the lack of precise counting mechanisms at the time. The most thorough and careful approximation comes from the historical work of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project (FSSP), which has invested decades in the transcription and analysis of primary sources related to the end of slavery. The FSSP estimates that at least 474,000 African Americans labored for the Union in the contraband camps in Union-occupied portions of the Confederacy by the spring of 1865, and that thousands more who were unable to work also inhabited the camps, making it safe to place the total at or near half a million.3 That number approximates between 12 percent and 15 percent of the US slave population according to the 1860 census, and substantially exceeds the number of free African Americans—221,702—living in the northern states in 1860.4 Of the total, more than 203,000 former slaves spent all or part of the war under the auspices of the Union Army in Upper South locations such as Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Alabama; approximately 48,000 did so in the Department of the South (consisting of the coastal regions and Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina and the northern coast of Florida); about 98,000 in southern Louisiana; and roughly 125,000 in the Mississippi Valley.5

The exact number of camps is also impossible to ascertain since some were too small or short-lived to have received names, but dozens of large ones existed. The total number of places in which former slaves came into contact with the Union Army reached into the hundreds. Many camps were just that: encampments in open areas. Others formed in Union-held cities such as Washington, DC; Alexandria, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; Helena, Arkansas; and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Figure 2. Contraband Camps in the War’s Eastern Theater. Map by T. P. Foley.

Contraband camps followed the Union Army as it infiltrated Confederate territory. In the eastern theater, once a camp was established, it was likely to remain in place for the duration of the war, with the exception of some Georgia and Florida locations that proved to be short-lived. The earliest camps appeared in places that had always been under Union control, including the national capital region and the northern and coastal portions of Virginia; camps appeared in northwestern Virginia after the Union forces took control, in June 1861. Next came coastal North Carolina, in the summer of 1861, followed by the South Carolina Sea Islands, in November 1861, and coastal Georgia and Florida shortly thereafter.

Figure 3. Contraband Camps in the War’s Western Theater. Map by T. P. Foley.

The Union Army remained on the move in the western theater, with the result that contraband camps located outside urban areas were more transient in the west than in the east. Most often, they sprang up alongside railroads and rivers. Union forces had set out to capture the Mississippi River and its tributaries at the beginning of the war, and contraband camps tracked Union successes. One was present in the Union-held southern tip of Illinois, at Cairo, from almost the beginning of the war. In the winter of 1862, more camps emerged as the Union forces took Nashville, Clarksville, and Gallatin in Tennessee; Smithland, Paducah, and Louisville in Kentucky; and Huntsville, Alabama. In the spring of 1862, camps also began making their way up the Mississippi from the opposite direction, from New Orleans to Memphis, then at Natchez and Davis Bend in Mississippi, and Helena, Arkansas. Strategic railroad junctions, including Grand Junction, Bolivar, La Grange, and Jackson in Tennessee and Corinth in Mississippi, also became sites of the camps in 1862. As the Union took more of the Mississippi Valley, camps followed at Mound City, New Madrid, and Island Number Ten in Missouri and at Columbus, Kentucky. After the fall of Vicksburg gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River in 1863, camps appeared in and around Vicksburg, Mississippi, and along the Louisiana side of the river at Lake Providence, Paw Paw Island, Young’s Point, and Milliken’s Bend.

Fleeing for Freedom

In the Sea Islands of the South Carolina lowcountry, approximately ten thousand slaves entered Union lines just by staying put while their owners fled from the advancing Union Army and the Navy, in November 1861. But in most other locations, to get to a contraband camp enslaved men, women, and children had to run away to get there, often putting themselves at great risk from both human and environmental dangers. As word of Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend’s escape to Fort Monroe spread, slaves for hundreds of miles around set off for the same destination, though many were caught by Confederate slave catchers in the attempt. Of one group of twenty-three who had run from Richmond, only three made it to Fort Monroe. One woman who had fled two hundred miles credited her successful escape to disguising herself as a man.6 Another woman was not so lucky: after fleeing bondage in South Carolina and following the Union infantry all the way to Beaufort, North Carolina, she collapsed on a beach and died of exhaustion.7 Many others escaped in groups, but there were limits to the “safety in numbers” principle, especially when those numbers set off in harsh conditions. As Union forces besieged Vicksburg, Mississippi, African Americans from the surrounding area found skiffs, rowboats, and other watercraft in which to make their escape. They sailed in small groups to a sandbar in the middle of the river and huddled under makeshift brush shelters until heavy bombardment finally delivered the city into Union hands. From the river, the starving refugees made their way into Vicksburg, where their circumstances were desperate.8

Small wonder that when the exhausted, hunted men, women, and children arrived in camp, their shoeless feet often left tracks of blood, silent testimony to what former slaves endured to pry themselves out of bondage.9 But even those who managed to escape had no way of knowing what kind of response they would meet when they reached army lines, especially early in the war, when Union policy remained a work in progress.

Evolving Policy

Displacement is as old as humanity, but the specific status of the war refugee—a person fleeing persecution or war-related danger and entering at least a temporary condition of statelessness—is a more recent development, dependent upon the development of nation-states in the 19th century. The first noncombatants to be displaced by war and recognized as refugees deserving of institutional assistance were the civilians of Belgium in World War I, whose numbers were soon (and tragically) surpassed in World War II. Professional, organized relief operations came even later, with the establishment of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 1950. The first time a refugee relief organization responded in a conflict was during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which came nearly a century after the Civil War and displaced about two hundred thousand people, fewer than half the number of former slaves who took refuge with the Union Army.10 At the time of the Civil War, the Union Army was the only institution with the size and infrastructure to reach all the contraband camps. But armies exist to fight and win wars, not to administer humanitarian aid, and neither world precedent nor the basic raison d’être of the military equipped the Union forces for the challenges of overseeing the contraband camps.

Antebellum slavery policy in the United States added complications. The fledgling Republican Party espoused the “freedom national” principle, which maintained that freedom was the default national condition, and slavery merely a local aberration. But in the decade before the war, the federal government had operated on the opposite proposition, namely, that the US government had the duty to protect the property rights of slaveholders notwithstanding the local laws that prohibited slavery or regional opinions about the institution.11 In 1857, when the antislavery majority of voters in Kansas Territory objected to having slavery foisted on them, president James Buchanan insisted that “slavery existed . . . and still exists in Kansas, under the Constitution of the United States” and, as if to emphasize the point, remarked, “How it could ever have been seriously doubted is a mystery.”12 Article 4 of the US Constitution permitted slaveholders to reclaim runaway slaves, and subsequent legislation not only strengthened that right but expanded the role of the federal government in enforcing it, especially the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.13 The law required free-state governments and militia to participate as well: in the 1850s, Massachusetts militia units were called out more often to recapture fugitive slaves than for any other purpose.14 Given this late antebellum context, it is unsurprising that on the eve of war, officers such as Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, commanding officer of the First US Artillery at Fort Pickens, in Pensacola, Florida, responded to slaves who had fled to Fort Pickens by handing the freedom seekers over to the city marshals.15

The same context underscores how dramatic a shift General Butler’s response to the escape of Baker, Mallory, and Townsend really was. Although liberating individual slaves owned by enemy combatants was a convention in 19th century warfare worldwide, the practice was controversial among Americans in 1861. In fact, northern newspapers were still arguing over its legality in the summer and fall of 1862.16 So General Butler’s actions marked not a foregone conclusion but a genuine decision, made in response to the actions of the three enslaved men and the many who quickly followed. Within days, Butler ordered subordinate officers to accept fleeing slaves, put the able-bodied to work, provide rations to all, and keep accurate records. The secretary of war, Simon Cameron, endorsed his actions. By July of 1861, nine hundred former slaves (two-thirds of whom were women or children) were under Union Army protection at Fort Monroe.17

Freedom seekers’ actions and Butler’s decision prompted the War Department and Congress to make a series of policy changes. On August 6, 1861, Congress passed the first Confiscation Act, which stipulated that owners of slaves used to aid the Confederate military effort would “forfeit” any “claim” to those slaves. Two days later, the War Department sent instructions implementing the new law to Union commanding officers: they should receive any slaves who ran to their lines and keep careful records so that after the war, courts full of legal professionals (not untrained soldiers) could determine which former slaves had actually fled from masters who were employing them militarily and which had not. In the latter case, owners would be financially compensated for loss of their property. No refugees from slavery should be sent back, but neither should the Union Army “entice” slaves to flee their owners.18

The results of the law and the order were ambiguous. In late August, General John C. Frémont issued a military proclamation in Missouri (a slave state that did not join the Confederacy) that surpassed the authority of the first Confiscation Act by using martial law to free slaves in a state where civil authority remained in effect. When Frémont refused to bring his proclamation in line with the act, President Lincoln overturned it in a move primarily aimed at keeping Missouri in the Union and maintaining the primacy of civil authority over military authority, but which many onlookers interpreted as reluctance to emancipate.19 In November, the Union general Henry Halleck tried to avoid the dilemma by issuing General Orders No. 3, which barred escaped slaves from entering Union camps throughout the Department of the Missouri.20 Other Union officers and many enlisted soldiers resisted and harbored fugitives anyway. Sometimes such actions were lauded and at other times punished by superior officers.21 “The policy of the Government on this question is as much a riddle and a mystery as the ancient oracles of Egypt,” fumed one frustrated Union soldier.22 For men, women, and children running to Union lines without assurances of what would happen when they got there, the “riddle” was no laughing matter.

