Learning Lincoln On-line


Military Contraband of War (Escaped slaves from the South)-- Introduction to "Slave Contrabands" in Eleven Eleven Parts





Information from the Library of Congress at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart4.html

        Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them "contraband of war." Many "contrabands" greatly aided the war effort with their labor.


More information from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraband_%28American_Civil_War%29

       Abraham Lincoln's election led to secession and secession to war. When the Union soldiers entered the South, thousands of African Americans fled from their owners to Union camps. The Union officers did not immediately receive an official order on how to manage this addition to their numbers. Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them "contraband of war." Many "contrabands" greatly aided the war effort with their labor.

          After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was effective on January 1, 1863, black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war. The Library of Congress holds histories and pictures of most of the regiments of the United States Colored Troops as well as manuscript and published accounts by African American soldiers and their white officers, documenting their participation in the successful Union effort. Both blacks and whites were outspoken about questions of race, civil rights, and full equality for the newly-freed population during the Civil War era.

           Emancipated blacks were forced to begin their trek to full equality without the aid of "forty acres and a mule," which many believed had been promised to them. The Library's collection records the new steps towards freedom on the part of the African American community, especially in the areas of employment, education, and politics. There is also an abundance of books, photographs, diaries, and manuscripts about many aspects of slave life and culture, such as the development of the "Negro Spiritual" and the role played by the United States Colored Troops in the South and the West.













Bridge to Ft. Monroe Entrance  LOC


General Benjamin Butler from Wikipedia


Contraband Rude Cartoon from Wikipedia

From The Project Gutenberg e-Book, The Civil War Through the Camera, by Henry W. (Henry William) Elson


Contraband And Sherman’s March To The Sea

The refugees in the picture recall an embarrassment of the march to the sea. “Slaves of all sizes” flocked in the army’s path and stayed there, a picturesque procession, holding tightly to the skirts of the army which they believed had come for the sole purpose of setting them free.

The cavalcade of people soon became so numerous that Sherman became anxious for his army’s sustenance, and finding an old gray-haired black man at Covington, Sherman explained to him carefully that if they continued to swarm after the army it would fail in its purpose and they would not get their freedom. Sherman believed that the old man spread this news to the slaves along the line of march, and in part saved the army from being overwhelmed by the contrabands.









The status of southern-owned slaves after Confederate states had engaged in the American Civil War became an issue early in 1861, not long after hostilities began. At Fort Monroe in Virginia's Hampton Roads, Major General Benjamin Butler, commander, learned that three slaves had made their way across Hampton Roads harbor from Confederate-occupied Norfolk County, and presented themselves at Union-held Fort Monroe. General Butler refused to return the escaped slaves to slaveholders who supported the Confederacy. This amounted to classifying them as "contraband," although the first use of that terminology in military records appears to have been by another officer.  Click Here for the NPS Information Site




Slaves escape to the fort after Gen. Butler's decree that all slaves behind Union lines would be protected. The policy was called the "Fort Monroe Doctrine", alluding to Butler's headquarters at the Fort.

·         On May 27, 1861, Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous "contraband" decision, or "Fort Monroe Doctrine", determining that escaping male slaves who reached Union lines would be considered contraband and not be returned to bondage. The order resulted in thousands of slaves fleeing to Union lines around Fort Monroe, which was Butler's headquarters in Virginia. Fort Monroe became called "Freedom's Fortress", as any slave reaching it would be free. By the fall, the Army had built the Great Contraband Camp to try to house the families. It was the first of more than 100 that would be established by war's end, and the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony (1863–1867), which started as a contraband camp. Mary S. Peake was teaching the children of freedmen to read and write near Fort Monroe. She was the first black teacher hired by the American Missionary Association (AMA), a Northern missionary group led by black and white ministers from the Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations, who strongly supported education of freedmen. Soon she was teaching children during the day and adults at night. The AMA sponsored hundreds of Northern teachers and hired other local teachers in the South; it founded more than 500 local schools and 11 colleges for freedmen and their children.  Click Here for the NPS Ft. Monroe/Contraband information site.   Read more about Ford Monroe and Gen. Butler's "Fort Monroe Doctrine"  &  Freedom's fortress at the ft. monroe Memorial & Visit this site for more about Freedom's Fortress


PART SIX-- CONTRABAND CAMPS  [Click Here for more about Contraband Camps]

Contraband camps developed around many Union-held forts and encampments. In 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation and authorization of black military units, thousands of former slaves and free blacks began to enlist in the United States Colored Troops. The Army allowed their families to take refuge at contraband camps. The black troops ultimately comprised nearly 10 percent of all the troops in the Union Army.

By the end of the war, more than 100 contraband camps had been developed in the South. Many were assisted by missionary teachers recruited from the North by the American Missionary Association and other groups who, together with free blacks and freedmen, agreed that education of the former slaves was of the highest priority. The teachers often wrote about the desire of former slaves, both adults and children, for education.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site & The Freedmen's Colony on Roanoke Island  &  Mary Smith Peake-- Teacher of Contrabands



PART SEVEN--CONTRABAND RELIEF SOCIETY--  Read Mary Todd Lincoln Writes to Elizabeth Keckly

Check out the Library of Congress Site on Elizabeth Keckly



PART EIGHT--FORMER SLAVES IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL DURING THE CIVIL WAR-- Click Here for this NPS Site    Also-- read the Article about slaves and freemen in the nation's capitol


Contraband Camps

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