Successive laws and policies addressed the confusion. In 1862, Congress passed laws prohibiting the army from returning fugitive slaves, banning slavery in US territories, and abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.23 That July, the second Confiscation Act freed the slaves of any owners who were disloyal to the Union and endorsed the value of former slaves’ labor in suppressing rebellion, and the Militia Act expressly authorized the use of black labor, in any capacity, for the Union war effort, a move interpreted as authorizing black enlistment.24

The combined effect of all these measures was that, even before the Emancipation Proclamation, the men, women, and children who made it to the Union Army were no longer slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation (first the preliminary one, of September 22, 1862, and then the final, of January 1, 1863) reached further to free slaves in the rebelling states as of January 1, 1863.25 Not yet recognized as citizens, former slaves were at first freed into de facto statelessness.

The Emancipation Proclamation was an important step, but it did not apply in all circumstances, so legislative action continued. In 1864, Congress repealed the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1865, Congress passed a resolution freeing the family members of all black soldiers.26 The final blow to legal slavery in the United States was the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, on December 6, 1865.27

Meanwhile, both the War Department and Congress took additional steps to address the status of the bondpeople who made it to the Union lines. One of the most important was the establishment of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, the AFIC. Headed by Samuel Gridley Howe, James MacKaye, and Robert Dale Owen, the AFIC was authorized by secretary of war Edwin Stanton and by Congress to send agents throughout the occupied South to investigate the conditions of freedpeople in Union protected contraband camps.28

Conditions in Camps

The men, women, and children in contraband camps typically arrived after having made risky escapes. Some had fled with possessions—frying pans, rowboats, or livestock—but many were destitute and in a weakened state caused by the harsh conditions of their enslavement, compounded by the shortages in the wartime Confederacy and by sometimes going for days without food or shelter as they made their escape. Basic humanitarian need was the most fundamental aspect of their contraband camp experience.

To begin with, refugees from slavery needed food. From Virginia to Missouri, men, women, and children arrived at the Union lines lacking the “food to keep them alive.”29 Many, like one North Carolina man who jumped off a train and then ran through woods and swamps to find his family and then look for a Union camp, went days without eating before they reached their destination.30

In the camps, the availability of Union Army rations usually meant that food was not scarce, but it was often monotonous and of scant nutritional value. Like the soldiers’ allotments, the rations for freedpeople were starchy—flour or hard bread in some places, cornmeal or hominy in others—supplemented by salt pork or dried beef. They also included coffee, sugar, molasses, and, in some places, rice, but fresh produce was often in short supply.31 In stable camps such as Corinth and Roanoke Island, former slaves cultivated “vegetables, grapes, and other fruit,” to sell and for their own use, but military necessity sometimes dictated that freedpeople spend their time building forts or unloading barges instead of working in their gardens.32 In some locations, such as Nashville, “special diet kitchens” catered to the nutritional needs of the sick and weak with broths, fresh produce, and ginger tea, but in others no such accommodations existed.33

Disrupted supply lines impeded food distribution, and when food shortages hit, the army fed the soldiers before the freedpeople. Sometimes, the Union authorities decided to cut freedpeople’s rations “for their own good,” to encourage self-reliance or to demonstrate to white people in the North that former slaves would not become a public burden.34 After the war, hunger worsened in many locations, partly because army demobilization meant the reduction or disappearance of quartermaster departments and partly because some reformers cut rations to demonstrate African American self-reliance. Sarah Freeman, an aid worker who questioned that logic, was so worried about “the scarcity of food” that she distributed her own food supply, and even provisions she had purchased for livestock, which freedpeople “cooked and ate, to save life.”35 Still, while food was not always plentiful, generously supplied, or healthful, outright starvation in the contraband camps during the war was rare.

“The principal deficiency” that most camp officials reported was not of food but of “clothing, of which many are in want.”36 Many slaves, especially the agricultural workers who made up most of the enslaved population, only owned one or two suits of clothing at any one time, so they did not arrive at the Union encampments with great satchels full of luggage but, rather, “almost wholly destitute of clothing.”37 Moreover, clothing wears out, so it was not long before freedpeople’s garments—in “tatters” to begin with—“began to open in large rents or fall off and expose them to winter,” as John Eaton, the superintendent of contrabands throughout much of the Mississippi Valley, observed.38

African American men could wear cast-off Union soldiers’ uniforms, but there was no such ready supply of clothing for women and children, who instead relied on clothes donated by northern churches, black Northerners, and philanthropic organizations, such as the Northwestern Freedmen’s Aid Commission or the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society.39 In some cases, donors sent ready-made clothing. For example, Laura Haviland, an aid worker from Michigan, sailed down the Mississippi River to distribute cotton shirts, wool socks, serge suits, and little girls’ dresses with sewn-in pockets containing two-inch-high rag dolls.40 In other instances, freedpeople fashioned clothing suited to their own tastes from bolts of cloth sent by northern donors. Freedwomen on Craney Island sewed dresses and aprons out of gingham or calico when they could get it, but they also tailored garments out of mattress ticking when that was all that was available.41 Yet despite this resourcefulness, demand always outstripped supply. In the South Carolina Sea Islands, freedwomen lined up for denim, calico, worsted, gingham, and flannel as soon as it arrived, but there was never enough for everyone.42

Shelter was deficient. In the free black communities that had been established in urban settings before the war, African Americans took in as many as freedpeople they could, but many were already living in tight quarters, so it was not long before numbers exceeded even the most generous welcome. The refugees crowded into any available space, from packing crates and unused railcars in Alexandria, Virginia, to basements in Washington, DC, to abandoned shops, houses, and outbuildings in Nashville to the Missouri Hotel in St. Louis, which was rented by Union general Samuel Curtis for that purpose and overseen by the St. Louis Ladies’ Contraband Relief Society.43 Space quickly filled, prompting the Union Army to build barracks in some locales and smaller cottages in others.44

Figure 4. Freedpeople Encamped in Tents, Richmond, Virginia, 1865. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, NWDNS-111-B-75.

The best-case scenario from freedpeople’s point of view was to find employment that paid them enough to build or obtain a home, as Peter Grant and a group of families in Alexandria had managed to do, but the families of “Grantville” were in the lucky minority.45

Shelter could be even more desperate outside the cities. Refugees from slavery were often issued surplus army tents when they arrived in the camps, but the most serviceable tents went to the Union soldiers for whom they were originally intended. When large groups of former slaves appeared in a camp at once—like the “oncoming of cities,” as John Eaton noted—their numbers overwhelmed the supply of army cast-offs.46 On Roanoke Island, Union troops and freedpeople built barracks and laid out a settlement of cabins and tents. But every inch was full one bitter Christmas Eve when forty-three new refugees arrived and had to huddle together in a schoolhouse.47 So many former slaves came into Vicksburg after its fall that at first many slept under ramshackle sheds, in hastily assembled brush piles, or in the open air. Similar conditions prevailed throughout the entire Mississippi Valley.48 For many wartime refugees, things never got much better.

Others, especially in the longer-established camps, eventually got their feet under them and built more permanent housing using army lumber, supplies provided by northern aid organizations, or their own ingenuity, as in Hampton, Virginia, where former slaves built structures out of packing crates that had been left behind by evacuating Confederates.49 From Uniontown (a camp near Suffolk, Virginia) to Corinth, Mississippi (widely regarded as a “model” camp), small towns took shape, complete with carefully designed central squares, well-laid out streets named for prominent figures like George Washington, and modest cabins, each with its own yard and garden plot.50

Risks and Dangers

All settlements, from lovingly tended town squares to haphazard assortments of blankets on the ground, were vulnerable to the terrible sanitary conditions that come with overcrowding and the hasty assembling of shelters in a war zone. Nothing mattered more than water. Access to a clean river, creek, or stream was necessary for basic survival. Fort Monroe had no fresh water at all, even after attempts to dig a 900-foot-deep well. Camps in Washington, DC, also lacked a clean water supply. The result was “an accumulation of filth, foul mud, and stagnant water in a deep hollow adjoining the Contraband Camp, which renders the row of buildings next to it unhealthy.”51 But too much water also caused problems. Camps in the Mississippi Valley were especially vulnerable, thanks to the propensity of the mighty river and its tributaries to flood. “Camp Ethiopia,” a tent settlement of between three and four thousand former slaves in Helena, Arkansas, was in a low-lying area, where fluctuating water levels created filthy conditions, which worsened in the spring of 1863 when Union forces cut a levee to prevent the flooding of soldiers’ encampments at the expense of the lower-lying Camp Ethiopia.52

Disease environments were lethal. Inadequate sanitation, swampy conditions, low-lying areas, and poor drainage made the camps breeding grounds for bacterial and viral illnesses, as well as for disease-carrying mosquitoes. When “shivery, hungry, so lean and bony and sickly” refugees from slavery arrived in the overcrowded camps, they had few defenses against the germs and infections that proliferated in the drafty shelters or poorly-drained areas.53 After the levee at Helena was cut, General Benjamin Prentiss lamented that “sickness rages fearfully among them in this unhealthy location” because of flooding.54 Even without flooding, smallpox raged through camps from Alexandria, Virginia, to New Orleans, Louisiana, where it sickened and killed thousands refugees and exacerbated the clothing shortage, because any garments that came into contact with someone suffering from the disease had to be burned. Smallpox hit New Bern, North Carolina, in the fall of 1863, and it did not loosen its grip until the weather warmed in the spring. But even then, the respite was brief because once summer came, mosquito-borne diseases and yellow fever proliferated.55

Exact death tolls are impossible to come by—and they fluctuated—but the mortality rates were high. The superintendent of contrabands, Albert Gladwin, recorded 1,879 burials in Alexandria, Virginia, over half of them children; this list is a more detailed accounting than is available for most places, but it still almost certainly undercounts the total death toll.56 The mortality rates among soldiers and, even more so, among freedpeople in the Mississippi Valley immediately after the fall of Vicksburg were shocking. An agent of the Western Sanitary Commission toured Vicksburg and sent back appalling findings. Starved and filthy after the long besiegement of the city, soldiers suffering from malnutrition and intestinal disorders were left to die in their own excrement. Vacant buildings housed refugees from slavery who were simply waiting to die. Within a month, at least four hundred of them had. Another agent toured the city a few weeks later and thundered, “If the ostensible object was to kill [former slaves], nothing could be more effective” than the contraband camps lining the Mississippi River in that desperate summer of 1863.57

To some extent, the spread of wartime disease was beyond human control, but health crises could be mitigated or worsened by the responses of officials. Hospitals were set up relatively quickly—Special Field Order No. 9 established “General Hospitals for the treatment of contrabands” in and around LaGrange, Tennessee, for example, in 1862, the same year that Union forces arrived there—but these facilities were not well systematized, especially at first. Some were up to the modern standards of the day, but others were jammed into buildings that had been appropriated more for ease of seizure than for their suitability for medical purposes. Everywhere, the best provisions and supplies went to sick and wounded soldiers, leaving surplus or second-rate stocks for ailing former slaves. When Congress needed more funds for war spending, appropriations for former slaves, including for their medical care, could be slashed.58

As the war progressed, healthcare evolved, but there were periods of regression. Special Orders No. 114 (December 1863) established a network of freedpeoples’ hospitals throughout the western theater, administered and supplied via a system identical to the one governing Union soldiers’ hospitals. By 1864, hospitals in the Mississippi Valley met basic standards and patients fared better, partly because of conscientious medical staff. Superintendent of contrabands John Eaton noted, “The treatment of the colored sick at Memphis early the subject of so much complaint, having received the attention of medical Director Campbell has under the efficient labors of Surgeons McCord and Wright become an honor to the profession.” McCord was appointed medical director and inspector for the Freedmen’s Department of Mississippi and Arkansas, where he provided conscientious care and advocated for justice from the US government to former slaves.59

But there were awful doctors, too. To take just one example, in Alexandria, a callous physician threatened to confine all orphaned children in a smallpox hospital.60 And beyond the personal qualities of individuals, the forces of war and of poorly understood disease frequently overwhelmed everyone. It is well known that many more Civil War soldiers were killed by diseases than in battle, but health crises were even more acute among former slaves in Civil War contraband camps.

Freedpeople in the camps also faced dangers from other humans. Soldiers fighting a war, not philanthropists or aid workers with humanitarian training, oversaw the contraband camps. Some went out of their way to assist the freedpeople, and many were changed by these interactions, but others remained mired in bigotry and scapegoated former slaves as the cause of the war. Unable to imagine slaves as owners of property, soldiers sometimes assumed that any property the freedpeople had brought with them must have been owned by Confederates and confiscated it. The superintendent of contrabands at Grand Junction, Memphis, and Bolivar, in Tennessee, for example, reported that oxen, mules, horses, and wagons brought to camp had been taken by officers or turned over to the Union quartermaster.61 New York soldiers serving in and around Norfolk, Virginia, were particularly treacherous toward freedpeople, sometimes robbing, beating, and selling them to slave hunters.62

Confederates posed an even greater threat. Confederate soldiers raided the camps and slave hunters slunk along their perimeters waiting for an opportunity to capture refugees and haul them back into bondage. In contraband camps on the coast of Georgia, freedpeople did not dare to leave their cabins after dark because of the Confederate troops nearby who “would capture any persons venturing out alone and carry them” off.63 Raiding parties hunted former slaves in the Mississippi Valley.64 And in Washington, DC, freedpeople lived in fear that Maryland slaveholders would enter the District and spirit children off to Maryland, where slavery remained legal until 1864.65 Murder and arson were common. Confederate troops who captured a Union river vessel tied up eighteen formerly enslaved boys who were working onboard, took them ashore to an open field, and shot them. Two more boys who had leapt overboard and clung to the rudder were shot in the head in the water.66 Freedpeople and missionaries in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, remained on constant alert against local civilians sneaking into camp to burn cabins.67 In sum, the contraband camps offered a route out of slavery, but they were never completely safe.

Labor and Social Life in Camps

Danger or no danger, life went on inside contraband camps, in all its prosaic detail. Freedpeople talked with neighbors and had their spats. Children grew teeth and grew inches; they misbehaved one moment and won hearts the next. Babies were born and sometimes died. Clothes needed washing (when there were clothes) and food needed cooking (when there was food), and any given day could bring joy, sorrow, terror, a small victory, or all of the above. For many, there was, above all, work.


Once black men were admitted into the Union Army, the contraband camps functioned as instant recruiting stations. The contributions of black soldiers to Union victory have been well documented. Less well known are the contributions of the women, children, and nonfighting men who labored for the war effort. In 1863, John Eaton surveyed the contraband camps throughout the Department of Tennessee. From Cairo, Illinois, to Louisiana, superintendents described freedmen, freedwomen, and even children who dug, ditched, planted, weeded, hoed, harvested, hauled, distributed, laundered, cooked, nursed, scouted, and more, for the Union war effort.68

Figure 5. African American Teamsters, Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, 1864.Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-cwpb-02004.

Every theater of the war, from Florida to the Upper South to the Mississippi River and all points in between, echoed Eaton’s findings.69 Former slaves repaired and maintained rail lines, worked on riverboats, and loaded and unloaded cargo on docks.70 They grew cash crops to sell and fill the federal coffers, especially in the Carolina lowcountry and Mississippi Valley on farms or plantations leased by the US government to (usually white) lessees who were supposed to compensate the freedpeople in either wages or shares of the crop. Women did laundry for Union soldiers and Union hospitals.71 Some also labored in less obvious ways, such as the women on Craney Island, who repaired five thousand feedbags to help keep army livestock fed.72 So many were nurses in Union hospitals that the War Department maintained a multivolume register of black nurses labeled “Colored Women under Contract.” Two names in that register belonged to Martha and Albert Pool, who had scooped up their young son, Benjamin, and run away from their owner to work in a Union hospital in New Bern, North Carolina.73

Labor was supposed to be paid, but wages were frequently delayed for months, and sometimes never came at all. In late 1862, a Boston philanthropist visited Fort Monroe and reported back to the War Department that the freedpeople working in the hospitals in and around the Fort were owed $33,495.41 in wages. The following summer, the workers remain unpaid and the War Department had lost the payrolls.74 Paid or unpaid, labor was not always voluntary. For example, in the fall of 1863 the Northwestern Railroad impressed 240 men and boys to perform emergency track maintenance on its lines in and around Nashville, Tennessee.75

Black men and women regularly spied for the Union Army, “heading from thirty to three hundred miles within the enemy’s lines . . . and bringing us back important reliable information,” as one superintendent of contrabands reported. Even children spied: a young boy named Charley made three risky trips through North Carolina and brought back intelligence about Confederate encampments and river crossings.76 In Louisiana, a black man led a Union scout on a reconnoiter of the Atchafalaya River, which led to valuable information about Confederate pickets.77 Freedpeople made good spies because they knew the local terrain much better than the newly arrived soldiers did.

Social Life

Against great odds, freedpeople strove to realize their aspirations for themselves, their families, and their communities in the contraband camps. One of the strongest ambitions was what drove Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend to Fort Monroe: the urge to prevent or repair family separation. In camps with small cabins, nuclear families could live together. In many cases, larger kinship groups traveled together or reunited in camps. When Union troops marched through the Tennessee countryside, one elderly woman gathered up thirty-one of her children and grandchildren and piled into a wagon to accompany soldiers into a camp at LaGrange where, she hoped, the family would be able to stay together.78 On President’s Island near Memphis, two sisters separated by sale fifteen years earlier found each other and one of the sister’s sons whom neither had seen for seventeen years.79

Figure 6. St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-stereo-1s03956.

The realities of camp life, especially when compounded by medical quarantines or Union policies that separated soldiers (including black ones) from the camp inhabitants (who often included soldiers’ relatives), often challenged families’ priorities. Death by disease separated families permanently. Still, camp inhabitants tried hard to put and keep families together.

Another strong aspiration was to obtain an education, and freedpeople wasted no time in helping to establish and attend schools. In the Sea Islands, schools went to where freedpeople were and adapted the teaching day to the planting and harvesting schedules. Pine Grove on St. Helena, for example, had five schools and about 140 students within months of Union occupation. Young children attended in the morning, older children in the afternoon, and adults in the evening.80 In some instances, freedpeople helped to build the school buildings. One in Beaufort, South Carolina, boasted board floors, wooden benches, a tall pine desk and stool, a blackboard, a box stove, and six shuttered and fully glazed windows.81 Arrangements were often more makeshift. On Craney Island, formerly enslaved women and girls learned the alphabet from cards affixed to the walls in a room where they sewed for the Union Army, and they practiced writing on slates that an aid worker had torn off the roofs of buildings that had been abandoned by local Confederates.82 In other locations, teachers and their formerly enslaved students took over churches, abandoned houses, and office buildings or even gathered outdoors. In Hampton, Virginia, former slaves assembled under an oak to learn from teachers, such as the local free black woman Mary Peake. Near Helena, Arkansas, an aid worker named Joanna Moore nailed a blackboard to an outdoor arbor on a plantation and instructed eager pupils there.83 Wherever they gathered, former slaves were hungry to learn.84

Freedpeople also cultivated a sense of civic community. At Corinth, freedpeople established schools, a system of political wards, a self-governing police force, and the Union Christian Church of Corinth.85 Religion contributed another vital element to social life in the camps. Union soldiers and aid workers regularly commented on the devout religiosity of former slaves, although their style of worship often deviated from northern expectations. When a large group of men and women fled from plantations in the Carolina lowcountry, they immediately established a prayer meeting.86 Freedwomen in the same region practiced unique rituals and paid heed to the older women as faith leaders.87 Meanwhile, many refugees from slavery who fled to Cairo, Illinois, joined a church in the home of a free black woman, Maria Renfro. The congregation outgrew the small dwelling and moved into larger quarters at the corner of 16th Street and Washington Avenue, which soon anchored a corridor of black schools, churches, and community institutions.88

A Changing Relationship with the National Government

In bondage, enslaved men, women, and children had done all they could to protect their family and community ties, but social relations under slavery were not legally protected because the owners enjoyed complete power over the enslaved, and slaves had no relationship with a government that could protect their interests or provide them with the means to pursue legal recourse. The contraband camps brought large numbers of enslaved people into direct contact with the national government through the Union Army. Fleeing slaves used their proven usefulness to the war effort to bargain for protection of their ability to pursue their own ends and care for the things and people that mattered to them. The new relationship between former slaves and the army and federal government was not smooth or easy. Sometimes freedpeople’s needs and army priorities coincided, but at other time, goals diverged, and freedpeople’s hopes were disappointed. When Union officers needed Nashville’s Fort Negley fortified quickly, they impressed freedmen into labor gangs and worked them to exhaustion, regardless of their desires or their families’ needs.89 Sometimes military logic dictated the evacuation of places that had lost their strategic importance. Once Union forces no longer needed to control the railroad junction at Corinth, for example, the army moved on, relocating the freedpeople to more secure locations, but devastating the community they had built.90 If freedpeople tried to stay in a contraband camp without the army’s protection, Confederates swooped in to re-enslave, beat, or even kill them. To take just one example, when Union forces temporarily abandoned Suffolk, Virginia, in 1864, a Confederate brigade swept through the region, shooting or bayonetting some freedpeople and barricading others into a building, which they set afire.91

The relationship between freedpeople and the national government was always a work of improvisation sometimes bringing tragedy and often remaining unstable for the entire war. Yet for all its shortcomings, it offered real, if imperfect, gains. When Union troops were present, freedpeople were safer from attack or re-enslavement, gained a degree of personal mobility, were better able to protect their families, and had access to schooling and other aspects of social life that had been prohibited by law under slavery.

The new relationship also provided the freedpeople with access to legal rights, which slaves had lacked in the antebellum United States. One was the right to enter into contracts, such as the contracts between the US government and the nurses employed in hospitals. Another was access to the courts. In Beaufort, North Carolina, one former slave succeeded in obtaining money from a white man by taking that man to provost marshal’s court; another was able to keep his hog when a white woman tried to take it.92 Legal rights did not by themselves solve freedpeople’s problems, but they could sometimes yield practical benefits.

Congress further solidified a new relationship between the national government and freedpeople by establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. Congress established the bureau as a temporary agency of the War Department on March 3, 1865.93 The Freedmen’s Bureau coordinated direct material relief, opened schools, managed land confiscated from the Confederates, oversaw labor contracts, and protected freedpeople’s civil rights in the face of continued ex-Confederate hostility. Like the Union Army, the Freedmen’s Bureau offered direct points of contact between the national government and formerly enslaved people, with numerous offices located in or near contraband camp locations. That contact served freedpeople’s needs and hopes when the goals of former slaves and the Bureau aligned, but disappointed them when priorities diverged or when leadership lacked affinity with former slaves.


The Freedmen’s Bureau lasted until July 1869 and provided some continuity between the years of formal warfare and the uneasy period following the surrender of the Confederate armies. Continuity mattered because most contraband camps disappeared following Confederate surrender. Some were disbanded during the war when the Union Army changed base or abandoned a location. Many others were dispersed immediately after the cessation of formal hostilities.

The main reason for the fast closure of contraband camps was the rapid demobilization of the Union Army. By the end of 1865, the two-million-man Union Army was down to fewer than 125,000 troops scattered throughout the South. Those numbers could not exert authority or effectively safeguard the contraband camps throughout the 750,000 square miles of the former Confederacy, especially as the remaining numbers were increasingly moved away from areas in the eastern seaboard toward Texas and the West.94

Mirroring the fast disappearance of contraband camps, some of the gains freedpeople had realized from their wartime contact with the Union Army vanished, especially as the federal government, under the leadership of President Andrew Johnson, prioritized restoring states to the Union. In many places, land that freedpeople had gained during the war (and had made profitable with their uncompensated labor before the war) went back to the antebellum owners, narrowing former slaves’ options for building new lives.95 As the troops pulled out, violence against freedpeople returned throughout the former Confederacy.

Some camps transformed and persisted. Freedmen’s Village, which began as a contraband camp in Arlington, Virginia (Robert E. Lee’s home), and housed many African American workers whose labor helped build Arlington National Cemetery, lasted as a self-sustaining community until the end of the 19th century, when the federal government closed it.96 Camp Nelson in Kentucky survived the attempts of Union General Speed Fry to close it down during the war. It evolved afterward into Ariel Academy, an African American school that lasted until 1902.97 Some institutions today—for example, Hampton University near Fort Monroe in Virginia—trace back to contraband camp days.

Freedpeople in the camps at the end of the war took one of several different paths. Some—by no means the majority—who leased or obtained land during the war managed to hold onto it and carve out livelihoods; the most famous example is the Davis Bend colony, located on the former plantation of Jefferson Davis’s brother Joseph, which thrived under the leadership of freedman Benjamin Montgomery.98 In camps like Freedmen’s Village that persisted as communities, many stayed put. Many also remained in the urban settings where they had taken refuge during the war, which led to the growth of urban African American populations throughout the South. Still others set off to find family members.99 But vast numbers found themselves with little choice but to return to work (for wages or for shares of the crop) for the same people who had owned the bulk of the land and the wealth before the war. As an ex-slave from North Carolina remembered years later, the “Freedmen’s Bureau helped us some, but we finally had to go back to the plantation in order to live,” because “our masters had everything and we had nothing.”100 Working for white landowners was not the same as being owned by them—subject to sale, family separation, and nearly limitless punishment—and few former slaves would have mistaken the two conditions for each other; still, the postwar settlement fell short of former slaves’ hopes or expectations for freedom.

Few remnants remain of the many contraband camps that once dotted the landscape of the occupied Confederacy. The sites of some, such as Corinth in Mississippi, Fort Monroe in Virginia, and Beaufort in South Carolina, have recently come under the stewardship of the National Park Service. In other cases, such as the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Kentucky, local entities interpret the history of the refugees from slavery. Local initiative also led to the rediscovery of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia. The advocacy of the Contraband Historical Society in Hampton, Virginia, brought the National Park Service to Fort Monroe, and the society has continued to call for study and action, including for an archaeological study of the so-called Grand Contraband Camp located nearby. But the most immediate links between the Civil War contraband camps and our own time are not found in park visitor centers or interpretive signs; they are found in Dadaab, Kenya; Zaatari, Jordan; Yida, South Sudan, and other refugee camps around the world, where today’s estimated sixty-five million refugees face shortages, danger, disease, malnutrition, deprivation, and more, in their own desperate flights from oppression and persecution.

Discussion of the Literature

Historiographical attention to the contraband camps is recent. Only one book has treated the contraband camps comprehensively, though other studies are sure to follow it.101 Most other secondary sources containing information about contraband camps fall into one of four broad categories: analysis of evolving slavery policy, studies of specific camps, accounts of wartime emancipation that emphasize suffering and hardship, and historiography on women and emancipation.

Several works charting the legal process of emancipation attend to how Washington’s actions affected contraband camps, although they differ about the pace and motivation of changing policy. Some of the first works to address the topic argue that the federal government was slow, even reluctant to change course on slavery.102 More recent works look closely at the legal and political context and note more rapid change, even when the results fell short of former slaves’ hopes.103 Studies of northern attitudes toward changing policy paint a complicated picture.104 Some of the literature on black Union soldiers weaves material on evolving policy together with insights into the camp experience, since many black soldiers were recruited from the contraband camps and their families often remained there after a soldier had enlisted.105

Some studies discuss specific camps. The Fort Monroe story features prominently in Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening.106 Books and articles that describe camps in the east include Patricia Click’s Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, 1862–1867, Joseph P. Reidy’s “Coming from the Shadow of the Past: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom at Freedmen’s Village, 1863–1869,” and the classic Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment by Willie Lee Rose.107 For the west, useful works include Cam Walker’s “Corinth: The Story of a Contraband Camp” and Amy Murrell Taylor’s “How a Cold Snap in Kentucky Led to Freedom for Thousands: An Environmental Story of Emancipation.”108 Richard Sears’ Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History combines analytical essays with abundant primary sources from Camp Nelson.109

In the first two decades of the 21st century, emancipation historiography has tempered a late-20th-century focus on “slave agency” (emphasis on slaves’ actions and initiative in abolishing slavery) with attention to the shortcomings and hardships of emancipation. Some works still underscore African Americans’ mobilization, such as Stephen Hahn’s A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, which contains some information about contraband camps within its broader sweep.110 Others emphasize cost and suffering, especially the medical travails faced by former slaves. Such accounts do useful work, although they tend to attribute to emancipation conditions that were not created by emancipation but, rather, existed under slavery and were revealed by emancipation when slaves whose suffering was not visible to the historical record suddenly came into contact with the obsessively record-keeping federal government and philanthropic aid workers.111

The majority of refugees from slavery in contraband camps were women and children, a phenomenon explored in some historiography on women and emancipation. Helpful works include Thavolia Glymph’s “‘This Species of Property’: Female Slave Contrabands in the Civil War,” and two books by Leslie Schwalm, A Hard Fight for We: Women’s Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina and Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest.112

Future studies may explore camps’ effects on African American religion, law, policy, military-civil relations, freedpeople’s postwar experiences, and the professionalization of humanitarianism.

Primary Sources

The majority of the former slaves in contraband camps could not read or write, but sources from freedpeople’s points of view can be found, with a little persistence. Published narratives by African Americans who spent time in contraband camps offer valuable insights.113 Manuscript collections located in archives contain more resources, although some published papers collections exist.114 Interviews with former slaves many years after emancipation offer useful information if analyzed judiciously.115 Religious magazines of the late 19th century—for example, the Baptist Home Mission Monthly—sometimes contain accounts of the camps by former slaves. Late 19th-century obituaries and church histories can also be veins of information. Black soldiers’ pension records in the Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs (RG 15) yield valuable material about the families in contraband camps.

Army and government records provide rich sources on contraband camps, often from an official perspective, but freedpeople can be heard in their own voices in these records surprisingly often. Samplings of such records appear in the multivolume publications War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (the OR) and Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation edited by the Freedmen and Southern Society Project (FSSP).116 Many more relevant sources are available in original manuscript form in the National Archives. Key record groups include the Records of US Army Continental Commands (RG 393), Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (RG 92), Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (RG 110), Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury (RG 217), and Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau (RG 105).117

Of immense importance, the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office at the National Archives (RG 94) contain the records of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (AFIC) on microfilm.118 These records include eyewitness testimony from contraband camps collected by AFIC agents. Small portions of that testimony also appear in the AFIC’s published Preliminary Report and Final Report.

The Congressional Globe and other congressional sources are often useful. Examples include the records of the Southern Claims Commission and wartime investigative reports, which can be found among House and Senate Executive Documents.119

Published writings of army officers, chaplains, and superintendents of contrabands often contain material about the camps.120 Writings by common soldiers—both personal letters and regimental histories—frequently contain accounts of their interactions with former slaves in the contraband camps.121

Missionaries and philanthropists left detailed records. Some, like abolitionist Edward Pierce, published articles and reports.122 Others, like Clara Barton, left collections of personal papers. Some wrote letters that are now published.123 Others wrote to the churches or societies that had sent them, and still others wrote for periodicals. One good source of such letters is the online American Missionary Association Archives. In addition, many aid organizations issued annual reports.124

Finally, northern wartime newspapers, many now accessible through online databases, reported on contraband camps.125 African American newspapers also discussed contraband camps. Two good ones are the Anglo-African and the Christian Recorder. Some of the resources in the online Black Abolitionist Papers, 1830–1865 contain records of black conventions and other civic gatherings that discussed many aspects of emancipation, including contraband camps.

Further Reading

  • Berlin, Ira, Steven P. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 1, vols. 1–3; ser. 2, vol. 1; and ser. 3, vols. 1–2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985–2013.
  • Botume, Elizabeth. First Days among the Contrabands. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1893.
  • Click, Patricia C. Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, 1862–1867. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Eaton, John. Lincoln, Grant, and the Freedmen: Reminiscences of the Civil War, with Special Reference to the Work for the Contrabands and Freedmen of the Mississippi Valley. New York: Longmans, Green, 1907.
  • Hahn, Stephen. A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Manning, Chandra. Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
  • Moore, Joanna. “In Christ’s Stead”: Autobiographical Sketches. Chicago: Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society, 1902.
  • Pierce, Edward L. “The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe.” Atlantic Monthly, November 1861, 626–640.
  • Reidy, Joseph P. “Coming from the Shadow of the Past: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom at Freedmen’s Village, 1863–1869.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 95.4 (1987): 403–428.
  • Rose, Willie Lee. Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
  • Sears, Richard D. Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
  • Swint, Henry L., ed. Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1966.
  • Walker, Cam. “Corinth: The Story of a Contraband Camp.” Civil War History 20.1 (1974): 5–22.


  • 1. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler during the Period of the Civil War (Norwood, MA: Privately issued by Jessie Ames Marshall, 1917), 1:105–107. For the original handwritten copy, see Benjamin F. Butler, May 24, 1861, Benjamin F. Butler Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

  • 2. Peter Blanchard, Under the Flags of Freedom: Slave Soldiers and the Wars of Independence in Spanish South America (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008); Laurent Dubois, A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Carolyn E. Fick, Making Haiti: Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990); Sylvia Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 113; Woody Holton, “Rebel against Rebel: Enslaved Virginians and the Coming of the American Revolution,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 105 (1997): 157–192; Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Random House, 2011); and Spencer Leitman, “The Black Ragamuffins: Racial Hypocrisy in Nineteenth-Century Southern Brazil,” Americas 33.3 (1977): 504–518.

  • 3. Ira Berlin et al. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 1, vols. 1–3; ser. 2, vol. 1; and ser. 3, vols. 1–2 (hereafter, FSSP) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985–2013), ser. 2, vol. 2, 76–77.

  • 4. See Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, “Historical, Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: The United States, 1790–1970” (computer file, Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, 1997).

  • 5. FSSP ser. 1, vol. 2, 77–78.

  • 6. Captain C. B. Wilder, testimony to the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (hereafter, AFIC), Records of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1861–1870, 1863-328-0, Microfilm Collection 619, reels 199–201 (hereafter, AFIC Records), file 2, M619, reel 200 frame 142–146, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC (hereafter, NARA).

  • 7. James Rumley Diary, Beaufort, NC, April 14, 1865, Levi Woodbury Pigott Collection, North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

  • 8. William D. Butler, U.S. Christian Commission, to William G. Eliot, September 1, 1863, St. Louis, MO, William D. Butler Papers, Missouri Historical Society.

  • 9. For an example of blood tracks made by arriving refugees, see John Eaton, Chaplain, 27th Ohio Volunteers and General Superintendent of Freedmen Department of the Tennessee, AFIC Records, file 6, M619, reel 200, frames 616–617, NARA.

  • 10. History of UNHCR.”

  • 11. Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012); and James Oakes, The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014).

  • 12. Reply to a Memorial of Citizens of Connecticut on Kansas, Washington City, August 15, 1857, in The Works of James Buchanan: Comprising His Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence: Vol. 10, 1856–1860, ed. John Bassett Moore (New York: Antiquarian Press, 1960), 120.

  • 13. Steven Lubet, Fugitive Justice; Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North 1780–1861 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974).

  • 14. Michael D. Doubler, Civilian in Peace, Solider in War: The Army National Guard, 1636–2000 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003), 99–100; and John K. Mahon, History of the Militia and the National Guard (New York: Macmillan, 1983), 85, 96.

  • 15. Lt. A. J. Slemmer, First Artillery, Fort Pickens, FL, March 18, 1861, to Lt. Col. L. Thomas, Assistant Adjutant-General, U.S. Army, in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (hereafter, OR), ser. 2, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1888–1922), 750.

  • 16. For the newspaper war, see, for example, the New York Tribune and New York World, August–September 1862; Washington Intelligencer, September 2, 1862.

  • 17. Major General Benjamin Butler to Col. John Phelps, HQ Department of Virginia, May 28, 1861, in Private and Official Correspondence, I: 114; Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Butler, May 30, 1861, FSSP ser. 1, 1:72; Butler to Cameron, July 30, 1861, Private and Official Correspondence, 1:185–188.

  • 18. Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America (Boston, 1863), 12:319; Cameron to Butler, August 8, 1861, OR¸ ser. 2, 1:761–762. Copies of the August 8 instructions then went to Union officers throughout the Army.

  • 19. OR ser. 1, vol. 3, 466–467; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 4: 517–518.

  • 20. OR ser. 2, vol. 1, 778. In May 1862, a similar incident—and outcome—occurred with General David Hunter in South Carolina.

  • 21. In Louisiana, for example, General John Phelps and Colonel Halbert Paine (and their men) actively harbored freedom-seeking slaves, while Brigadier General Thomas Williams fought with them over it until his death. For two published accounts of this feud, see Rufus Kinsley, Diary of a Christian Soldier: Rufus Kinsley and the Civil War, ed. David C. Rankin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Halbert Eleazer Paine, A Wisconsin Yankee in Confederate Bayou Country, ed. Samuel C. Hyde Jr. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009). Similar fracases occurred in every theater of the war in the early days of the conflict.

  • 22. W. D. W., Seventh Wisconsin Infantry, to hometown newspaper, December 16, 1861, Arlington Heights, VA, E. B. Quiner Correspondence of Wisconsin Volunteers, reel 1, vol. 2, 5–6, Wisconsin Historical Society.

  • 23. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d Sess., 1143; Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12 (Boston, 1863), 354; District of Columbia Emancipation Act, April 16, 1862.

  • 24. Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12 (Boston, 1863), 589–592, esp. sec. 11 on African American employment; Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12 (Boston, 1863), 597–600.

  • 25. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation can be found in Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 5:434–445; the Final Emancipation Proclamation is in Collected Works 6:29–30.

  • 26. “An Act to Repeat the Fugitive Slave Act,” Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 1st Sess., 200; Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 13 (Boston, 1866), 571.

  • 27. Secretary of state William Seward’s official proclamation of the ratification (which he issued on December 18) can be found at Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, 13:774–775.

  • 28. Robert Dale Owen and James McKaye to Samuel G. Howe, March 19, 1863, Washington, DC, AFIC Papers, box 2, folder 76, Houghton Library, Harvard University; and AFIC Records, M619, reels 199–201, NARA. For a descriptive account of the AFIC, see Matthew Furrow, “Samuel Gridley Howe, the Black Population of Canada West, and the Racial Ideology of the ‘Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction’,Journal of American History 97.2 (2010): 344–370.

  • 29. R. S. King to Messrs. Hitchcock, Shepley, and Maguire, September 15, 1862, St. Louis, MO, Records Relating to Confiscated and Contraband Property, Department of the Missouri, Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands (hereafter, RG 393), pt. 1, entry 2797, NARA.

  • 30. Testimony to Vincent Colyer, Superintendent of the Poor at Newbern, North Carolina, 1862, Report of Vincent Colyer to AFIC, AFIC records, file 4, reel 200, frames 434–440, NARA.

  • 31. LeBaron Russell to Secretary of War Stanton, “Report on the Condition, Necessities, and Capacity of the Colored Refugees from the Enemy in Fortress Monroe and the Vicinity, in Regard to the Unpaid Wages of Their Labor for the Government,” December 15, 1862, AFIC Papers, box 3, folder 91, Houghton Library, Harvard University; Responses to John Eaton’s Questionnaires in Department of Tennessee, AFIC Records, file 6, M619 reel 200, frames 569–625, NARA.

  • 32. Horace James, Annual Report of the Superintendent of Negro Affairs in North Carolina 1864 (Boston: W. F. Brown & Co., 1865). 24; Lucy Chase to Sarah Chase, January 12, 1865, Roanoke Island, NC, Dear Ones at Home: Letter from Contraband Camps, ed. Henry L. Swint (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1966), 136–141. Many sources describe Corinth’s vegetable gardens, including John Eaton to Secretary Jocelyn of the American Missionary Association, May 18, 1863, Memphis, TN, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (hereafter, RG 105) M1914, reel 1, frames 226–228, NARA; Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin: The Reputed President of the Underground Railroad, 1876 (New York: Augustus M. Kelley Reprints of Economic Classics, 1968), 637. Coffin’s book was originally published 1876. Reverend Olds to AFIC, August 1863, AFIC Papers, box 2, folder 73, Houghton Library, Harvard University; Capt. L. F. Booth, September 14, 1863, AFIC Papers, box 1, folder 15, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

  • 33. See Abigail Dutton to Dear Ones at Home, November. 4 and November 7, 1864, Nashville, TN; for the spread of special diet kitchens to other locations, see Dutton to father, February 21, 1865, all in Abigail Dutton Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

  • 34. Freedmen of Roanoke Island, NC, to Mr. President, March 9, 1865, and Roanoke Island to Secretary of War, March 9, 1865, Letters Received, ser. 15, Washington Headquarters, RG 105, NARA, also reprinted in FSSP, ser. 1, vol. 2, 231–235; Captain Horace James, Freedmen’s Bureau superintendent, to Col. J. S. Fullerton, July 10, 1865, New Berne, NC, Letters Received, ser. 15, Washington Headquarters, RG 105, NARA, also reprinted in FSSP, ser.1, vol. 2, 231–235.

  • 35. Sarah P. Freeman, “Roanoke Island,” National Freedman, July 15, 1866, 195–196.

  • 36. LeBaron Russell to Secretary of War Stanton, “Report on the Condition, Necessities, and Capacity of the Colored Refugees from the Enemy in Fortress Monroe and the Vicinity, in Regard to the Unpaid Wages of Their Labor for the Government.” This report was not unique. From South Carolina, in 1862, another report said that “there is little danger of much suffering for want of food” but that there was “no clothing.” See Elizabeth Ware Pearson, ed. Letters from Port Royal: Written at the Time of the Civil War (Boston: W. B. Clarke, 1906), 13. Analogous reports can be found for nearly every contraband camp.

  • 37. Lucy Chase to folks at home, January 15, 1863, Craney Island, in Swint, Dear Ones at Home, 24.

  • 38. Col. John Eaton, Superintendent of Contrabands Department of Tennessee, March 27, 1863, Memphis, TN, RG 105, M1914, reel 1, frame 18, NARA.

  • 39. For one example of the intense need for women’s and children’s clothing compared to men’s, and for the particular need in cold weather, see Col. John Eaton to Mr. A. E. Wakefield of Lacrosse, WI (and on same day to committee in Summit County, Ohio), November 2, 1863, Vicksburg, MS, RG 105, M1914, reel 1, NARA; Lucy Chase also noted women’s need for clothing, especially when they were exposed to “the winds at Craney Island.” See Chase testimony to AFIC, AFIC Records, file 2, reel 200, frame 153, NARA.

  • 40. Laura Haviland, A Woman’s Life Work: Labors and Experiences (Cincinnati, OH: Walden & Stowe, 1882), 252–255.

  • 41. Lucy Chase to home folks, January 29, 1863, Craney Island, VA, in Swint, Dear Ones at Home, 32–33. The Savannah-born freedwoman Susie Baker also impressed Union authorities with her ability to sew, until she told an officer that all city-reared enslaved women were skilled with the needle. See Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, ed. Patricia W. Romero, with a new introduction by Willie Lee Rose (New York: Markus Wiener, 1988), 33–34. Originally published in 1902.

  • 42. Laura Towne, diary entry, April 27, 1862, St. Helena, in Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: Written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina 1862–1884, ed. Rupert Sargent Holland (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1912), 18–19; Harriet Ware, April 29, 1862, St. Helena, in Pearson, Letters from Port Royal, 24–25; New England Freedmen’s Aid Society Records, MS. N-101, Massachusetts Historical Society.

  • 43. On Alexandria: Julia Wilbur to Amy Post, November 5, 1862, Alexandria, VA, Family Papers of Isaac and Amy Kirby Post, 1817–1918, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, transcribed by Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Alexandria, VA; on Washington, DC: New York World, February 25, 1865; Boston Herald, June 4, 1863; William Slade testimony, Mrs. Daniel Breed testimony, and Mr. George E. H. Day estimony, AFIC Records, file 1, M 619, reel 200 frames 120–131, NARA; on Nashville: “Ground Plot of Ethiopian Hospitals, Nashville, Tennessee,” “Ground Plot of Contraband Camp, Nashville, Tennessee,” “Quarters for Railroad Employees,” “Government Bakery on College Street,” “Commercial Structure on College St. between Broad & Spring–Hospital No. 16 (Colored),” all in James Allen Hoobler Collection, box 4, Tennessee State Library and Archives; on St. Louis: Major Lucien Eaton to Major General John Schofield, May 30, 1863, St. Louis, MO, Department of Missouri, box 9, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 2593, NARA; Contraband Relief Society Circular Letter, February 1863, Civil War Collection, folder B132, Missouri Historical Society; Contraband Relief Society testimony, December 2, 1863, AFIC, file 7, M619, reel 20, frames 161–183, NARA.

  • 44. Barracks in Alexandria: Julia Wilbur to Amy Post, November 5, 1862, Alexandria, VA, Family Papers of Isaac and Amy Kirby Post, 1817–1918, Rush Rhees Library, the University of Rochester, transcribed by Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Alexandria, VA. For a detailed accounting of the construction of barracks in St. Louis, for example, see Alex Phillips, Superintendent of Mechanics, to Assistant Quartermaster E. Wuerzel, July 9, 1864, St. Louis, MO, Department of Missouri, box 16, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 2593, NARA.

  • 45. Samuel May Jr. to the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 30, 1864, in The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, ed. Jean Fagin Yellin (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 586; Report to the Executive Committee of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, upon the Condition and Needs of the Freed People of Color in Washington and Virginia, November 10, 1864, in Yellin, Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 589.

  • 46. John Eaton, Lincoln, Grant, and the Freedmen: Reminiscences of the Civil War with Special Reference to the Work for the Contrabands and Freedmen of the Mississippi Valley (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), 2–3.

  • 47. Elizabeth James to George Whipple, December 25, 1863, portion of a letter begun December 19, 1863, American Missionary Association Archives 1839–1882, accessed via Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive: Part IV, Age of Emancipation (hereafter, AMA).

  • 48. “Condition of the Negroes Who Came into Vicksburg With Sherman’s Army, as Described by Mr. N. M. Mann, Agent of the Western Sanitary Commission,” March 7, 1864, Vicksburg, MS, Saint Louis Sanitation Collection, folder 1, Missouri Historical Society.

  • 49. Lewis C. Lockwood, Mary S. Peake, The Colored Teacher at Fortress Monroe (Boston: American Tract Society, 1862), 27–29; Edward L Pierce, “The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe,” Atlantic Monthly, November 1861, 626–640.

  • 50. Cpl. Jared Fuller, Company A, 11th PA Cavalry, to wife Sarah, May 19, 1862, Portsmouth, VA, Jared and Sarah Fuller Papers, State Historical Society of Iowa; Joseph E. Brent, Occupied Corinth: The Contraband Camp and the First Alabama Regiment of African Descent 1862–1864 (prepared for the City of Corinth, Mississippi, and The Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission, February 1995), Illinois State Historical Library; Chaplain James Alexander to S. G. Howe, September 1, 1863, Corinth, MS, AFIC Papers, box 1, folder 1, Houghton Library, Harvard University; and response to Query 2 of Eaton’s Questionnaire, AFIC file 6, M619, reel 200, frame 573, NARA; John Eaton Report to AFIC, April 29, 1863, AFIC, file 6, M619, reel 200, NARA; Rev. A. D. Olds, to Commissioners of AFIC, August 20, 1863, AFIC Papers, box 2, folder 73, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

  • 51. On the lack of water at Fort Monroe, “Drawing of Fort Monroe Cistern” (probably 1819), and “Artesian Well at Fortress Monroe,” RG 77, drawer 57, sheet 107, and drawer 58, sheet 169, NARA College Park; on lack of fresh water in Washington, DC, see “Plan of Contraband Camp” and Lt. Col. Edward P. Volume to Brig. General D. H. Rucker, September 23, 1863, Washington, DC, and ensuing related correspondence, “Constitution, Ft. through Contraband Camp (1863),” Consolidated Correspondence file, RG 92, NARA. On the proximity of fresh, clean water—namely, Bridge Creek—as one reason for the relative healthfulness of the Corinth camps, see Brent, Occupied Corinth, 15.

  • 52. On Helena, see William Pile testimony, AFIC file 7, M619, reel 201, frame 139, NARA; Captain W. R. Hodges, “The Western Sanitary Commission and what it did for the Sick and Wounded of the Union Armies from 1861 to 1865, with mention of the services of Companion James E. Yeatman, therewith,” read before the Commandery of the State of Missouri Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, February 3, 1906, Saint Louis Sanitation Collection, folder 1, Missouri Historical Society; Maria R. Mann to Rev. Ropes, April 13, 1863, Helena, Mary Peabody Tyler Mann Papers, Library of Congress. On cutting the levee, see A. F. Sperry, History of the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Regiment, 1863–1866, eds. Gregory J. W. Urwin and Cathy Kunzinger Urwin (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999), 17.

  • 53. W. C. G., January 23, 1865, Savannah, in Pearson, Letters from Port Royal, 307–308.

  • 54. Benjamin Prentiss to Major General Samuel Curtis, February 28, 1863, and June 16, 1863, Helena, Department of Missouri, box 9, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 2593, NARA.

  • 55. Every file in the AFIC records testifies to the prevalence of smallpox and other disease epidemics. For the New Bern case discussed here, see also Elizabeth James to George Whipple, December 19, 1863, Roanoke Island, NC, AMA; James, Annual Report, 15; Register of Colored Nurses Under Contract [Department of the East], 1863–1864, RG 94, entry 591, box 1, vol. 1, NARA, 9–12; Rumley Diary, Jan. n.d., 1864, Beaufort, NC, Levi Woodbury Piggott Collection, North Carolina Division of Archives and History; James, Annual Report, 15–16.

  • 56. The 1,879 figure comes from “Record of Deaths and Burials among the Freedmen in Alexandria, Virginia (the Gladwin Record),” a register of deaths and burials among freedpeople kept by the superintendent of contrabands Albert Gladwin.

  • 57. “Condition of the Negroes Who Came into Vicksburg With Sherman’s Army, as Described by Mr. N. M. Mann, Agent of the Western Sanitary Commission,” March 7, 1864, Vicksburg, MS, Saint Louis Sanitation Collection, folder 1, Missouri Historical Society.

  • 58. John A. Rawlings, by order of General Grant, November 27, 1862, Headquarters 19th Army Corps, Dept. of Tenn., RG 105 M1915, reel 1, frame 54, NARA. Plans for specially designed hospitals can be found in Records of the Quartermaster General, RG 92, NARA and in smaller collections, for example, the “Ground Plot of Ethiopian Hospitals Nashville Tenn. Designed by M. D. LeMoine, architect, under direction of Capt. C. H. Irvin, A.Q.M,” in the James Hoobler Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Answers to Interrogatories, AFIC Records, file 6, reel 200, frames 571–576, NARA; John Cimprich, Slavery’s End in Tennessee, 1861–1865 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 58. See also Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Margaret Humphreys, Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

  • 59. Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, Special Orders No. 114, December 1, 1863, Vicksburg, MS; McCord’s Report, 1, RG 105, M1914, reel 1, frame 359; David O. McCord, Special Orders No. 38, January 27, 1864, Vicksburg, MS, RG 105, M1914, reel 1, frame 62, NARA; John Eaton testimony to AFIC, file 6, RG 94, M616, reel 200, frame 618, NARA; Chaplain J. M. Alexander, Response to Questionnaire, file 6, reel 200, frame 575, NARA; and Surgeon David O. McCord, Final Report to John Eaton, July 1865, RG 105, M1914, reel 1, frames 359–395, NARA.

  • 60. Julia Wilbur to Anna Barnes, February 27, March 10 and 18, 1863, in Yellin, Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 451, 470, 478.

  • 61. Responses to Interrogatory 5th sent by John Eaton to Superintendents of Contrabands in Department of Tennessee, AFIC, file 6, RG 94, M619, reel 200, frame 574, NARA.

  • 62. Corporal Sykes testimony, AFIC, file 2, RG 94, M619, reel 200, frame 169, NARA; Palmer Letts and C. P. Day of Oneida County, NY, to US AFIC Commissioners, August 8, 1863, Oneida County, NY (writing about a visit to Yorktown, VA), AFIC Papers, box 1, folder 33, Houghton Library, Harvard University; Testimony of C. B. Wilder, AFIC, file 2, RG94, M619, reel 200, frame 148, NARA; Jared Fuller letters to wife, Sarah, Jared and Sarah Fuller Papers, State Historical Society of Iowa; Lucy Chase to folks at home, March 4, 1863, Craney Island, VA, in Swint, Dear Ones at Home, 59.

  • 63. Susie Baker, August 1862, St. Simons Island, GA, in Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, 40–41. In later years, Susie Baker King Taylor remembered that “several of the men disappeared . . . in this way.”

  • 64. See James Matthews to Col. Samuel Thomas, July 7, 1864, Goodrich Landing, LA, RG 105 M1914 reel 5, frames 99–104, NARA. On the raids throughout the region, including the ones at Milliken’s Bend and Terrapin Neck, see Lt. D. McCall to Col. Samuel Thomas, May 9 and May 22, 1864, RG 105, M1914, reel 5, frames 51–53, NARA.

  • 65. D. B. Nichols testimony, AFIC, file 1, RG 94, M619, reel 200, frame 117, NARA.

  • 66. “The Shooting of the Negroes at Harpeth Shoals,” Peoria Daily Transcript, February 3, 1863, 1, Illinois Writers Project “Negro in Illinois” Collection, box 4 folder 30, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library, Woodson Regional Branch.

  • 67. See the letters of David Todd to brother John Todd, 1864, Pine Bluff, AR, David Todd and Charlotte Farnsworth Letters, Illinois History and Lincoln Collection, University of Illinois.

  • 68. AFIC Records, file 6, M619 reel 200, NARA. For “Interrogatory 9th” about women’s and men’s labor, see frame 577. For the tables, see frame 571. For the quotations taken from Eaton’s analysis of the data, see frames 592–600.

  • 69. Quartermaster departments in particular depended on black labor to keep their logistical operations running. For Florida: Nathaniel Paige, special correspondent of the New York Tribune, testimony to AFIC about Fernandina and St. Augustine, Florida (though filed with AFIC testimony about Louisiana), AFIC Records, file 11, M619 reel 201, frame 595–596, NARA. For North Carolina, see Vincent Colyer on “the women and children” who “consider it a duty to work for the U.S. government & though they could in many cases have made more money” in other ways devoted their efforts to “washing, ironing, cooking, making pies, cakes, &c for the troops.” Vincent Colyer, Report to the AFIC, May 25, 1863, AFIC Records M619, reel 200, frame 444–447, NARA.

  • 70. J. R. Bigelow to AFIC, May 8, 1863, Alexandria, VA, James Morrison MacKaye Papers, Library of Congress.

  • 71. Testimony of D. B. Nichols, AFIC Records, file 1, M619, frames 107, 112, NARA.

  • 72. Testimony of Miss Lucy Chase, AFIC Records, file 2, M619, reel 200, frame 156, NARA.

  • 73. See, for example, Register of Colored Nurses under Contract [Department of the East], 1863–1864, RG 94, entry 591, box 1, vol. 1, NARA. For Martha and Albert Pool, see 9–10. To trace Martha and Albert Pool and their son Benjamin, see Deposit Records for Alfred Pool and Martha Pool, citing bank New Bern, Craven, NC, microfilm 928586, United States Freedmans Bank Records, 1865–1874, Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C

  • 74. LeBaron Russell to Secretary of War Stanton, Report on the Condition of Colored Refugees at Fortress Monroe and the Vicinity, in regard to the Unpaid Wages of their Labor for the Government, December 13, 1862, AFIC Papers, box 3, folder 90, Houghton Library, Harvard University; LeBaron Russell to J. M. MacKaye, April 28, 1863, and LeBaron Russell to Samuel G. Howe, August 12 [1863?], both in James Morrison MacKaye Papers, Library of Congress.

  • 75. Roll of Negroes Impressed for Service on the North-Western Railroad, October 1863, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

  • 76. Vincent Colyer, Report to the AFIC, May 25, 1863, AFIC Records, M619, reel 200, frame 431–433, NARA.

  • 77. Report of Horace Bell, scout, October 31, 1864, reported in office of Chief Signal Officer, New Orleans, LA, and Report of Major Frank W. Marston, Signal Corps, U.S. Army, to HQ, Dep’t of Gulf, New Orleans, LA, October 31, 1864, Correspondence, Reports, Appointments, and Other Records Relating to Individual Scouts, Guides, Spies, and Detectives, 1861–1867, Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War), RG 110, entry 36, box 1, NARA.

  • 78. The woman’s story appears in Coffin, Reminiscences, 633–635.

  • 79. Haviland, Woman’s Life Work, 266–267.

  • 80. See Mansfield French to George Whipple, March 8, 1862 and March 18, 1862, Hilton Head, SC, AMA; New England Freedmen’s Aid Society Records, Massachusetts Historical Society; W. C. G., May 30, 1862, Pine Grove plantation, St. Helena, SC, in Pearson, Letters from Port Royal, 60; Harriet Ware, April 29, 1862, St. Helena Island, SC, in Pearson, Letters from Port Royal, 24–25.

  • 81. Elizabeth Botume, First Days among the Contrabands (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1893), 41–49, 62, 66.

  • 82. Lucy Chase to home folks, January 26, 1863 entry in letter begun January 20, 1863, in Swint, Dear Ones at Home, 29; Lucy Chase testimony, AFIC, file M619, reel 200, frames 158–159, NARA; Palmer Litts to S.S. Jocelyn, December 1, 1862, Craney Island, VA, AMA H1-4606.

  • 83. Lockwood, Mary S. Peake; Joanna Moore, “Reminiscences,” Baptist Home Mission Monthly 10 (1888): 291.

  • 84. Every file containing testimony to the AFIC, and countless letters missionaries sent back to their sponsoring aid societies, commented on the great hunger to learn among former slaves.

  • 85. Responses of Superintendents to Eaton’s Questionnaire, AFIC, file 6, M619, reel 20, NARA; Brent, Occupied Corinth, 13–14.

  • 86. “Doings in South Carolina,” The Liberator, November 29, 1861.

  • 87. Laura Towne testimony, AFIC, file 3, M619, reel 200, frame 244, NARA; and Robert Smalls testimony, AFIC, file 3, M619, frame 284, NARA.

  • 88. “The African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cairo,” Illinois Writers Project, “Negro in Illinois” Collection, box 17, folder 3, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library, Woodson Regional Branch.

  • 89. Capt. James Morton to Capt. R. D. Massey, Adjutant of U.S. Colored Troops, December 4, 1863, Nashville, TN, filed with AFIC, file 7, M619, reel 201, frames 89–91, NARA; and George Stearns testimony, AFIC, file 7, M619, reel 201, frames 69–70, NARA; Buell to Morton, August 20 and 29, 1862, OR ser. 1, vol. 26, pt. 2, 408; Hood and Bostwick, “Letter to the Secretary of War” in S. W. Bostwick and Thomas Hood, Report upon the Condition and Treatment of Colored Refugees in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, 1864, Senate Reports, 38th Cong., 2d sess., Ex. Doc. No. 28 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1864). For an overview of black labor at Fort Negley, see Bobby Lovett, “Nashville’s Fort Negley: A Symbol of Blacks’ Involvement with the Union Army,” Tennessee Historical Society Quarterly 41.1 (1982), 3–22.

  • 90. See Cam Walker, “Corinth: The Story of a Contraband Camp,” Civil War History 20.1 (1974): 5–22.

  • 91. Capt. Henry Chambers, 49th North Carolina Infantry, diary, March 9, 1864, Suffolk, VA, Henry Chambers Papers, North Carolina Division of Archives and History; OR series 1, vol. 33, 3; George S. Burkhardt, Confederate Rage, Yankee Wrath: No Quarter in the Civil War (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007), 99–100.

  • 92. James Rumley Diary, December 4, 1862, and March 25, 1863, Beaufort, NC, Levi Woodbury Piggott Collection, North Carolina Department of Archives and History.

  • 93. Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 13 (Boston, 1866), 507–509.

  • 94. The troop total of 123,176 for December 1865 is from the December 1865 figures in the “Troop Table” and “Raw Data” datasets in Gregory P. Downs, Mapping Occupation Troop Locations Dataset, 2015.

  • 95. For just one example, see Henry Bram, Ismael Moultrie, and Yates Sampson to Oliver O. Howard, October 1865, and Henry Bram et al. to the President of these United States, October 25, 1865, Edisto Island, SC, P-27 1865, Letters Received (series 15), Washington Headquarters, RG 105, NARA. The letter written to Andrew Johnson at the same time is also available in Mary Ames, A New England Woman’s Diary in Dixie in 1865 (Norwood, MA: Plimpton, 1906), 101–102.

  • 96. At the time of closure, residents were compensated for the appraised value of their homes, but, of course, the loss of the community exceeded the monetary value of the houses. See Joseph P. Reidy, “Coming from the Shadow of the Past: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom at Freedmen’s Village, 1863–1869,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 95.4 (1987): 403–428.

  • 97. See Richard D. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002).

  • 98. On the colony at Davis Bend, see Janet Sharp Hermann, The Pursuit of a Dream (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

  • 99. See Heather Andrea Williams, Help Me to Find My People (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

  • 100. Narrative of Rev. Squire Dowd, North Carolina Narratives, vol. 11, pt.1, 266, WPA Narratives collected by the Federal Writers Project.

  • 101. Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016). Abigail Cooper and Amy Murrell Taylor are both preparing books about contraband camps. Cooper will examine religion in the contraband camps, and Taylor will discuss the social history of three camps.

  • 102. Louis Gerteis, From Contraband to Freedman: Federal Policy toward Southern Blacks, 1861–1865 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1973).

  • 103. James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013); Silvana Siddali, From Property to Person: Slavery and the Confiscation Acts, 1861–1862 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

  • 104. Kate Masur, “‘A Rare Phenomenon of Philological Vegetation’: The Word ‘Contraband’ and the Meanings of Emancipation in the United States,” Journal of American History 93.4 (2007): 1050–1084.

  • 105. Mary Frances Berry, Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution 1861–1868 (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1977).

  • 106. Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

  • 107. Patricia C. Click, Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, 1862–1867 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Reidy, “Coming from the Shadow of the Past,” 403–428; and Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).

  • 108. Cam Walker, “Corinth: The Story of a Contraband Camp,” Civil War History 20.1 (1974): 5–22; Amy Murrell Taylor, “How a Cold Snap in Kentucky Led to Freedom for Thousands: An Environmental Story of Emancipation,” in Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges, ed. Stephen Berry (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 191–214.

  • 109. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

  • 110. Stephen Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

  • 111. One example is Downs, Sick from Freedom.

  • 112. Thavolia Glymph, “’This Species of Property’: Female Slave Contrabands in the Civil War,” in Edward D. C. Campbell, Jr. and Kym S. Rice (eds.), A Woman’s War: Southern Women, Civil War, and the Confederate Legacy (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997), 55–72; Leslie Schwalm, A Hard Fight for We: Women’s Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997); and Leslie Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

  • 113. Some good sources include Jan Furman, ed., Slavery in the Clover Bottoms: John McCline’s Narrative of His Life during Slavery and the Civil War (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998); Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp; David A. Blight, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (New York: Mariner, 2009); and William B. Gould IV, Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

  • 114. One example is Yellin, Harriet Jacobs Family Papers.

  • 115. For example, the Works Project Administration narratives collected by the Federal Writers Project, “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1938, Volumes 1–17”.

  • 116. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1888–1922); Ira Berlin et. al. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 1, vols. 1–3; ser. 2, vol. 1; and ser. 3, vols. 1–2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985–2013).

  • 117. Further information and finding aids can be found at the National Archives.

  • 118. Records of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1861–1870, 1863-328-0, Microfilm Collection 619, reels 199–201, NARA.

  • 119. One good example is S. W. Bostwick and Thomas Hood, Report upon the Condition and Treatment of Colored Refugees in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, 1864, Senate Reports, 38th Cong., 2d sess., Ex. Doc. No. 28, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1864).

  • 120. See, for example, Eaton, Lincoln, Grant, and the Freedmen; George H. Hepworth, The Whip, Hoe, and Sword: The Gulf Department in ’63 (Boston: Walker, Wise, 1864); James B. Rogers, War Pictures: Experiences and Observations of a Chaplain in the U.S. Army in the War of the Southern Rebellion (Chicago: Church & Goodman, 1863).

  • 121. Many such collections are located in archives across the country. Two published examples are Rufus Kinsley, Diary of a Christian Soldier: Rufus Kinsley and the Civil War, ed. David C. Rankin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and A. F. Sperry, History of the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Regiment, 1863–1866, eds. Gregory J. W. Urwin and Cathy Kunzinger Urwin (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999).

  • 122. Pierce, “Contrabands at Fortress Monroe,” 626–640.

  • 123. Elizabeth Botume, First Days among the Contrabands (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1893); Coffin, Reminiscences; Joanna Moore, In Christ’s Stead: Autobiographical Sketches (Chicago: Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society, 1902); Swint, Dear Ones at Home.

  • 124. See, for example, Northwestern Freedmen’s Aid Commission, Minutes of the First Annual Meeting Held in the Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago, on Thursday Evening, April 14th, and on Friday Morning, April 15th, 1864. With an Appendix, Containing a List of Annual and Life Electors, and Other Data (Chicago: James Barnet, 1864); and Second Annual Report of the Board of Directors (Chicago: James Barnet, 1865).

  • 125. See, for example, the online database Accessible Archives, Part 1: The Newspaper Collection.